Grand Prix HD DVD review - Home Theater Forum and Systems -

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post #1 of 3 Old 05-27-08, 06:07 AM Thread Starter
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Richard W. Haines
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Grand Prix HD DVD review

"Grand Prix" was released in HD DVD a while ago. I had it in my vault and
skimmed through it a few times but finally sat down and watched the entire picture
yesterday in my screening room.

The only reason to watch this film is if you have a DLP and large screen that is at
least 8 foot wide. My screen is 10 foot wide and I sat about 15 feet away from it so
I was able to simulate the impact it had back in it's Roadshow engagements
in 1966. As long as you're able to do that, you might find it an entertaining 'show'.

Let me be specific about that...

This is not a good movie. In fact it's a rather poor film on a dramatic level. The
script is just a collection of cliches and you'll probably be able to recite the lines
before the actors spit them out. "Why do you race"? "A man's gotta do what a
man's gotta do" and similar rediculous dialogue throughout the screnplay. When I
screened it with my wife we started cracking up as we both said the next line out
loud in advance of it hearing it on screen. That's how predictable it was.

The 'story' or what there is of it centers on three completely unsympathetic and
cyncial Formula One racers played by James Garner, Yves Montand and Brian Bedford.
There is no 'love of the game' in this story which is a major narrative flaw.
The director, John Frankenheimer, was able to do something that few filmmakers
could claim. He made Garner unlikeable and nasty. Garner has a natural
easy going charm and affability in most of his television and feature film roles
in "Maverick", "The Great Escape", "Support Your Local Sherif" and "Rockford Files".
This is one of the few characters that he's played that you don't like. He sleeps with
the wife of the racer he nearly killed in a crash while the man was recovering. Why
she sleeps with him is a complete mystery since he pokes fun of her and implies she's
a whore. As Garner mentions in the extras, they didn't want him for this movie. They
really wanted Steve McQueen who preferred to shoot his own racing film, "Le Mans". Garner
seems aware that he was second choice which affects his performance.

Much of the three hour running time is taken up with these character's personal
lives, none of which are remotely interesting. The romantic pairings have no
chemstry at all. Montand and Eva Marie Saint seem to be merely tolerating each
other. Eva is supposed to be a fashion editor and it's never explained what she's
doing at the Grand Prix. Her outfits are all dreadful including the first
one she wears which looks like a sack and makes her body appear shapeless. If this
was supposed to be satiric of her poor taste or lack of talent in her field, it didn't work.
Jessica Walter (the stalker in Eastwood's "Play Misty for Me") despises Bedford and seems indifferent to Garner. The make-up worn on the women is very obvious throughout the
film. Sometimes Eva has less make up on which shows up her wrinkles and makes her
look much older. In fact, the only time the actress was ever sexy on film was in her
rare 'femme fatale' performance in "North by Northwest".

At least there are a few laughs with Toshiro Mifune's mangling of English. He appears
to be speaking it phonetically since the sentences have gaps between each word as
if he was struggling to pronounce them. Aldolfo Celi appears to have wandered into
the scene from the "Thunderball" set without his eyepatch since he seems very villanous
in the non-threatening role of a Ferari manufacturer.

However, I actually enjoyed the show for the sole reason of the racing footage in
Cinerama. Although I don't have a curved screen like the ones it was shown on,
I did get dizzy and motion sickness from the photography. As illustrated in the
extras, this was the first movie to attach a camera (a 65mm Panavision unit to
boot) onto a racing car so you could actually experience what the drivers did on
the road. Every Cinerama movie needed it's roller coaster ride and this movie
delivered the goods in that respect. Garner and Montand did their own driving
which looked very dangerous. I have no idea how they got insurance for this
movie putting the name players at such a risk. There is one road shot that seems
to go for four minutes which was pretty outrageous. It might have been the
longest driving shot in film history. You'll feel every twist and turn on the road.
Every imaginable angle was utilized with the camera located behind the wheel of a
car, ground level, facing the actor, behind the actor, in front of the actor and in
a helicopter that circles around them until your head spins. The other major attribute
are the elaborate split screen montages by Saul Bass who worked with Hitchcock for
many years including the storyboards for the shower scene in "Psycho". Although
linked with the era, the split screen scenes are probably the most extensive ever done
on a feature film. Bass even does some quirky references to the original three camera
Cinerama process by dividing the screen into three separate panels at times. Since the
opticals were photographed on the large film format, they aren't as grainy as 35mm opticals
back then although there is still some dust on them.

The problem are the scenes between the various Grand Prix races around the world.
They are badly acted and seem to drag on forever, pun intended. At least they look razor sharp and are very colorful.

The film is labeled as 'restored' but I'm not sure that term fully applies. They did go
back to the 65mm camera negative and make a wet gate 65mm Interpositive (fine grain
color positive) on low fade stock since the original negative was on the old Eastmancolor
quick fade stock. There didn't appear to be any serious fading issues. However, it wasn't
digitally cleaned up. While most of it looks great, there are clearly some shots with negative
scratches and other damage that pop up now and again. They could've been fixed and
should have been corrected but weren't. The other issue are the bugs and dust on the
Cinerama lenses that are obvious in a number of scenes. Driving at over a hundred miles
an hour increases the possibility of something flying into the camera. This also should've
been digitally cleaned off since it's a real distraction at times even thought that's what people
saw when it was released. But it wasn't intentional and I'm in favor of fixing artifacts like
this in movies. Anything that's distracting to the enjoyment of the picture.

