This Week in Wargaming Episode 34 8-9-09

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MINIATURES AND BOARDGAMES

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Privateer Press Announces Preview of “The Next Big Thing” for Warmachine during Gencon

Meeples and Miniatures doing weekly video review of Historical Miniatures Releases

Fantasy Flight Games launches video preview of Warhammer, Chaos in the Old world

Forge World Siege of Vraks 3 available for pre order

Arcane Legions Box Art Previews for Romans and Egyptians

Army Builder 3.2 available

Battlestar Galactica Pegasus Expansion, Rules Posted

Tumbleweed Tank Preview for AE WWII
And the 1936 Popular Science Article it is based on

AE WWII Occult concept art for SS Vampire

COMPUTER GAMES

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Empire Total War

MEDIA

GI JOE—-

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Sorry, but I could not help at least touching on this film as it released this weekend to tepid but not terrible reviews.

The Reviews

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Dawn of War 2, Multiplayer Beta ready for action!!!

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Here is a nice set of screenshots of the new Dawn of War 2 multiplayer beta along with an excellent early review of the Beta gameplay from Ixal on  The Escapist

Since a few days the Dawn of War 2 multiplayer beta is online and open to all Soulstorm buyers and a few people lucky enough, that includes me, who managed to get an beta key.
Read here my impressions of the game after a few days of gaming both against bots and human.

Dawn of War 2 continues the tradition of small scale RTS games which Relic is known for. Other than in games like Red Alert you don’t mass produce hundreds of units and mindlessly send them against the enemy. Instead you only produce a dozen squads and/or vehicles and try to outflank the enemy to gain a tactical advantage.

People who have played Down of War 1 might at first be a bit confused when starting with DoW 2, as this game is much closer to Company of Heroes than DoW 1. It includes many features known from CoH like its cover system, rear hits on vehicles and suppression which is even more deadly than in CoH.
But it is not a simple CoH clone with new textures. Many elements were tweaked for a even more action packed gaming experience. DoW 2 is more of a blend of DoW 1 and CoH with a mixture of tweaks and improvements.

The game has two multiplayer game modes, both known from CoH. Victory points, where you have to capture certain points to drain the enemies 500 VP to 0 , or annihilation where you have to destroy the base of the enemy.
All this games can be played either 1 vs 1 or 3 vs 3. You can of course only play a 2 vs 2 by closing two player slots, but that are the matches the maps are optimized for. And the focus is clearly on 3 vs 3 games, something a few people are not happy with as finding other competent people to play with is not always that easy. Also when one player has a bad machine he will lag the game for everyone.

Before you start you have to select your race and your hero. Each race has three heroes to choose from which represents a techtree or doctrine for the CoH players. Different heroes have different personal abilities, slightly different global abilities and can be equipped with different weapons.
As you can see the choice of your hero has a big impact of the game. But that does not mean that your hero is a army slaying killing machine. You still need the rest of your army and even offensive heroes should not attack superior forces alone.

The biggest change compared to both DoW 1 and CoH is that there is no base building at all with a few exceptions. Some heroes can build turrets on the map, and you can build power generators at some fixed locations to increase your resources. Also, some global abilities can create buildings with certain abilities like teleporter gates.
But other than that there is no base building. All your units come from the same building and your tech level doesn’t increase by building new barracks, but simply by clicking on the “Next tech level” button.

Some people don’t like this, but personally I don’t see why this is bad. It frees you from stopping the combat just to place another farm or other in itself useless building. And if you really want to build something, play a hero who can build turrets. Those are the important buildings anyway.

