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Death Race 2050 (2017)
Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/17/2017
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/3/2017
The early 1970s were a very turbulent time. The Vietnam War, Watergate, the energy crisis, and violence in the streets dominated the news. Therefore, it's easy to understand if someone thought that the world was ending. This sentiment was certainly reflected in the cinema of the time. Movies like Gas-s-s-s and A Boy and His Dog, brought very diverse look at the conclusion of civilization. So, who would think that a director known for blue, avant garde movies would deliver, not just an apocalyptic movie, but one which fairly accurately predicted media in the future? Paul Bartel'sDeath Race 2000 was ahead of its time and still holds up today. So, leave it up to legendary producer Roger Corman to bring the idea back with Death Race 2050.
The year is 2050. In the desolate world that is The United Corporations of America, which is overseen by The Chairman (Malcolm McDowell), most citizens don't work. Instead, they sit at home and experience things through VR. The most popular event in this world is the Death Race, a competition where drivers travel cross-country, earning points by running over pedestrians. Frankenstein (Manu Bennett), the reigning champion, is a fan-favorite, not only because he's a winner, but due to the mystery created by the fact that he wears a mask. The other drivers in the latest race are; Minerva (Folake Olowofoyeku), a rapper with an urban flare; Jed Perfectus (Burt Grinstead), a genetically engineered superman; Tammy (Anessa Ramsey), a cult leader; and Abe (voiced by D.C. Douglas), a self-driving car. Frankenstein, being a loner, has no interest in getting to know his new in-car companion, Annie (Marci Miller). As the race begins, it becomes obvious that there are forces working against Frankenstein, and winning may take a backseat to surviving.
There are several things going on in Death Race 2050. First of all, this is a remake of the 1975 original, with some tweaks here and there. The Frankenstein plot is very similar, as are the subplots involving The Chairman. The other drivers are new creations, most of which are meant to reflect a more modern age. A few of the gags are the same, and the basic idea of the race and hitting people is intact. Similarly, the political overtones of the movie have been updated to mirror what is happening in today's world. The VR angle clearly represents how people are addicted to screens and some of the jokes about The Chairman can't help but make one think of a specific politician. The movie also makes some statements about the current state of the world and how certain trends don't exactly bode well for the future.
Co-Writer/Director G.J. Echternkamp has clearly tried to mimic Bartel's film, as we have a movie which takes a very tongue-in-cheek approach to the sci-fi action genre, while attempting to bring in some character development. Jed's ambiguous sexuality and Minerva's personality away from the track show that the movie is somewhat interested in creating characters which aren't simply two-dimensional. Actually, some of the stuff involving Jed is surprisingly "out there" for a movie like this. There are a few funny moments and a few of the kills are surprising.
But, Death Race 2050 can't escape the fact that it's a low-budget remake of a low-budget classic. Despite the fact that Death Race 2000 was made on the cheap 40 years ago, Death Race 2050 manages to look even cheaper. It's obvious that the cars are rarely moving and that the windows are filled with green-screen visual effects. The cars look OK (but not as cool as the original), but some of the sets are questionable. The gore effects and CG blood aren't much more impressive. Also, the freshness of Death Race 2000 can't be reproduced. That film was a radical walk on the wild side when it was released, but the formula is far too familiar by now, as we've seen it reproduced in things as diverse as The Running Man to The Hunger Games. For a direct-to-video production, Death Race 2050 certainly isn't the worst, but you're better off sticking with the original. (Although, it is still better than the Paul W.S. Anderson remake.)
Death Race 2050 could have used some more pedestrian kills on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 33 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source materials. The image looks pretty good, but that only makes some of the shoddy visual effects look worse. The colors look fine and the image is never overly dark or bright. The depth looks pretty good, but I did note that the picture was lacking in detail at times. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The first thing that you'll notice about this track is that it's loud. I had the volume at my normal level for late-night viewing, and the bass was still very noticeable. The surround and stereo effects work well during the action scenes, and there is a good sense of sounds moving from the front to the rear as the cars pass.
The Death Race 2050 Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. "The Making of Roger Corman's Death Race 2050" (10 minutes) is fairly standard featurette which offers comments from Corman, Co-Writer/Director G.J. Echternkamp, and the cast who talk about the film's story, the legacy of the original film, and the low-budget production. "The Look of 2050" (6 minutes) examines the location shooting in South America, as well as the costumes and the designs of the cars. "Cars! Cars! Cars!" (5 minutes) takes a closer look at the cars, and while we get some on-set footage, we don't get much detail about the cars being built. "Cast Car Tours" (9 minutes) offers five segments in which the racers describe their cars. The Disc contains ten DELETED SCENES which run about 6 minutes. Most of these are quite brief and don't introduce any new characters or subplots.
Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long