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American Grand Prix driver Pete Aron is fired by his Jordan-BRM racing team after a crash at Monaco that injures his British teammate, Scott Stoddard. While Stoddard struggles to recover, Aron begins to drive for the Japanese Yamura team, and becomes romantically involved with Stoddard's estranged wife.
For more about Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Blu-ray release, see Grand Prix Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on May 16, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Yves Montand, Toshirô Mifune, Brian Bedford, Jessica Walter
Director: John Frankenheimer
» See full cast & crew
Grand Prix Blu-ray Review
Start your engines and race out to get this fantastic release.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, May 16, 2011
Some races evidently never end. In the mid-1960's two big budget films built around the world of race cars and the men who drive them vied to be first out of the gate. Both films had major stars attached to them, were helmed by well known directors, and each was out to beat the other to get to local Cineplexes first. The initial race actually got messy a time or two, as real race footage for one film was sequestered and then shuttled over to the other film due to some legal wrangling. But pre-production delays ultimately held up what would eventually become known as Le Mans, starring Steve McQueen, and 1966 saw John Frankenheimer's huge Grand Prix take the movie world by storm, delivering one of the last big Cinerama features before that format became largely defunct. It's somewhat ironic then that Le Mans has bested Grand Prix to Blu-ray, at least by one week. While there are certainly similarities between the two films, Grand Prix and Le Mans are really as different as their titular races. Le Mans is a marathon quasi-verité outing that doesn't waste much time on the drivers' personal lives and peccadilloes and instead concentrates on the grueling aspects of a race which lasts 24 hours. Grand Prix, following its Formula 1 roots, is more of a sprint, dashing through some of the most exciting race footage ever captured on film, while occasionally crashing into melodramatic subplots involving most of the major characters. Grand Prix is inarguably the glitzier affair, more of a (no pun intended) roadshow event than Le Mans, but it also may be the more flat out entertaining of the two race films, at least for those who want a little story (however hackneyed) along with their zooming racecars.
Grand Prix is typically glamorous star-studded mid-1960's fare, albeit with an international edge, no doubt to not just recreate an authentic feeling for the race, but to appeal to overseas markets as well as those stateside. We have James Garner as American Pete Aron, attempting to mount a comeback after a less than stellar run. Yves Montand is on hand as aging Frenchman Jean-Pierre Sarti, who is "very, very tired" of driving and is looking forward to his hopefully soon retirement. Brian Bedford (who is currently lighting up stages as Lady Bracknell—yes Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest—is on hand as Scotsman Scott Stoddard, whose horrifying accident in the first race sequence leads to some melodrama with his American wife, Pat, portrayed by Jessica Walter. Antonio Sabato (Senior, the father of Antonio, Jr.) is our resident Italian, Nino Barlini, a newcomer to Formula One racing after a career racing motorcycles. Also on hand is Eva Marie Saint as a journalist drawn to Jean-Pierre despite his being married, as well as a rather impressive supporting cast which includes everyone from Toshiro Mifune to Genevieve Page.
Robert Alan Aurthur's sprawling screenplay is often merely soap operatic window dressing hung around the viscerally exciting and energetic race sequences, which Frankenheimer shoots with a battery of cameras, often employing a split screen technique which was revolutionary at the time (and which predates the perhaps better known usage of the same technique in the original Thomas Crown Affair). The magnificence of the race sequences has really never been equaled, not even in the excellent Le Mans. There were news reports at the time of the film's 1966 Cinerama engagements of audience members experiencing vertigo and motion sickness due to the unbelievable impact of the car mounted footage, which literally thrusts the viewer into the action.
Grand Prix manages to rise above its often maudlin and even hysterical love stories (the Garner and Walter characters also dally for a while, despite her being married) is the uniform excellence of the cast. While this could have easily tipped over into a sort of Harold Robbins-esque sexually tinged melodrama, instead we have a stable of incredibly fine actors who play everything close to the vest, and it works beautifully, helping to ameliorate the sillier aspects of Aurthur's screenplay. There's an undeniable verisimilitude to the racers' interactions, if not always in the interplay between these same racers and the women who sometimes follow them around like enamored puppies.