When the game starts you have your base, your hero and your scout squad, meaning the weakest combat squad available to you. The first thing you should do is to start capturing points as there is where your resources come from. The points you can capture are requisition points which increases your requisition rate. Requisition is your primary resource which is used by every unit and some global power. You already start with a nice income of it. Capturing extra points increases this income by a small amount.
The second type of points are power nodes. This nodes alone give you a tiny amount of power which is used for high tech units and upgrades. To increase the power output of a point you first have to activate the power point which costs requisition. And then you can buy additional power generators for even more requisition which increase the power output by quite a bit. Be aware that when the enemy captures the power point he also gets the benefit of all generators attached to that point for no cost. So think before you buy generators if you can hold the point or not. If you are attacking, you can also destroy enemy generators instead of capturing them
If you play with victory points enabled then those are your third type of point available. Each map features 3 victory points and when you control more VP than your enemy then the enemy looses ticks.
Be aware that you can’t build listening posts on points to protect them. Requisition and Victory points can be captured back by every wandering enemy infantry unit. Power points first have to be deactivated (with damage), but then can be captured. Its on you to protect your points from the enemy.

There is also a third resource in the game which is gained by killing enemies. Depending on the race this resource has a different name, but the use stays the same. It is used to power global abilities. These abilities are different for every race and hero and can be activated anywhere on the map as long as you can see the point. This global abilities can heal units, give them short duration buffs, summon units or activate the races big explosion like power, for example an orbital bombardment of an small area.

Unlike other RTS games you don’t build hundreds of units sending them wave after wave against the enemy. At most you command two dozen units and have to play tactically to outflank the enemy.
People who have played CoH should already know the cover system. Cover comes in two grades, yellow and green (the latter being the better) and a unit in cover can hold of two or more units of equal power easily. So having cover and denying the enemy the use of cover is very important. A different form of cover are buildings which can be garrisoned. Those buildings act as 360° cover and units in them are very well protected. But don’t worry, on the maps in the beta buildings, are not placed so that they allow total map control. They are useful, but not game breaking.
CoH players might also be familiar with suppression When a unit is out of cover and under fire by a heavy weapon it quickly becomes suppressed. That means it moves slower and takes even more damage, likely being destroyed in seconds.
That makes it very important that you flank the heavy weapons, which typically have a limited arc of fire, as frontal assaults are destined to fail (unless you have vehicles or special abilities).

All this is already known from CoH. What DoW brings to the party (besides heroes) are melee troops. Some troops are not very good in ranged combat (or able to fire at range at all), but are very dangerous in close combat. Also, when a unit is in close combat it can’t fire their ranged weapons. So a all ranged army seldom leads to victory.
Another new thing are jump troops. They provide an additional way to flank a heavy weapon, not by going around, but by going over (or under) it. And they are needed because otherwise heavy weapons might be a bit too strong, especially as those weapons are rather cheap.
One should also mention what DoW 2 lacks, and that is artillery. There are no mortars or higher forms of artillery in the game except for the highly expensive final global ability. That means that if you want to hurt the enemy you must do it up close and can’t spam artillery.
Another big equalizer are vehicles. Weapons which are good against infantry are normally very bad against any vehicle. So even the best defense against infantry crumbles when a vehicle appears. So a good mix of units is needed to stay competetive and it is impossible to have all required units on all choke points all the time.

So how does the game play? In my opinion very well. Its fast paced, but not too fast to become unattractive for non pros, and requires a good, but not overwhelming amount of micro. Units move a bit slower than some people are used to it, but that gives you a nice little breathing time between the combats. Just the game browser could use a little work as it has no filters.
An interesting feature is the revive countdown. When you loose your hero you can revive him by paying requisition. The amount of requisition depends on his level and is quite highe at first and counts down. When you wait long enough the price gets lower and lower till it reaches the bottom where it costs only 250 points to revive him.

Should you buy the game? Most likely. But better download steam and participate in the open beta which starts on January 28th.

Check back here often as I might later add a description of the different races. I will also answer question, so ask away. (I am also happy about every non question comment).

Update 1: Races

On to the races.

There are a total of 4 races in the game, each with 3 heroes.
Note that when I talk about special abilities, I mean those abilities which are activated by using the third resource. Each hero also has personal abilities like being able to heal others.

Space Marines

The races you also play in single player. They are the defenders of mankind and interstellar knights mutated by implants to be super humans and wear huge power armours.
Space Marines are the strongest soldiers in the galaxy. As such their units tend to be very strong, but also rather expensive.

