Death Race (film)
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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Paul W. S. Anderson|
|Written by||Paul W. S. Anderson|
|Based on||The Racer
by Ib Melchior
|Music by||Paul Haslinger|
|Edited by||Niven Howie|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$75.7 million|
Though referred to as a remake of the 1975 film Death Race 2000 (based on Ib Melchior's short story "The Racer") in reviews and marketing materials, director Paul W.S. Anderson stated in the DVD commentary that he thought of the film as something of a prequel.
A remake had been in development since 2002, though production was delayed by disapproval of early screenplays then placed in turnaround following a dispute between Paramount Pictures and the producer duo Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner (the latter was the producer without Cruise in the film). Death Race was acquired by Universal Studios, and Anderson re-joined the project to write and direct. Filming began in Montreal in August 2007, and the completed project was released on August 22, 2008. Critics' reviews were mixed to negative.
In 2012, the collapse of the US economy and the subsequent increase in crime rates leads to the rise of privatized prisons. One such prison is Terminal Island Penitentiary, whose warden, Claire Hennessey, earns her profits by broadcasting a modern gladiator game participated by the prisoners. In the game "Death Race," the racers, along with their navigators, compete in a 3-part race over 3 days on a closed track. The track is littered with pressure plates that activate either the cars' offensive weapons, defensive equipment or deadly traps. Any racer winning 5 races will be granted freedom.
Towards the end of one race, a masked driver nicknamed Frankenstein is nearing the finish line, pursued by his rival Machine Gun Joe. His navigator, Case, reports that all his defensive equipment have malfunctioned. Against her protest, Frankenstein refuses to let Joe finish first. Case ejects herself out of the car just before Joe destroys it.
Industrial worker and former NASCAR driver Jensen Ames struggles to support his family. When the factory he works at is closed, and then he and his fellow angry workers are attacked by the arriving riot police/SWAT team, forcing them to fight back, he returns home to his wife and their new-born daughter, Piper. A masked assailant knocks him unconscious. Jensen wakes up with a bloodied knife in hand, and his wife lies dead nearby, just before policemen storm into his home. He is arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment, while Piper is placed in foster care.
Six months later, Jensen is transferred to Terminal Island Prison. He immediately gets into a fight with Pachenko and his Aryan Brotherhood gang. Hennessey's right-hand man Ulrich calls Jensen to her office. She tells him that Frankenstein died from his injuries after the previous race, and offers to let Jensen go free if he impersonates Frankenstein to win one more race (as Frank already won 4). Jensen accepts the offer and meets Frankenstein's maintenance crew consisting of Coach, Gunner, and Lists.
On Day 1, Jensen meets his navigator Case. Jensen's defensive equipment again mysteriously malfunctions. Under attack by Travis Colt, one of the other competitors, Jensen improvises and spills napalm over Colt's car, and Case ignites it with the cigarette lighter. Colt's car is then run into by Machine Gun Joe's. When Jensen sees Pachenko doing the same hand gesture as the masked assailant, he is distracted and is hit by Joe, coming in last place. Day 1 ends with 3 racers dead (Siad, Grimm and Colt) and 6 remaining. After a conversation with Hennessey and another fight with Pachenko, Jensen deduces that Hennessey ordered Pachenko to frame Jensen, so she can have a replacement for Frankenstein.
On Day 2, Jensen confronts Case about the malfunctions. Case admits she sabotaged Frankenstein's car to keep him from winning and leaving Death Race, in exchange for her release papers. Jensen tricks Pachenko into crashing, then leaves his car and kills Pachenko by snapping his neck. Hennessey then unleashes the Dreadnought, a newly-built heavily armed 18-wheel tanker, to thin out the racers and boost ratings. The Dreadnought kills three racers (Carson, Riggins and 14K), leaving only Frankenstein and Joe alive. Jensen contacts Joe and the two work together to trigger a trap which destroys the Dreadnought, much to Hennessey's shock and anger.
