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Death Race 2000(1975)
In the year 2000, hit and run has become the national sport. It's a no-holds barred cross-country race, in which the aim is to kill off not only your opponents, but as many pedestrians as possible. David Carradine takes on Sylvester Stallone in this classic adrenaline thriller that will make you look both ways twice before you cross.
For more about Death Race 2000 and the Death Race 2000 Blu-ray release, see Death Race 2000 Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on June 20, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, Mary Woronov, Martin Kove, Roberta Collins, John Landis
Director: Paul Bartel
» See full cast & crew
Death Race 2000 Blu-ray Review
A cult-classic B-movie with some heft.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, June 20, 2010
No holds barred.
Death Race 2000 is both cheesy and brilliant; it's not too often that those two words find themselves cohorts in the same sentence, but this Roger Corman (Rock 'N' Roll High School)-produced drive-in classic delivers boatloads of over-the-top action pieces and a ridiculously deviant plot while not-so-subtly commenting on a myriad of issues of its day. A satire on dwindling traditional values, Death Race 2000 is about as gleefully violent as they come, the picture mocking a world where increasingly hostile relationships, "me first" attitudes, and a growing disregard for morals are all put on display in one of the most absurdly grotesque manners imaginable. In hindsight, however, Death Race 2000 is more deliciously entertaining than bitingly relevant. The film does a fine job of delivering escapist entertainment that's packed with satire, but it's also constructed in such a way that viewers can choose to dismiss its societal commentary in favor of 90 minutes of mindless fun. In many ways, that's the key ingredient for a great movie, and Death Race 2000 -- for as absurdly dated as it may be 35 years after the fact -- never disappoints in that regard.
In the future (or the past, as the case may now be), the United States no longer exists as it once did. The country is home to a deadly race that's become a national tradition, where five of the most infamous drivers in the world compete in a transcontinental journey from sea to shining sea, but this isn't NASCAR. It's constructed around a point-building system that challenges the drivers to score by mowing down innocent bystanders. Even women, the elderly, and the young -- including newborn children -- are not immune; in fact, they're worth more than the average man. The drivers include the horribly disfigured and medically-reconstructed Frankenstein (David Carradine, Kill Bill), the neo-Nazi Matilda the Hun (Roberta Collins), the Romanesque Nero the Hero (Martin Kove, The Karate Kid), the cowgirl Calamity Jane (Mary Woronov), and the wannabe throwback gangster Machine Gun Joe (Sylvester Stallone, Cliffhanger). Only one can win, but the five of them can cause quite a bit of collateral damage along the way to the victory lane.
Perhaps the most readily-understood comparison for modern audiences would be to equate Death Race 2000 with the video game franchise Grand Theft Auto. Sure, the stories, settings, and characters are vastly different between the film and any of the games, but those that have stolen a car and proceeded to mow down pedestrians in GTA will get a kick out of Death Race 2000. Both are based around pretty perverted concepts, but both are loads of fun when watch/played and -- this is the important part -- understood in context. The film and the games are outlets, nor training tools for would-be hooligans. They're more satirical than sadistic, and Death Race 2000 in particular nicely balances its shock elements with an underscored but not hard-to-find social commentary. Society's decaying morals have reached a point in the fictional world of Death Race 2000 that old-timers, for instance -- those probably most resistant to the new world order -- willingly park their wheelchairs in the middle of the street in hopes of being "euthanized" in legal hit-and-runs; it seems that it's their way of surrendering to a world they no longer want to be a part of and merely accepting their fates, martyring themselves for a populace that doesn't care and drivers that see them as point builders and not human beings.
Of course, watching Death Race 2000 in 2010 yields some pretty comical results. Movies of this sort inevitably paint themselves into a corner when their visions of the world don't come to pass, but this picture is constructed in such a way that, thematically and from a purely detached entertainment perspective, it still works as a fun throwback experience. Besides, time stands still in Death Race 2000; the picture is so stuck in the 1970s (despite its "future" setting) that even its pseudo-futuristic backdrops look like products of the film's era rather than any kind of vision of a possible future. The clothing and technology look their age, too, but one could reasonably assume that since the story claims that its world "crashed" in 1979 that advancements in technology and fashion might not be at the forefront of everyone's mind, but then again, the film at one point makes mention of, believe it or not, some kind of three-dimensional television set, so there's obviously more going on than meets the eye. No matter, really; Death Race 2000 looks goofy in hindsight, but the movie still works -- as do fellow "future" films from the same era like Logan's Run -- thanks to quality of story but not because of their retro-goofy appearances. Technically, the movie is sound if not a bit sloppy in the editing department. The acting is fine; Carradine and Stallone carry the picture, and Director Paul Bartel (Cannonball!) frames the action with enough style and technical know-how to keep the film firing on all cylinders during its many action scenes.