Their global abilities include calling a drop pod with tactical marines, teleporting in a squad of terminators and bombarding an area from space.

Their heroes are:
Force Commander
The leader of the army. He is a tough close combat fighter which can be equipped with better weapons and armour or even turned into an terminator. His special abilities are calling close combat assault terminators and a war cry which increases a units defences.

Apothecary
A healer, the only one in the game as far as I know. Otherwise you have to heal at your HQ. He can be equipped with either items which increase his healing power or increase the abilities of other soldiers. The exceptions are his weapons. The Apothecary can become a rather fearsome close combat fighter.
His special abilities are reviving all heroes on the map at once and making all infantry invulnerable for a short time.

Tech Marine
A Tech Marine focuses on vehicles. He is not a very good fighter, but he can build turrets, teleporters and, with the right equipment, lay mines. His special abilities are repairing all vehicles on the map and calling down a Venerable Dreadnought which is stronger than the normal version.

Space marines have a small unit list. Generally they will have less troops than other races but those units are quite powerful. Most of their troops are specialized anti infantry or anti vehicle, but some can be equipped to deal with either threat like their expensive tactical marines.

Orkz (Yes, that’s how they are written)

Orkz are a comic relieve race who speak very funny. But that doesn’t mean that they are any less dangerous on the battlefield. Their global abilities are reinforcing the squads around the commander . Also nearly every infantry unit have the Waaagh ability which increases the strength of all nearby units. And this ability stack, so 5 units each using Waaagh makes all of them five times stronger (ok, not exactly, but you know what I mean).

Warboss
The biggest ork around. He is a fearsome close combat fighter who can have very effective weapons. His special abilities are a war cry making a squad harder to damage and increasing the close combat power of a squad

Kommando Nob (That’s also written that way)
A stealth hero which can sneak around invisible and debuf the enemy. His equipment is centred around this and can increase his sneaking time etc.
As special abilities he can make a squad invisible and call a squad of Kommandos

Mekboy
The tech marine of the Orkz. He can also place turrets and Waagh Banners which make orkz near them fight harder. He can also teleport.
Special abilities are increasing the firing speed of a squad or making a vehicle faster.

Orkz are a close combat race. Their ranged squads aren’t the strongest and all of them die easily. That is countered by orkz being generally cheap. They have a nice variety of units with upgrades. Generally as ork player you are always short on requisition, even more than others

Eldar
Eldar are the speed race. Their warriors are a bit weaker than others, but they are fast and use hit and run tactics. Their global abilities are creating portals and creating a psychic storm which damages everything in the area.

Heroes are:

Warlock
A close combat specialist who focuses on doing damage. Slice enemies up with a sword? Check. Shoot psychic blasts? Check. His special abilities are reducing the incoming ranged damage to a squad and making all squads move faster.

Warp Spider Exarch
The Exarch can teleport himself and others around the map and is equipped with a mediocre gun. Still, he can appear everywhere and vanish again as soon as he gets in trouble.
As special abilities he can summon a squad of Warp Spiders and increase the ranged attack of a squad.

Farseer
The Farseer is more of a supporting hero who disrupts the enemy rather than combats directly. As special abilities she can turn of the fog of war in an area for a short time and summon the unique Seer Council which is a close combat squad.

Eldar troops are fragile and rely on speed to get into cover from who they can destroy the enemy. The term glass cannons fits nicely.

Tyranids.
The only race not available in DoW 1. They are invaders from an other galaxy who absorb biomass to add them to their forces.
Their global abilities are instantly creating more troops at their base and terraforming a small part of the map which damages enemies and increases the abilities of Tyranids

Heroes are:

Hive Tyrant
An awesome close combat fighter, probably the best from all the heroes. But he is rather slow. His special abilities are placing nests which allow Tyranids to reinforce and creating spores which can create troops.