There are actually at least a couple of outright shocking moments in the racing segments which also add to Grand Prix's undeniable feeling of authenticity. With both bystanders and the drivers themselves frequently in harm's way, Aurthur and Frankenheimer deliver a couple of jolts to the nervous system that keep the film just slightly off-kilter, which is actually to its benefit. Despite running well over two hours, Grand Prix rarely feels slow, as befits its racing heritage. If some of the dramatic elements seem hackneyed and predictable to modern sensibilities, when taken in the context of "big" mid-1960's pictures, the film actually does much better than most, even given the caveat of its occasionally hyperbolic elements.
Frankenheimer, who is certainly one of the most underrated and strangely poorly remembered directors of his era, often worked on smaller scale dramas which nonetheless almost always featured stellar performances (Birdman of Alcatraz, the original The Manchuran Candidate, and Seconds, a lesser known Frankenheimer which offers what is arguably Rock Hudson's best performance). It's to his credit that he not only gets those same stellar performances from an incredibly able cast across the board in Grand Prix, he also paints on a much larger canvas than he was typically wont to do, and proves himself one of the best action stagers of his generation. If some of the dramatic elements of Grand Prix are admittedly turgid, there is simply no denying the unbelievable power and even majesty of the racing sequences, sequences which still stand tall as state of the art now almost 50 years after they were filmed.
Grand Prix Blu-ray, Video Quality
Warner did very well with Grand Prix's HD-DVD debut a few years ago, with a sterling VC-1 1080p transfer that was one of the better looking releases in that format's brief history, and so no one could have blamed them for simply porting over that same transfer to Blu-ray. But guess what? They didn't. We have an often stunningly gorgeous new AVC/1080p encode in 2.21:1 that aside from a couple of very minor issues is practically perfect in every way. The image is startlingly sharp and well defined, as befits its large format source elements, with wonderfully robust and well saturated colors. Grain structure is still naturally intact and there is virtually no damage whatsoever. The minor issues involve some passing, though prominent, flicker in some of the second unit aerial photography, as well as the added dirt and grime, as well as softness, that is part and parcel of the optical elements like the split screen sequences.
Grand Prix Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Audio has also been upgraded on this Blu-ray release, to a blisteringly effective lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. This is an incredibly immersive and robust track, full of booming low end in the race sequences that will literally vibrate your floorboards. The race sound effects are incredibly effective, with great panning effects keeping the listener squarely in the middle of a very involving surround presentation. Maurice Jarre's score, which is frankly not my favorite outing by the composer, is also very well represented on this track. Dialogue is clean, crisp and very well mixed, and despite the soundtrack's age, there's surprisingly little boxiness or hiss evident.
Grand Prix Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
All of the extras from the previously released 2 DVD and HD-DVD versions have been ported over to this new Blu-ray:
Grand Prix Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
In its dramatic scenes, Grand Prix isn't exactly at Formula One levels, and might be seen by some as a big, lumbering all-star melodrama. But those qualms are easily dismissed by the overwhelmingly effective racing sequences, certainly among the finest, if not the outright finest, ever committed to film. Frankenheimer benefits from uniformly excellent performances from his excellent cast, but it's in his staging of the race sequences, including his brilliant use of split screens, that Grand Prix attains its iconic status. This Blu-ray looks and sounds spectacular, and it comes Very highly recommended.
Grand Prix Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Grand Prix The Movie: A Complete History - May 31, 2011
MGM took out all the stops in 1966 and filmed, in Super Panavision 6 track stereo (and presented in 70mm Cinerama in certain locations) what would end up being one of their biggest projects. It paid off. Read on and find out everything you wanted to know about ...
• Grand Prix Blu-ray Announced - February 23, 2011
Warner Home Video has announced Grand Prix for Blu-ray release on May 24. This 1966 racing-themed action movie, starring James Garner and Eva-Marie Saint, was directed by John Frankenheimer and spectacularly shot on 65mm. It had been released in 2006 on the defunct ...
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