Hennessey asks Jensen to consider staying and racing as Frankenstein, in exchange for a life of comfort, but he refuses. She orders Ulrich to plant a bomb under his car, in case he wins. Knowing Hennessey has no intention of letting him go, Jensen plans an escape and talks to Joe.
On the final race, Hennessey deliberately keeps Jensen from activating his weapons and allows Joe to activate his. Jensen, Case and Joe destroy and drive through a weakened wall, which they discovered by examining footage of the previous race, and head for the bridge to the mainland. Hennessey activates the bomb, not knowing that it was removed and neutralized by Coach. The cars wreck the pursuing police cruisers, and a furious Hennessey dispatches attack helicopters. After the cars make it to the mainland and split up, the helicopters follow and corner Jensen's car. Case reveals that she had already received her release papers. She wears Frankenstein's costume, and Jensen jumps out of the car. Case is captured while Joe and Jensen escape on a freight train.
Hennessey, although furious about the losses, is happy about re-capturing "Frankenstein" and the race' success. She opens a congratulatory present from Coach, only to find the bomb planted on Jensen's car. Coach detonates the bomb, killing Hennessey and Ulrich for good.
With Hennessey and Ulrich's deaths, Jensen's name was cleared, then six months later, Joe and Jensen are shown working in Mexico as mechanics, and are reunited with Case and Piper.
- Jason Statham as Jensen Garner Ames, a falsely accused-convicted prisoner coerced to drive in the arena, taking the name "Frankenstein" from the man who came before him. He kills 2 racers (Travis Colt, Slovo Pachenko) at the race.
- Joan Allen as Claire Hennessey, the sadistic prison warden who is the controller of the Death Race.
- Tyrese Gibson as Joseph Mason (a.k.a. Machine Gun Joe), a sociopathic racer who looks to use Death Race as a means to escape from prison. He alone uses male navigators, due to his habit of killing his navigators or them dying during the race. He has won 3 races, killed 15 racers and wishes to win so he could leave for Miami.
- Ian McShane as Coach, Frankenstein's loyal head mechanic and a voluntary inmate, since he feels that the outside world is not worth enough.
- Natalie Martinez as Case, Frankenstein's navigator. In prison for killing her husband, an abusive cop, she has a few years to serve and was given release papers in exchange for sabotaging Frankenstein's (Niles York) car
- Max Ryan as Pachenko, a Russian rival driver Ames clashes with several times (who also killed Ames' wife and framed him for it). He is the leader of Aryan Brotherhood in the prison. He wins 3 times and kills 9 racers.
- Jason Clarke as Mr. Darryl Ulrich, Hennessey's second-in-command and a sadistic prison guard. His first name is not mentioned in the film.
- Frederick Koehler as Lists, another member of Frankenstein's pit crew and a compulsive data collector. He is in prison for murdering his mother.
- Jacob Vargas as Gunner, Frankenstein's car repairman.
- Justin Mader as Travis Colt, a disgraced ex-NASCAR driver seeking to rebuild his career by winning the race. He wins 2 times and kills 5 racers in the race.
- Robert LaSardo as Hector Grimm (a.k.a. The Grim Reaper), a certified psychopath driving in the race who loves and worships Hennessey (believing her to be the avatar of the Hindu god of death). He wins 2 races and kills 12 people in the race.
- Robin Shou as 14K, a tenth-generation Triad member, sent to business school, held a degree from MIT. He wins 2 races and kills 7 racers; he kills 14 fighters in the death match.
- David Carradine as Niles York/Frankenstein, the most popular driver in the history of Death Race. (cameo voice-over, reprising role in original 1975 film Death Race 2000). His mask comes from a huge fire he suffered. He is actually the second Frankenstein.
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The cars in the film are vehicles that have been heavily modified with armor plating, machine guns and defensive weapons:
- Frankenstein's Monster - A 2006 Ford Mustang GT A80 armed with 2 M134s, smokescreen, napalm and oil slick for defense, as well as a 6-inch-thick (150 mm) detachable steel plate on the rear called "The Tombstone". It also has an ejector seat for the navigator, a NOS system to provide additional speed and a cigarette lighter.
