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Sport-Fi: Speed and the Need for It!   Leave a comment

Welcome back for another look at the world of Sport-Fi! The combination of sports and sci-fi that sometimes runs nice and smooth and sometimes gets a nail in the tire!

Today I am going to take a look at the amazing races that have graced the big and small screens over the years in various attempts at making a modern day Ben Hur.  So far I would say that Ben shouldn’t be too worried about being shown up.

Death Racing – Death Race 2000

After an economic collapse and a military take over the United States as we know it is no more.   The new government has started the “Death Race,” a transcontinental race in which contestants gain points by killing pedestrians.  The idea is that violent entertainment can be used to battle civic unrest.

The movie was remade in 2008 and the competitors were re-imagined as prisoners racing on closed tracks to gain their freedom.  Unlike its cult classic predecessor the new film was critically panned.  But that didn’t stop it from getting direct to DVD sequel.  And another is on the way!  But, instead of watching those your time will probably be better spent dusting off your copy of Twisted Metal 2.

Pod Racing – Star Wars Ep 1

Oh The Phantom Menace, the breaker of so many nerd hearts who expected to be instantly transported back to their childhoods as a reward for standing in line for two weeks waiting for tickets.  Episode one can be summed up as: good, but not as good as you had hoped.  The centerpiece of this trip back to a galaxy far far away is the Boonta Eve Pod Race, which is essentially NASCAR in space.

The Pod Race serves to make the Star Wars universe more family friendly.  Our young hero is able to prove his skills as great fighter with racing rather than having to actually fight anyone.  You may have also noticed how all of the faceless henchmen in the film are robots rather than flesh and blood soft targets like they were in the original trilogy.  The race also shows off all of the computer effects ILM had spent so much time and money developing in one big flashy sequence.

The end result is a sequence that plays out like a video game.  The sequence was then made into a video game.

Say what you will about George Lucas’s latter day ability to make movies, his ability to market merchandise remains as strong as it ever was.

Space Yacht Racing- Star Trek Voyager: Drive

Star Trek franchise has always held a core value that war and hate have no place in a civilized universe.  The human race, now united in a post-war society, has tasked itself with the burden of bringing peace to the stars.    As we all know peace is best celebrated with that most civilized of competitions, the yacht race!  Yep! Yacht race!

“Try not to get any grit on your uniform, darling. I just had it pressed.”

In season 7 of Voyager, crew members/ugly bumpers Tom and B’Elanna enter a spaceship race where each ship has to meet very specific design  standards and can’t go over light speed.  This is much like how a racing yacht is required to use wind to power its movement instead of a motor.  The race is meant as a symbol of peace after an era of war between the competing aliens.

In true Star Trek fashion, one of the competing teams is using the race as a cover to plant a bomb and derail the peace agreement, leaving the humans to fix everything.  Peace is clearly not possible without at least some human intervention.  In even truer Star Trek fashion, even that is just b-plot to Tom and B’Elanna working out their relationship issues.  Leave it to Star Trek to take sports and make it about feelings.

CGI Racing- Speed Racer

Time Magazine listed Speed Racer as one of its picks for “Top 25 Sports Movies” along side films like Field of Dreams and Million Dollar Baby, calling it “a hymn to practical ingenuity and manual dexterity, to real American innovators like Edison and Ford, Steve Wozniak and Dale Earnhardt.”

I think the good people at Rotten Tomatoes will disagree with that sentiment, as the movie was critically panned.   The movie looks like a PS1 adaption of a 90’s Hot Wheels track:

Anthropomorphic Car Racing- Cars

Have you ever taken a moment to think about the implications of the world depicted in Pixar’s Cars?  Sure, on the surface it looks like a fun kids movie, but dig a little deeper and ask how it could be that car and man have become a single entity?  Could we be seeing the ultimate result of the Technological Singularity, and this is the world long after the events of a Matrix like machine take over? Or perhaps Skynet? Or Hal 9000? Could these beings revere Christine and The Buick 8 as we do Adam and Eve?  Is this the world that could one day become Cybertron or its less popular neighbor GoBotron?

Like us, the cars engage in athletic competition and seem to get the same sort of enjoyment out of it that we do.  But without muscles to ache and lungs to burn, where is the sport in it?  Shouldn’t the best designed car win every time?  Or are they driven (pun!) by something more human?  Something that pushes them passed their mechanical limitations?

Cars is a world so different, yet somehow so familiar.  Why is this place?

What are your favorite Sport-Fi racing stories? Tell me in the comments!

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Posted October 23, 2012 by atomicsam in Film, Lists, TV

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