Ravener Alpha
He can create tunnels which allow for instant travel. As Special abilities he can detonate other Tyranids which damage enemies and call in Spore Mines which are a suicide unit.

Liktor Alpha
A very fun hero to play with. He is a good melee fighter and has a really long tongue which he can use to grab other units and pull them towards him. As special abilities he can reveal the location of all enemy heroes and. Like the Hive Tyrant create spores which produce units, just a different kind

Tyranids also rely on masses. Their units are very specialized and have very few upgrade options, if at all. Their high level units are rather strong.

How balanced are the races? Its too early to tell, really. I haven’t even met someone who plays Tyranids yet.

Dr. Horribles Sing along Blog: Samurai Gunslinger Video Review

Ok, lets start this off by saying I am not a huge fan of musicals. I was not even that much of a fan of “Once More with Feeling” the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that was the origion of the idea for Dr. Horribles Sing along Blog.  However after hearing glowing review after glowing review on so many podcasts about this straight to the internet production I had to give it a try.

Im trying not to feel somewhat metrosexual by saying this, but damn I loved it! The songs are strangely catchy and I warn anyone that if you watch all three episodes you will very likley end up singing them in the car and in the shower despite all of your best efforts. The show follows the efforts of Dr. Horrible, played brilliantly by Neil Patrick Harris to simultaneously gain entrance to the evil league of evil as well as win the heart of his lady love Penny ( played with adorable sweetness by Felica Day). Complicating his efforts at every turn in the overbearing and annoyingly self absorbed super hero Captain Hammer ( portrayed with gleeful exuberance by Nathan Fillian of Firefly/Serenity fame).

The story is really enjoyable and you can not help but identify with Dr. Horrible who is really just a lonley geek who wants the world to change. It’s not his fault if he feels that change should begin with him ruling the world right? That really gives you the idea of the kind of humor that pervades the series of three 15 minute webisodes. There are too many wonderful moments to list and I do not want to spoil anything other than to say that Bad Horse is the coolest supervillan leader ever!

If you have any love for comics, Joss Whedon, or musicals or any combination of the three then you owe it to yourself to check out Dr Horribles Sing along Blog. At the moment it is available only on iTunes but it will be released in September on DVD as well.

Don’t say I did not warn you though, these songs will get stuck in your head!

Thank God for Hellboy! Samurai Gunslinger Movie Review

Hellboy II: The Golden Army – Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 88%

As many of you know I had to attend a funeral in Houston this weekend. These events are always difficult but I also had to deal with a huge number of highly fanatical and evangelistic relatives telling me what a heathen I am for several days. The last thing I need when trying to mourn a loss is to  face person after person trying to convert me.

“You need to move back to Houston with your ‘real familly’, find the lord in your heart and marry yourself a good christian woman.” I heard this refrain over and over again in numerous variations. Thankfully I had my iPhone on and was happily listening to Disturbed as they blasted out one brutal track after another while I smiled and nodded at my well meaning, but highly annoying, kin.

So it was with great relief that I ran, not walked, to the theatre upon my return to civilization. My purpose, to indulge worship at the altar of Guiellrmo Del Toro’s masterful bit of sacrilege, Hellboy II : The Golden Army.

As a huge fan of Mike Mignola’s ground breaking comic series, I also loved the first film. I am also a big fan of Del Toro both as an artist and as a seemingly cool geeky guy who loves his work and his source material. If you have never listened to an unrated directors commentary by him, you are missing something. The commentary track on Blade II was honestly better than the movie itself. With all this in mind it is not a surprise that I really loved Hellboy II.

I think this was, simply put, the perfect summer movie. The action was fun, the characters enjoyable and cool and the visual styling was yet another masterpiece of Del Torro’s artistic vision. Watching this I am even more exited than before to see what he will do with the iconic imagery of The Hobbit.

Ron Perlman once again defines the role with his personality and I always enjoy watching him as Hellboy. His relationship with Liz Sherman, (Selma Blair) is on the rocks and she is hiding a big secret from him. This provides a light and minor subplot used for comic relief throughout the film. Many of the jokes fall flat, but there were several laugh out loud moments for me, and the rest of the audience, that made that portion of the film pay off.