Death Race 2000 Blu-ray, Video Quality
Death Race 2000 rolls onto Blu-ray with a problematic but vintage-in-appearance 1080p, 1.78:1-framed transfer. As with Rock 'N' Roll High School's transfer, this one's littered with random scratches, pops, speckles, and debris, but also like Shout's other Corman high definition release, the tattered appearance oddly suits the film well, lending to it that rough-and-tumble look of a well-worn drive-in print. High definition enthusiasts wanting a pristine image will be disappointed, but this is one title that some imperfections actually seem welcome. As to the rest of the image, detailing is shaky but often acceptable; viewers will see the streaks of paint on Frankenstein's helmet or make out the nuances of the scarring around his eye, the texture of nylon straps that hold helmets in place, and the general textures on cars, clothes, and various outdoor elements. Colors are routine, nicely rendered but with reds that often stand out as harsher than the other shades. Blacks and flesh tones are consistently average. Death Race 2000 delivers a roughly-hewn 1080p image that's obviously never going to contend with the best new release transfers, but fans should be more than happy with what Shout has managed to accomplish with this release.
Death Race 2000 Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Death Race 2000 stutters onto Blu-ray with a middling Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. This one's all about sheer volume instead of precision and clarity. Dialogue can be piercing and harsh, and sound effects are barely distinguishable one from another, with most of the louder and more powerful elements coming across as little more than a jumble of sound that only loosely resembles a car crash, engine roars, or an explosion, for instance. Some effects sound like nails on chalkboards, and listeners with calibrated systems and set volumes will be fiddling with the remote throughout the movie. No doubt a more refined lossless soundtrack would have helped to clean this one up, but considering that Death Race 2000 is a 35-year-old low-budget film, it's probably not fair to expect anything substantially better than this. Marginally better, definitely, but there's never going to be a Death Race 2000 soundtrack that bests this one by leaps and bounds.
Death Race 2000 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Death Race 2000 speeds onto Blu-ray with a healthy assortment of extras, the content headlined by a pair of audio commentary tracks. The first contains Assistant Director Lewis Teague and Editor Tina Hirsch who team up for a decent enough track that, no surprise, is heavy on discussions revolving around the editing process. They also discuss the cast, the use of matte paintings in the film, the picture's budget, the score, Roger Corman's influence on the film and its cast and crew, and plenty more. Track two features Producer Roger Corman and Actress Mary Woronov. This one's just as well-rounded; the discussion is fast-paced, fun, and informative. It hits some of the same technical notes as the previous track, but its affable nature and Corman's sound insights make it well worth a listen. Next is a collection of video-based features, beginning with Playing the Game: Looking Back at 'Death Race 2000' (480p, 11:40). This supplement offers a basic overview of the picture that features cast and crew speaking on the picture's satire, car design, the cast, the work of Director Paul Bartel, the picture's special effects and costumes, Corman's insistence on mixing eroticism and violence, and the construction of the film's ending.
Leonard Maltin Interviews Roger Corman (480p, 5:53) is a brief discussion between the critic and producer regarding Death Race 2000. Designing Dystopia! -- Detailed Look at the Film's Art Direction and Car Designs (1080p, 12:21) is one of those self-explanatory supplements; viewers will learn more about the picture's sets, shooting locales, and car construction. Next is a look at the picture's costumes in Ready to Wear: Interview With Costume Designer Jane Ruhm (1080p, 14:40), while David Carradine shares his thoughts on the film in the appropriately-titled David on Death Race: Interview With David Carradine (1080p, 3:46). Start Your Engines: Interview With Author IB Melchior (1080p, 11:46) features the writer looking back at his career and comparing and contrasting his original story, The Racer, with the filmed adaptation, while Killer Score: Interview With Composer Paul Chihara (1080p, 11:32) takes viewers behind-the-scenes of the picture's score. Also included is a poster and still gallery; the Death Race 2000 trailer (480p, 0:55); the film's trailer with commentary by John Landis Courtesy of Trailersfromhell.com (480p, 2:55); three radio spots (0:28 each); a TV spot (480p, 0:37); and 480p trailers for Deathsport (1:12), Up From the Depths (1:08), Galaxy of Terror (1:54), and Forbidden World. (2:33). Finally, the Blu-ray packaging features a reversible sleeve and a 12-page color booklet.
Death Race 2000 Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Death Race 2000 is a fun little picture that's also packed with its own brand of social commentary, and Director Paul Bartel pulls off a fine juggling act by keeping the satire front-and-center but never overwhelming the picture's action and violence, both of which are, in and of themselves, key ingredients to building a better spoof of American culture and politics. The movie is awfully dated, visually, but it's not at all hard to watch it now some 35 years after its release and catch all of the satirical nuances, even underneath the veil of 1970s fashion and technology. Shout Factory's Blu-ray release of Death Race 2000 is packed with extras, features a video transfer that's not without its faults but that does lend a certain charm to the movie, and comes with a soundtrack in need of some help. Regardless of its technical bugaboos, Death Race 2000 is still a fun picture with a drive-in quality to it, and fans of throwback cinema definitely need to make this one a part of their Blu-ray collections. Recommended.
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