DVD Reviews - Super Speedway (IMAX)

      Date posted: December 31, 1969

Super Speedway Stephen Low, director; Image Entertainment/IMAX; Full Screen; Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese; 50 Minutes (Documentary: The Making Of Super Speedway, also 50 Minutes)

      Ever since I got this DVD I’ve been wondering why I liked it more on the small (51-inch) screen rather than on the big (60-foot) IMAX one. I think it has something to do with relating to a 40-foot-tall Mario Andretti; his easy intimacy and evident love for family, in particular, racing-driver sons and pet pig, Martini, seem to come across better on the smaller screen. Also, all the scenes shot from racing cars going 200 miles an hour, so carefully crafted and caught by the team led by director Stephen Low, seemed overly big and flat on the IMAX screen; as viewer, I felt almost literally like a fly on the wall, or here, the fender. On the home “big screen” the perspective seems truer, the picture has more depth, and is at a scale where I can feel genuinely involved in the action, as well as with the characters.

      Super Speedway is about the preparations and racing season of the Newman-Haas racing team with totally new race cars, and is narrated by one of the partners, actor Paul Newman. Its main story line centres on the new cars, built in England and broken in by father-and-son team, Mario and Michael Andretti. Actually it’s a co-narration situation as the senior Andretti muses often about his own career, his feelings about his sons also becoming racing drivers, and about racing safety from the drivers’ point of view. During the season Michael does the Newman-Haas driving (along with Nelson Fittipaldi, another race driver’s son), usually with both his father and his own son looking on. The cars do get broken in and refined and start to win.

      A sub-plot concerns the restoration, indeed, complete re-building of one of the first cars Mario Andretti raced in the 50s, the movie ending with him tootling along a country road through the autumn leaves in it. The film is beautifully shot in various locales in England and North America, and one of the most important race sequences is at the CNE Indy course in Toronto, underlining the Canadian connection of IMAX, which is now U.S. owned.

      It’s an impressive DVD both visually and sonically, the surround sound really making you feel right there. I’m also impressed at the soundtrack options, though I doubt I’ll ever watch it in Mandarin (How could they deprive the Cantonese viewers?) Though most films do a great deal of re-recording, or Foley, for sound effects, here we have some exceptionally good real location sound all around. I did, however, note some enhancement in the bottom end, and added sonic effects when race cars passed bridges and bleachers in the racing sequences.

      The Making documentary takes us behind the scenes of filming, and shows how painstaking a job it was to put this film together, all the racing scenes carefully choreographed to be shot at real speed. To carry the hundred-pound-plus IMAX camera a special illegal Indy car was employed, with extra power to reach the racing speeds, and extra ground-effect spoilers to keep it stable with the added weight. This car was driven by Mario Andretti, and much of the racing footage was shot in warmup driving before the Toronto Grand Prix. The restoration of the old roadster racer was also carefully chronicled, though its discovery in an old barn was faked for the film. This documentary is almost as interesting as the movie itself, though hardly as exciting, and sound is only stereo.

      This only underlines how exciting the Super Speedway soundtrack is on a decent Dolby Digital system. For both audio and image quality, this film is as good as it gets, with no wimpy letterboxing, but a full, high resolution screen. It’s the most fun I’ve had since I last watched my 3D laserdisc of roller coaster rides.

Andrew Marshall

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