- 2004 Dodge Ram 3500 - Machine Gun Joe's vehicle armed with 4 hood-mounted Browning M1919, 2 side-mounted Vulcan cannons and Russian RPG-7s on the roof and is mounted with 25-inch wheels to increase the size of the car.
- 1980 Porsche 911 - Driven by the Chinese convict 14K. With 2 WW2 German MG-42 belt-fed general purpose machine guns and 4 hood-mounted missiles with 4 on the roof.
- Pachenko's Chop Top- 1966 Buick Riviera Gran Sport armed with 4 German hood-mounted MG-34s and 2 internal PPSh-41 submachine guns also with 2 automatic Uzis mounted in the grille.
- 1979 Pontiac Trans Am - Carson's Car. Has a M134 aiming backwards for defense and a .50 caliber turret on top of his car which is operated by his navigator.
- 1972 Buick Boattail Riviera "Boat tail" - Riggins' car. Caltrops for defense, German MG-34s, twin Uzis and twin PPSH41 submachine guns in the passenger side windscreen controlled by the navigator.
- 1989 Jaguar XJR-S - driven by Travis with 2 .50 caliber M2 Browning machine guns.
- 2006 Chrysler 300C - driven by Grimm armed with 3 hood-mounted FN MAG58s with no stocks and a missile on the passenger side roof and an oil slick for defense.
- 1989 BMW E32 735i - Siad's car. Armed with a hood-mounted M134.
- The Dreadnought - A BAB Unit Peterbilt 18-wheel tanker truck modified by Hennessy into an armored truck with .50 caliber Browning heavy machine guns, 2 flame throwers, 2 rocket launchers, spikes on the forward wheel hubs, iron plates on the back wheels, bulldozer blade, chained caltrops and an M1A1 tank turret on the rear end of the trailer.
In March 2005, following the success of Alien vs. Predator, director Paul W.S. Anderson revealed that he was directing a remake of Death Race 2000 (1975) entitled Death Race 3000 at Paramount Pictures based on a script by J. F. Lawton. The remake would be produced by the producer pair Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner. Anderson described the remake as a riff on the first film. "It's not a straight remake at all. The first movie was an across-America race. This will be an around-the-world race. And it's set further in the future, so the cars are even more futuristic. So you've got cars with rockets, machine guns, force fields; cars that can split apart and re-form, a bit like Transformers. Cars that become invisible," the director explained. Comingsoon.net reported that "Paul saw his film almost as a prequel if anything; almost the genesis of the Death Race," though the film is referred to primarily as a remake in reviews and marketing materials.
Two years later, Roger Corman, the producer of Death Race 2000, elaborated that he had an option agreement with producer Tom Cruise, and that Cruise would portray the lead role. The director said that Cruise had not been happy with the first two screenplays and that a third one was underway. In June 2006, producer Jeremy Bolt reported that Anderson would direct the remake of Death Race 2000 after completing Resident Evil: Extinction (2007). The producer described the remake's new tone: "We've basically taken the idea of reality television and extended it twenty years. So it's definitely a comment on society, and particularly reality television, but it is not as much a parody or a satire as the original. It's more straight." The following August, Paramount ended its relationship with Cruise/Wagner Productions, and Death Race was placed in turnaround. According to reports, when the project was discovered available, Universal Studios acquired it. Cruise and Wagner resumed their roles as producers, and Anderson returned to write and direct the film.
In April 2007, actor Jason Statham entered negotiations to star in Death Race, with production slated to begin in late summer or early fall. Anderson described that Death Race would take place in a prison, and that the film would be "super-violent" like its predecessor. "It has little echoes of the original – a lot of people get run down, but rather than having the points system, which had no pay off anyway, it's a pure race. It's more like Gladiator, with the last person standing – or driving, winning," explained the director. Filming on Death Race began in Montreal in August 2007.
The film has received mixed reviews. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 43% rating based on reviews from 150 critics. Metacritic gave it rating of 43 out of 100 based on reviews from 23 critics.