Another comedic addition was the brilliant voice work by Seth Macfarlane of Family Guy fame in the role of Dr Krauss. The character is just odd enough to fit perfectly into the Hellboy franchise and Macfarlane’s performance is masterful.

Perhaps the best performance in the film, however, is delivered by Luke Goss as Prince Nuada, the films villain. Nuada is the heir to the elven throne and seeks to reclaim an ancient artifact that will awaken the invincible golden army to destroy mankind. Goss manages to give us a villain who is motivated by only the best interests of his people and who has legitimate hatred for humanity and their greed and destruction of the natural world. We find ourselves quickly able to understand and empathize with him even as we cheer for Hellboy and the rest of the Bureau of Paranormal Defense and Research to stop his nefarious plans.

In the end Hellboy II is a fun romp through a beautifully visualized fantasy world. The movie gives us another chance to enjoy a group of characters many have come to love and leaves us eager for another trip into their world

Put Simply, Hellboy II is fun, what else more do you need for a summer movie.

As Always I have included links to two reviews from that mainstream press that agree, and disagree with my take.

Peter Hartlaub of the San Fransico Chronicle Says:

 The talented fantasy filmmaker and heir to the Lord of the Rings throne gets the tone right throughout Hellboy 2, and the hip retro charm alone is enough to merit recommendation. FULL REVIEW

Liam Lacy of the Globe and Mail writes:

Hellboy, a sensitive devil with a tough exterior, is an inspired creation but limited as a dramatic protagonist. When you start with a demon hero, you can’t settle for making his adversary a less complex demon. FULL REVIEW

The Incredible Hulk delivers a smashing fun time!

I did manage to get out to see The Incredible Hulk this weekend. I was going into this film with farily low expectations after the dismal effort turned out by the Ang Lee Directed fim in 2003. The film definitely exceeded my expectations and I enjoyed it quite a bit although the movie did have several flaws that keep it from coming near the rarified air enjoyed by Iron Man, Spiderman 2 and Batman Begins as the best of the superhero genre.

 

The film begins with a tone very much taken from the 70s TV series that starred Bill Bixby as Dr Bruce Banner and Lou Ferigno as the monstrous Hulk itself. Both actors are granted cameos in the film, Bixby through a short snippet of him in a 60 sitcom and Ferigno in a very nice scene with him as a Security Guard who accepts a Large Pizza as a bribe to let Banner into a university research lab. This series of homage’s to the series were very much appreciated by me and put me immediately into the film although I imagine they will go unnoticed by 90% of today’s movie going audience.

 

It is more than just tone that brings the TV series to mind, as the first 20 minutes of the film center around a secretive banner hiding in a Brazilian shanty town desperately trying to find a cure. All the while he works to learn ways to control his anger and avoid the deadly consequences to others that come with it.

 

This leads up to an amazing sequence in a factory when a special forces team tracks Banner down, but find themselves totally unprepared to face the actual Hulk. It is here that Tim Roth and William Hurt first come together with Roth as an aging special forces operative and Hurt as the general who was responsible for creating the Hulk and now wants to take his power so it can be used as a weapon.

 

The interplay between the two, each following his own hunger for power, as they march down the road to destruction together is interesting and entertaining. Neither man is given an opportunity to really show their acting talents to the full degree, but they both turn in good performances.

 

Where the movie is let down however is when it fails to give Edward Norton, as Banner the chance to really explore the story of the fugitive in search of a cure. Instead after the excellent opening in Brazil and the awesome factory sequence the film becomes a standard superhero action flick with multiple action set pieces that get more and more over the top. Not that this is a bad thing, as I found them very enjoyable, but I feel if the film kept to the original pacing it would have been much better.

 

According to rumors, the studios demanded 70 min be cut from the film which angered Norton to the point that he refused to promote it. If that is the case, then a directors cut may be in the pipe at some point which could take this film to the next level.

