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John Frankenheimer
James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Yves Montand, Toshirô Mifune, Brian Bedford, Jessica Walter, Antonio Sabato, Françoise Hardy, Adolfo Celi, Claude Dauphin
Writing Credits:
Robert Alan Aurthur, John Frankenheimer, William Hanley

Nine races. One champion. James Garner, Yves Montand, Brian Bedford and Antonio Sabato portray Formula I drivers competing to be the best in this slam-you-into-the-driver's seat tale of speed, spectacle and intertwined personal lives. Eva Marie Saint and Toshiro Mifune also star. John Frankenheimer (who 32 years later would again stomp the pedal to the metal for the car chases of Ronin) directs this winner of 3 Academy Awards, crafting split-screen images to capture the overlapping drama and orchestrating you-are-there POV camerawork to intensify the hard-driving thrills. Nearly 30 top drivers take part in the excitement, so buckle up, movie fans. Race with the best to the head of the pack.

Box Office:
$9 million.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 2.20:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
French Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 176 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 5/24/2011

• “Pushing the Limit: The Making of Grand Prix” Documentary
• “Flat Out: Formula One in the Sixties” Documentary
• “The Style and Sound of Speed” Documentary
• “Brands Hatch: Chasing the Checkered Flag” Documentary
• “Grand Prix: Challenge of the Champions” Vintage Featurette
• Trailers


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Grand Prix [Blu-Ray] (1966)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 10, 2011)

Despite the drama inherent in its events, auto racing hasn’t inspired a whole lot of movies – or at least not efforts related to legal competitions. The Fast and the Furious series has done well, though I’d think that’s more about chases than races. Hits about sanctioned affairs seem moderately rare.

For one of the better-regarded entries in this genre, we go back to 1966’s Grand Prix. Directed by John Frankenheimer, this effort stars James Garner as Pete Aron, a Formula One racer on a bad streak; he’s not won in three years. At the year’s first race at Monte Carlo, we also meet Pete’s more successful teammate Scott Stoddard (Brian Bedford), French champion Jean-Pierre Sarti (Yves Montand), and Italian newcomer Nino Barlini (Antonio Sabato).

During the opening race, Stoddard and Sarti battle for the lead, while gearbox trouble hampers Pete. This leads to a wreck that gravely injures Stoddard and means he’ll probably never race again. Team owner Jeff Jordan (Jack Watson) boots him from the squad because he blames this on Pete’s selfishness.

Scott’s wife Pat (Jessica Walter) hates his racing and feels sure he’ll find his way back into the driver’s seat before long. Because of this, she leaves him while he’s in the hospital. She feels he’s driven by his obsession with his dead brother Roger, another racer who perished on the course.

While Scott mends, we meet Louise Frederickson (Eva Marie Saint), an American journalist on the tour for an article that will appear in her fashion magazine. We also see how Pete tries to get a new team but can’t find one due to his recklessness. This sends him to a job in broadcasting. He doesn’t last long there, though, as Japanese industrialist Izo Yamura (Toshiro Mifune) takes him onto his squad.

The film follows Pete’s path back onto the track along with the general progress of the Formula One season. It also involves romantic complications. We see how Louise and Sarti develop a relationship, and Pete also goes after the newly single Pat. Complications ensue in all areas, especially when Stoddard returns to reclaim his racing title – and his wife.

When it stays on the track, Grand Prix proves pretty successful. The opening race at Monte Carlo works extremely well. It uses a variety of visual techniques to get us onto the track but these don’t feel like absurd gimmicks. They blend well with the action and help us get into the heads and the cars of the drivers. The use of split-screens, various angles, and cameras mounted on the vehicles bring the races to life.

Unfortunately, once the film leaves the races, it goes south. The story burdens us with cheesy melodrama that never proves engaging. Despite the movie’s elongated running time of nearly three hours, it does little to really explore the personalities and attitudes of the drivers. We get slim pop-psych analyses of the main characters that are summed up with cheap lines such as “There is no terrible way to win – there is only winning”.

That’s as deep as Grand Prix gets. I suppose the filmmakers thought they were making concise statements about the nature of the sport with lines like that or the scene in which Sarti ignores the emotional pain of a fatal accident by focusing on his next race, but all of this seems superficial and obvious.

With the possible exception of the hedonistic Nino, at least the drivers come across as decent human beings. Poor Pat doesn’t even earn that much credit. At its start, the movie paints her as a floozy, and then we see her as a selfish bitch. She’s cold, too, as she lies to the public about her relationship with Stoddard all while she’s abandoned him. And what does she do? She immediately beds his biggest competitor! Pat comes across as one of the least likable movie characters I’ve seen; the flick portrays her as a nasty piece of work.

And an inconsistent one as well, though that goes for all the characters. There’s not a lot of continuity in their attitudes or actions. They do what the scenes need them to do, internal honesty be damned. All of this acts as nothing more than fodder for the thin storyline.

That factor makes Grand Prix a disappointment. While it presents some truly thrilling race scenes, the rest of the film gives us nothing more than flat, obvious melodrama. Since this extremely long film stays away from the track much of the time, that makes it tedious and tough to watch.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

Grand Prix appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.20:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. From start to finish, this transfer looked great.

Virtually no issues with sharpness occurred. I saw no signs of edge enhancement, and the image consistently appeared concise and detailed. The movie lacked any softness even in its wider shots. Jagged edges and shimmering were absent, and flaws also failed to mar the presentation. A few blemishes came from the original photography – like a hair or a spot on the lens – but no actual print flaws could be found.