Robert Koehler of Variety called Death Race "as hard as metal and just as dumb" and criticized it for removing the humor of Death Race 2000. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film half a star (out of four), calling it "an assault on all the senses, including common." Keith Phipps of the A.V. Club said the film is "ideal for those who want to watch a bunch of cars blow each other up, without having to think about it all that much." Marc Savlov of the Austin Chronicle called Death Race "one of the most boring drags of all time."
Peter Hartlaub of the San Francisco Chronicle called the film "an ill-advised and severely wussified remake." Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily News gave the film one and a half stars (out of four), calling it "junk" and saying that "the chases are pretty cool, but there's absolutely nothing else to see." A positive review came from Nathan Lee of The New York Times, who said that "the movie is legitimately greasy, authentically nasty, with a good old-fashioned sense of laying waste to everything in sight." James Berardinelli of ReelViews awarded Death Race a score of two and a half stars (out of four), saying that it's "weak when it comes to things like plot, character, and acting, but it's very good at provoking visceral reactions."
The film grossed $75,677,515, of which $36,316,032 was from North America.
The film was originally scheduled for release on September 26, 2008, but was moved to August 22, 2008.
The DVD and Blu-ray were released in the United States on December 21, 2008. There was also an unrated edition released. The Blu-ray version of the movie features a Digital Copy of the film. In the DVD commentary, Anderson further elaborates on his thought of the movie as a prequel more than a remake.
The soundtrack was released on August 19, 2008.
The film is followed by two direct-to-video prequel films Death Race 2 (2010) and Death Race 3: Inferno (2013), both take place before this film and was filmed in South Africa. The films was directed by Roel Reiné, stars Luke Goss, Tanit Phoenix, Danny Trejo and Ving Rhames. Lists and 14K are the only returning characters and are portrayed by Frederick Koehler and Robin Shou, respectively.
- "First Look: Death Race Battle Scene". Worst Previews. May 28, 2008. Retrieved May 30, 2008.
- Borys Kit (August 8, 2007). "Buckle up: Allen joins Uni's 'Race'". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved September 13, 2007.
- Borys Kit (August 21, 2007). "The 'Race' is on for Martinez". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on October 1, 2007. Retrieved September 13, 2007.
- Patrick Lee (March 18, 2002). "Paul W.S. Anderson reanimates a game group of zombies in Resident Evil". Sci Fi Wire. Archived from the original on October 14, 2007. Retrieved September 13, 2007.
- Tom Tinneny (June 3, 2008). "Death Race: The Set Visit!". Comingsoon.net. Retrieved August 4, 2010.
- Calum Waddell. "August 17: Roger Corman's DEATH RACE 3000 update". Fangoria. Archived from the original on October 24, 2007. Retrieved September 13, 2007.
- Stax (June 28, 2006). "Castlevania, Death Race Buzz". IGN. Retrieved September 13, 2007.
- Borys Kit (April 23, 2007). "Statham in 'Death Race' driver's seat". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on August 15, 2007. Retrieved September 13, 2007.
- "Paul WS Anderson talks Death Race". Total Film. July 31, 2007. Retrieved September 13, 2007.
- "Death Race". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster.
- Death Race, Metacritic
- Robert Koehler (August 21, 2008). "Death Race review". Variety.
- Death Race review, Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
- Death Race review, Keith Phipps, The A.V. Club The Onion
- Death Race review, Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle
- Death Race review, Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle
- Death Race review, Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News
- Death Race review, Nathan Lee, The New York Times
- Death Race review, James Berardinelli, ReelViews
- "Death Race (2008)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved June 21, 2010.
- "Death Race Rescheduled for this Summer". ComingSoon.net. Retrieved May 11, 2008.
- "Death Race (2008)". videoeta.com. 2013. Retrieved 20 June 2013.
- Dan Goldwasser (August 1, 2008). "Paul Haslinger scores Deaf Race". ScoringSessions.com. Retrieved August 1, 2008.
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