 

I would recommend the film to any fan of comic book movies in general or the hulk in particular.

It is fun, and nostalgic at the same time with good performances from everyone ( except Liv Tyler who really needs to stick to modeling or something as she is simply horrible and totally unbelievable as Betty. ) involved. If you loved Iron Man, you should at least like The Incredible Hulk.

 

As usual I have included a pair of mainstream reviews for comparison as well as well as the rotten tomatoes score.

 

Rotten Tomatoes: 66%

 

Roger Ebert from the Chicago Sun Times says: It sidesteps the intriguing aspects of Hulkdom and spends way too much time in, dare I say, noisy and mindless action sequences. Full Review

 

Joe Morgenstern from the Wall Street Journal says: This new production, starring Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, looks a lot better — sometimes it looks great — and it’s a thunderously efficient enterprise, with a nice surprise at the very end. Full Review.

 

 

Indiana Jones Returns with a fair showing.

Like most of you I grew up during the time that the Indiana Jones Trilogy was new and amazing. I eagerly looked forward to each new film and saw them all on the first day. Even the sub par Temple of Doom had any number of memorable moments. Thanks to the Sci-Fi channels Indiana Jones Marathon last week I came into Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls with the first movies fresh in my memory and the theme song playing in my head.

Fortunately I had read many of the reviews and heard from several friends not to go in to this one with my expectations too high. I think that is why I enjoyed the movie as much as I did despite the fact that nothing in the film really grabbed me with the kind of intensity of the more memorable scenes in the first films. I wont go into the plot of the film other than to say that it features an older Indy fighting the communists in one last grand adventure to return a crystal skull to its resting place in the legendary city of El Dorado. In typical Indiana Jones fashion this leads to a never ending series of chases and action set pieces culminating in the typical speilbergian special effects extravaganza of a climax.

Harrison Ford is excellent in this film and I think it is his charm and charisma that keeps the rather lackluster script and dialog from dragging this movie into the realms of the purely mediocre. I am not a huge fan of Shia Labouef but was surprised that he did a workmanlike job of playing the unlikably written Mutt Williams. Kate Blanchet was rather underutilized in her role as the soviet psychic torturer and primary villain of the film. At no point was she able to present the kind of powerful presence we have all seen from her in so many other roles.

The action and cinematography of the piece is good but not great and for some reason nearly all of the action scenes left me somehow feeling unsatisfied. Still it was a fun movie and I enjoyed my time in the theatre with Indy and his adventures. I cant say this is a film I would see again or buy on DVD. If it comes on cable some day I’m sure I will watch and enjoy it, but I wont feel that same excitement seeing it on the queue that I do for Raiders, or Last Crusade.

I recommend the film for an afternoons diversion, and a definite must see for Indy fans as Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones is in full form here. However the lack of any compelling characters or plot surrounding him keeps me from giving it enthusiastic praise.

To provide some comparison, I have included portions of and links to two mainstream critical reviews, one positive and one negative to give you a good breadth of opinions to make your own judgment as to if this film is worth your hard earned 10 spot.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%

Stephen Hunter from the Washington post says:

It’s romantic manliness at its purest, almost but not quite schmaltz, ideally calculated to please true believers and ironic snorters at once.

Click here to read his full review.

Joe Morganstern from the Wall Street Journal says:

Sitting through Steven Spielberg’s slog down memory lane means waiting for surprise, waiting for delight, waiting for daylight after turgid trudges through Peruvian caves, and waiting for an abstract story to coalesce.

Click here to read his full review.

Speedracer hurts my eyes, and Warner Bros bottom line!

Yeah I was one of the poor souls who allowed teen aged nostalgia for an admittedly average Anime to drag me into the overpriced theatres for a trip down memory lane courtesy of the visionary directing team known as the Wachowski Brothers. Speed Racer was supposed to be a tour de force that would bring the oddly endearing 80s anime series into the main stream and redefine what movies can do.

