Speed ​​Racer: from Johnny Depp to the Wachowskis, the story of a fifteen-year project

Speed ​​Racer: from Johnny Depp to the Wachowskis, the story of a fifteen-year project

Which is now celebrating its 15th anniversary!

Released in June 2008 at the cinema, Speed ​​Racer celebrates its 15th birthday this week. Which marks an excellent excuse to come back to its manufacture… which took precisely 15 years of work!

At the time, there was no question of Matrix Resurrectionand it was thought that Lana and Lilly Wachowski had put an end to their cult trilogy with the releases a few months apart from Matrix: Reloaded And Matrix Revolutions, five years earlier. They returned to the front of the stage after having in the meantime helped in the filming of V for Vendettawith this adaptation of a manga by Tatsuo Yoshida adapted in the 60s as an anime by Tatsunoko studios.

Unfortunately, despite intense promotion and a comfortable budget of $120 million, Speed ​​Racer was a box office smash, followed by two more, CloudAtlas And Jupiter: the fate of the universe, despite their undeniable qualities. With only 93 million dollars in revenue and barely 110,000 admissions in France, the film was seriously panned by critics when it was released, although it has since been partly re-evaluated.

At the time of its release, First had nevertheless supported the film, writing about it: “They were fans of the Japanese series of Tatsuo Yoshida in their childhood. As adults, the Wachowskis pay tribute to him live by inventing a new plot. In their own way, extremely spectacular and doped with an astonishing candy box aesthetic that we delight in with relish. Past the animations of the first quarter of an hour, in which the effects of the model are far too visible, the rest of the film is savored to the fullest, eyes wide open and without guilty regressive pleasure. And this even if the story is, at least until the final twist, sewn with white thread“.

The failure of Speed ​​Racer ended more than fifteen years of incredibly chaotic development, during which the film had several lives, and often in the hands of big Hollywood names. So many missed appointments that make the film’s failure even more regrettable a posteriori.

Johnny Depp, Gus van Sant, Alfonso Cuaron: many failures

The first traces of an adaptation of this cult manga date back to September 1992. Warner then acquired the rights to adapt the work from Tatsunoko studios and wanted to develop the project in collaboration with one of their flagship producers, Joel Silver. The main role of Speed ​​Racer was cast in June 1995 and offered to Johnny Depp. The production of the film, which at the time was to be directed by Julien Temple (Absolute Beginnersalso the father of the actress Juno Temple), is even scheduled for October of the same year.

The project suddenly experienced several setbacks. Johnny Depp leaves the set for personal reasons, suspending the production of the film. The budget inflating dangerously, Temple also decides to leave. Warner and Joel Silver must therefore start from scratch. If very quickly, the name of Gus van Sant comes back in the discussions, it is finally to another well-known director that the project is proposed: Alfonso Cuarónhired in 1997 to revive the film.

Unfortunately, Speed ​​Racer continues to skate, none of the various rewrites of the script failing to convince Joel Silver. Among the screenwriters who will break their teeth on the subject, we find a young screenwriter still unknown: JJ Abrams (who will finally produce its animated version in series for Apple TV). Alfonso Cuaron quickly disappears from the picture, as does music video director Hype Williams.

Ten years after the first drafts, Speed ​​Racer is still stuck in the pits. And when in 2004, Vince Vaughn offers to take over the project by presenting a new version more centered on the characters (he would have played Racer X, the hero’s older brother, in this project of which he was also co-executive producer), he in turn quickly loses patience.

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Fifteen years of production
The situation will finally settle down only in October 2006. Joel Silver decides to reform with Lilly and Lana Wachowski the winning team of the trilogy Matrixbut also of V for Vendettawhich enjoyed decent box office success in 2005.

Also in charge of writing the script, the Wachowskis finally manage to put the racing car Speed ​​Racer in the starting blocks, trying in particular to open the film to a more family audience. With the help of the visual effects designer of Matrix John Gaeta and the composer Michael Giacchino, the team intends to pay homage to the series of the 60s with a resolutely retro-futuristic look. Filming took place in the German studios of Babelsberg in the summer of 2007. With Johnny Depp’s playing partner in Sleepy Hollow, Christina Ricci, but also Emile Hirsch, Susan Sarandon, John Goddman, Matthew Fox…

The sequel, everyone knows it: despite a strong marketing campaign, the film is a commercial disaster, probably too misunderstood when it was released. It is however worth a look: if it intrigues you, do not miss it on VOD, for example on Premiere Max.

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