The score by Maurie Jarre is good although like all Jarre features, it's played too many times
and you get tired of hearing it by the end of the film. Some of it sounded like variations of his "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Doctor Zhivago" tracks. The 5.1 stereo is good with lots of
rear channel engines in the surround field. The dialogue was originally directional in the
six track stereo prints but was re-mixed so it comes out of the center channel only for
this version. The music is spread over all the channels but I doubt whether it was in the
rear channels originally.

The problem of all Roadshow movies from the fifties and sixties was the structure of the
format. The business model was to charge double or triple the standard ticket price
of a conventional theater. As a result, the Roadshow houses made the same money as
a standard cinema that played the feature two or three times a day. A Roadshow house
only played the film once a day in many cases but the increased ticket price made it even
out. Since audiences were charged a whopping $2.50 (rather than .75 or $1.25), studios
thought they should give them their money's worth, not only on gigantic curved screens
and 70mm six channel stereo sound but in the movie's running time. The vast majority of
Roadshow films from the era are too long and seem rather padded. This movie could've been
cut by at least a half hour (the dull romantic scenes between the races) and worked much
better. But then they couldn't justify the overture and intermission with the shorter running
time. In many cases, Roadshow films were shortened for general release and in most cases
the oveture and intermission were removed. On the other hand, perhaps the wretched excess
in these movies is part of the appeal when seeing them decades later on a DLP in your home
theater. I rather enjoy the long running times even though as an editor I can see exactly
what should've been done to tighten up the narrative. For example, I would've cut the long
sequence when Montand teaches Eva Marie how to fish. You really feel exhausted after screening
these movies which either means you got your money's worth or were put through the wringer
by the filmmakers.

I probably won't sit through the entire film again but will occasionally put up the racing scenes
(first and last races are the best) to show off to friends who want to see high definition on
a large screen. It will be amusing to watch them tilt their heads and grab the edge of the sofa
in the traveling shots on the raceway.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 05-27-08 at 12:49 PM.
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post #2 of 3 Old 05-27-08, 06:53 AM
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Re: Grand Prix HD DVD review

I think the movie is all right. The footage is awesome, as you said, and worth it just for that. The in between stuff is tolerable, and add a frame for the main show. I love the era of motor racing, and this shows the mentality of that time. Often the drivers had to be helped into and out of their cars, but they did well in races. These days F1 drivers are excluded for a splinter in a finger. Overall, I like this movie, and will watch it again, several times.
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post #3 of 3 Old 05-27-08, 07:00 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Grand Prix HD DVD review

The whole thing over and over again? I'll watch it every now and then with my remote handy.

A good point you brought up was the atmosphere of the events which did show the mentality of
the era, especially the crowds getting excided over the deadly crashes. I forgot to mention
the disgusting crowd shots of people eating like pigs and kids picking their noses. If only the
rest of the story was that quirky and off beat they would've had a great movie rather than just a mediocre one with spectacular racing footage. They really needed to show the passion of the drivers for the sport. Otherwise, why would they
put themselves at such risk? It simply isn't there in the script or in the

So it's a good 'show' and fair 'movie'.

For those wondering what happened to Cinerama and why the process was
phased was because of the limited seating necessary to experience
the effect. The deeply curved screen did give the impression that the viewer
was inside the movie, especially in roller coaster type of shots like the driving
sequences in "Grand Prix", train scene in "Battle of the Bulge" and Blue Danube
space shots in "2001: A Space Odyssey". The problem was, this only applied
to audiences who sat in the orchestra section of the theater. Those who
saw the movie in the aisle rows or balconies saw an extremelly distorted image.
I used to attend the Cinerama theater on Broadway and similar Dimension 150
cinema at The Rivoli in the seventies. I tried different seats to see what the
viewer experienced and determined that anyone who wasn't in the orchestra
section would've been very disoriented or distracted with what the screen looked
like from there. The same applied to people in the back where the rear channel
would've been too loud for comfort. Imagine ordering reserved seat tickets in
the sixties and discovering your aisle was inappropriate for the curved screen.

In any event, the vast majority of the curved screen cinemas were demolished
in the late seventies and early eighties. One of the few that survives is the
Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. I wish there was a way of watching a curved
screen image on a DLP but right now there isn't. The image would go out of
focus on the edges if you tried it. The Cinerama theaters had custom designed
lenses for the projectors that compensated for the curve to keep the image
in focus from edge to edge.

Fortunately, even on a wide flat screen in high definition, I can simulate the
peripheral illusion which is the primary attribute of movies like "Grand Prix".
I also look forward to the upcoming digitally restored three panel Cinerama
film, "How the West Was Won" on August 26th of this year. They came up
with a method of blending the join lines so it becomes a solid wide screen image
like the later Cinerama productions. It's an entertaining epic and I can't
wait to see what it looks like. I saw the Dayton, Ohio revival in the three projector
process back in 1997. It was a spectacular 'show' with much better acting
and story than "Grand Prix" but there's no question you saw the panel joins
in most shots.

I'm surprised the three panel system lasted as long as it did (ten years),
especially after they introduced the 70mm Todd-AO in 1955 which
generated a comparable peripheral field of view with the bug eye lens utilized
in "Around the World in 80 Days". After 1963, the Cinerama company switched
to that format for their theaters. Hopefully, they'll go back and restore the
five three panel travelogues and first narrative feature "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm" too.

As a bonus, they're offering a 'smilebox' version of the restored film along with a standard widescreen version. The smilebox curves the edges of the film to give the appearance of the curved Cinerama screens. I have no idea if the illusion will work but it should be interesting to see it that way as a suppliment. The final bonus
is a documentary called "Cinerama Adventure" that contains clips of the first
five features in the format. It will be released in blu-ray as well as standard
DVD anamorphically enhanced. I guess that will be my excuse to purchase
a blu-ray player.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 05-29-08 at 05:26 AM.
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