The actuality of the film was less revolutionary than revolting. The story itself follows the young Speed Racer from a brief introduction of his childhood dreams of being a racer to his meteoric success. After his first sucessful professional race, speed(portrayed by Emile Hirsch) is recruited by an evil corporate race promoter(Roger Allen) but the pure and perfect heart of Speed Racer can not be corrupted by mere money. The evil corporate exec then spend the rest of the movie trying to destroy Speed’s family owned racing company primarilly through a series of races that are so far over the top that it is simply impossible to describe.

The races do not just require a suspension of disbelief but a suspension of sanity. Harsh oversaturated color pallets and blinding movements assault your senses yet provide no feeling of action or risk. As anything is possible for these vehicles that ignore every possible law of physics without explanation or consistensy, nothing is threatening. It is impossible to feel connected to the races as it the directors give you nothing you can hold on to or count on. No matter how ridiculous the threat, Speed’s Mighty Mach 5(and later the new and improved Mach 6) simply overcomes it with a new reality bending ability that is neither explained or justified.

Watching speed race is like watching a video game played in “god” mode. No matter how awesome the threat, there is no tension as you know it can not hurt you, at all.

Obviouslly I was not a fan of this film, and the box office figures show that most people did not even bother to give it a chance. With barely 20million in total opening weekend box office (compared with Iron Man’s 170 million in its first 10 days) the estimated 220million plus budget (this includes the estimated 100 million marketing budget and 120 million for filming the special effects heavy project) means Speed Racer will go down as one of the biggest financial disasters in recent movie history. Still there were some who loved it, and to provide a balanced perspective I have posted the review of Joe Neumair from the New York Daily News courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes (Speed Racer Rotten Tomatoes Score – 34%).

Speed Racer NY Daily News Review by Joe Neumair

Remember mixing Pop Rocks candy and Coca-Cola to make little volcanoes inside your head? “Speed Racer” is the movie equivalent. In fact, there are so many jacked-up visuals over two-plus hours that its target audience of 12-year-old boys may need to summer in an Amish community to calm down.

Writer-directors Larry and Andy Wachowski, the creators of the “Matrix” films, once again invent stunning visual tricks in this adaptation of the late-’60s Japanese anime. The film’s eye-popping look is a combo of fast-moving video-game imagery, hyperstylized “wipes” (images moving from one side of the screen to the other) and super-bright colors. It’s the big selling point – one that could make many viewers feel like their eyeballs are on fire. Xbox addicts, however, will feel right at home.

In this Day-Glo world, the title hero (Emile Hirsch) is obsessed with racecar driving, which isn’t a problem when tracks the size of cities appear to be everywhere. Speed’s dad, Pops (John Goodman), owns an engine company, and his older brother, Rex (Scott Porter), was a driving legend who reportedly died during a rigged contest.

After Speed rejects an offer by a villainous corporate sponsor to become a sellout and drive an assembly-line roadster, he’s targeted during a round-the-world race but saved more than once by the mysterious Racer X, who may or may not be Rex.

The global chase plays like an arcade racing game with constantly changing scenery, and there’s a final Grand Prix blow-out wheel-burner. Trying to follow the convoluted plot, though, is like reading toy instructions on Christmas morning: Skip it, and just look at the pretty lights.

The cast is generally game for playing cardboard cutouts, with Goodman having the most fun. Hirsch (“Into the Wild”) doesn’t appear to be awake for the first hour, though his laid-back soulfulness adds some dimension. Christina Ricci, meanwhile, lost some weight, and a lot of depth, to play his girlfriend, Trixie. Also along for the ride is Speed’s mischievous little brother (Paulie Litt) and a pet chimp in clothes.

Emotionally, “Speed Racer” stays in the family lane; when cars crash and burn, there are little bubbles called “quick-saves” that transport drivers to safety. The nostalgia factor is slight, and nothing new is added besides the effects. While that’s not enough to make it a classic even among chintzy cartoon-born movies, middle-schoolers will have a blast.

jneumaier@nydailynews.com