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Site created 12/15/97.


review updated: 7/23/98



Super Speedway
1997 (1998) - IMAX (Image Entertainment)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

THX-certified

Film Rating: A
Arguably the best behind-the-scenes documentary on Indy car racing ever filmed. Tons of fun to watch.

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A+/A+/A-
Stunning video transferred from large format IMAX film. The 5.1 Dolby Digital surround is among the best I've ever heard. And a terrific documentary rounds it out.

Overall Rating: A+
Whether you're a fan of racing or home theater, this DVD is a must-have. Definitely one to demo your system with. Absolutely top-flight.

Specs and Features

50 mins, not rated, full frame (1.33:1 - original aspect ratio), single-sided, Snapper packaging, documentary: The Making of Super Speedway, film-themed menu screens, scene access (12 chapters linked between feature and documentary), THX certified, feature languages: wild sound in English (DD 5.1), and selectable narrator track in English, French Canadian, Mandarin or American Spanish, documentary languages: English (DD 2.0), feature subtitles: none, documentary subtitles: French Canadian, Mandarin or American Spanish, Close Captioned

Review

Produced directly for the IMAX format, Super Speedway is one of the best examples of this large film format I've yet seen. The documentary chronicles the life of a modern Indy car, starting with the design and construction of the chassis and engine, right through delivery to the Newman Haas Racing team and final road testing by drivers Michael and Mario Andretti. A parallel line of narrative features car builder Don Lyons, as he restores a vintage Roadster (originally driven on the racing circuit by Mario Andretti in the 60s). Together, the two stores illustrate just how much racing has changed over the years, and how much more complicated modern racing cars have become. We also get an insight into the personalities of the men who place themselves behind the wheel of such cars, braving the danger because of an overwhelming need for speed and a desire to win.

Mario Andretti is an absolutely fascinating human being, and director Stephen Low wisely allows his affable personality to shine throughout Super Speedway. We begin to understand this man, as we watch him at home with his family (and a pet pig!), flying his ultralight aircraft, and of course... on the race track. Although retired from racing today, Mario continues to advise Newman Haas (and particularly his son Michael) during the racing season. And during preseason, Mario helps the team break in new Indy cars, each of which (we learn) has its own unique 'personality' when it comes to handling and performance.

The DVD version of Super Speedway is simply terrific. The compression and authoring were handled by Rainmaker Digital Pictures (very cool logo animation!), and the disc is distributed by Image Entertainment. It will be available at retail stores in early September (as of the date of this review, final disc pressing was just beginning). The disc is THX-certified for superior quality and it shows. The picture is superb, mastered directly from the original IMAX film master. It is presented in full frame (as are all IMAX films) and exhibits excellent detail and clarity. And the 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound mix is absolutely astounding. It is probably the most immersive and detailed mix I've heard on DVD thus far, and has tremendous dynamic range. Even the Dolby Pro Logic mix excels in creating a realistic 3D sound field. The sound during the race track sequences is appropriately thunderous, but it's the quieter moments where the mix really impresses me. There's a brief scene (Chapter 11, starting at 20:27), where Michael and Mario are discussing the car's performance, in which the camera slowly tracks past the car being worked on by the pit crew, and pushes toward the two drivers. As the camera passes the car, we hear the sound of the work (power wrenches, etc...) move by with the car, while other activity continues faintly in the b.g. all around. I heard it in the Pro Logic mix as well - very impressive.

Super Speedway itself runs almost 50 minutes. There is also a documentary on the disc, The Making of Super Speedway, which runs some 47 minutes (almost as long as the film). Both the film and the documentary have 12 chapter stops, and it's the chaptering that makes this disc unique. The chapters for both programs are selected from the same menu. The chapters are broken into subjects (for example: The Engine), and each chapter has its own small, full-motion video image, with two separate selectable icons (a race car and a camera). By choosing the race car icon for that particular chapter, you jump to the appropriate section in the film. If you select the camera icon, you jump to a section on the making of that scene in the documentary. It's very clever, and (I feel) makes for a more interactive experience.

In addition to the documentary, you can select the language you wish to listen to the narration in: English (narrated by Paul Newman), French Canadian, Mandarin or American Spanish. There is no subtitle feature in the film itself. On the other hand, when watching the documentary, you can select from French Canadian, Mandarin or American Spanish subtitles.

Note that the test disc I previewed is version 2.0. The actual production disc (as well as the artwork shown above) may vary slightly from that reviewed.

Bottom line

For sheer thrills and superior disc quality, Super Speedway can't be beat. With footage taken from a variety of vantage points on the car, you really find yourself right in the midst of the racing action - including the driver's POV. And with 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound that's every bit equal to the picture, this DVD is a tremendous sensory experience. Don't hesitate to buy Super Speedway as soon as it hits store shelves. Highly recommended.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com




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