The Indy 500 is coming up this weekend, and as usual I won’t watch it. I like auto racing okay, but I never seek it out. It’s all pretty boring until someone crashes, isn’t it? And it’s kind of ghoulish to watch just for that.
I know even less about Formula One racing, which is much bigger in Europe than in America, where NASCAR “stock car” racing is king. Two of the best racing movies ever were about Formula One, though: Grand Prix and Le Mans. Now we have to add this one, and unlike those two, it was made in the era of CGI, so the already thrilling racing scenes could be revved up even further, and they didn’t have to travel away from England to film the “Japanese Grand Prix.” Just plug Mount Fuji into the background and you’re good to go.
The Cinerama photography for Grand Prix was spectacular … for 1966. The technology available to Ron Howard for this one allows for some truly amazing stuff, both on the large scale of the cars and tracks, and on a weird small scale, such as cameras inside the helmets, and inside the engines! The editing is very, very fast, which for once I find completely appropriate, as we are talking about very, very fast cars.
So there’s the technical wizardry, which is some of the best ever. What about the story? It tells of the rivalry between British driver James Hunt, who I had never heard of, and Austrian Niki Lauda, who I had. That was partly because Hunt quit racing after winning one world championship and died young, and Lauda kept racing for a long time … and was in one of the most horrific crashes ever, at Nürburgring; horrible because it didn’t kill him, but cooked his face and lungs for about a minute while he was trapped in his car. The rehab afterwards was truly horrible. That he survived at all was a bit of a miracle; that he was back in the race car again at Monza only six weeks later was incredible. His face was a wreck (and still is today) and he later admitted he was terrified, but he still drove.
The story is well-told, though more than a little dishonest. We are shown that the two basically disliked each other. While it is true that the rivalry on the track was intense, they were actually close friends the rest of the time. I forgave the writer, since it made a better story, and my opinion was confirmed when I read that Lauda was very happy with the film. Chris Hemsworth plays Hunt, basically a good-time Charlie who just liked to drive real fast. Daniel Brühl is the calculating driving machine, Lauda, and he bears an uncanny resemblance to the real Niki, before the crash. I quite enjoyed this one.