In regard to its palette, Prix went with natural tones, and the Blu-ray brought these out quite well. The colors always looked lively and vibrant. Blacks were deep and tight, while shadows showed good clarity and definition. I felt really pleased by this strong image.

Though not quite as good, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Grand Prix also pleased. Particularly during the racing scenes, the mix opened up the spectrum well. Cars zipped from side to side well, and they also popped up in the surrounds to a lesser degree. I mostly noticed the back speakers in regard to road noise, though. For instance, when a vehicle went through a tunnel, the track showed the echoed roar in an effective manner. All of this made the driving scenes reasonably involving.

Other aspects of the track spread out matters as well. A moderate amount of directional dialogue occurred, and music showed nice stereo presence. The mix also added decent environmental material, though those elements tended to be more centered than the driving sequences.

Audio quality was generally good. Some edginess occasionally came along with speech, but lines usually were acceptably natural and concise. Music showed nice definition and breadth, while effects packed a decent punch. I thought bass response could have been a bit stronger, but the track offered decent depth most of the time. No real problems with distortion popped up, and the effects were usually quite solid. When I factored in the age of the material, this ended up as a very satisfying track.

How did the picture and sound of this Blu-Ray compare with those of the 2004 DVD? Both demonstrated pretty similar sound. Though the lossless track might’ve had a little more kick, the mix lacked the involvement to show real differences.

Visuals demonstrated greater growth. While the DVD looked very good for the format, it couldn’t compete with the stellar picture quality seen in this Blu-ray. It appeared better defined, cleaner and more vivid. This was a truly excellent presentation.

All the DVD’s extras repeat here. We begin with a documentary called Pushing the Limit: The Making of Grand Prix. In this 29-minute and five-second piece, we get movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from motor racing historian Simon Taylor, F1 analyst Peter Windsor, Bullitt director Peter Yates, director John Frankenheimer (from 1998 and 1966), racing advisor/F1 driver Bob Bondurant, camera car operator/F1 driver Phil Hill, Grand Prix/F1 drivers Dan Gurney and Sir Jack Brabham, actress/director’s wife Evans Frankenheimer, camera operator John M. Stephens, Nascar – The IMAX Experience director Simon Wincer, and actors James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Jessica Walter, and Antonio Sabato.

The show covers the film’s attempts at verisimilitude and reality, the general disapproval of those involved in racing before the movie’s creation, and director Frankenheimer’s lifelong love of motor sports. We learn about casting and why Steve McQueen didn’t play the lead role, the flick’s cars and technical issues, the actors’ driving training and what they performed in the film, the photography of the cars, and Frankenheimer’s personality and style. In addition, “Limit” goes over complications related to shooting in Europe, how Frankenheimer won over Ferrari, dangers during the filming and doing the car wrecks, the movie’s use of real drivers and the sport’s risks.

“Limit” packs a ton of great info into its half an hour or so. It proves surprisingly up-front and it doesn’t sugarcoat problems that occurred during the shoot. Indeed, it nearly revels in these issues as it lets us know about all the complications.

This even spreads to the archival footage. Frankenheimer’s 1966 interviews show him as surly, and we also see a clip in which Garner threatens a greedy shopkeeper. All of these elements combine to make a very informative and entertaining program.

Next we find Flat Out: Formula One in the Sixties. This 17-minute and 14-second documentary includes info from Taylor, Brabham, Hill, Windsor, Bondurant, Gurney, motor racing historian Thomas O’Keefe, Grand Prix Classics’ Marc Leonard, The Complete Book of Formula One co-authors Simon Arron and Mark Hughes, motor racing photojournalist David Friedman, F1 driver Sir Stirling Moss, F1 Racing editor-in-chief Matt Bishop, and British Motorsport Marshalls Club president Barrie “Whizzo” Williams.

“Flat Out” views specifics of the sport at the time of the film’s creation. We learn about changes made to the cars and their designs, the nature of the era’s drivers and their personalities, the challenges of driving those vehicles and related dangers, and the impact of a few particular drivers. It offers a nice synopsis of the F1 scene in the Sixties and shows its development. This show captures the period well and provides a solid little glimpse of the appropriate topics.

The 11-minute and 34-second The Style and Sound of Speed includes comments from Yates, Windsor, Wincer, Frankenheimer (in 1998), Taylor, Evans Frankenheimer, Saul Bass & Associates chief designer Art Goodman, Saul Bass author Pat Kirkham, Cinerama Adventure director/producer David Strohmaier, Frankenheimer biographer Charles Champlin, 2nd unit camera operator John M. Stephens, composer/Frankenheimer colleague Gary Chang, and assistant director/Frankenheimer colleague James Sbardellati. “Speed” examines the film’s visual and audio design. We learn about the opening credits, various techniques like split-screen, score and sound concerns, and exhibiting the movie on the giant Cinerama screen. The show breaks down the various elements well. It provides nice insight and offers a good take on its subjects.

For the final documentary, we find Brands Hatch: Chasing the Checkered Flag. This 10-minute and 32-second show includes remarks from Bishop, Brabham, Motorsport Vision CEO/former F1 driver Jonathan Palmer, and Motorsport Vision chairman John Britten. The program gives us a look at Britain’s Brands Hatch racecourse. We get the ins and outs of the track in this informative appreciation. It’s a little fluffy at times but it comes through with some neat notes.

In addition to the film’s trailer and a promo for the Speed Channel, the set ends with a “vintage featurette” entitled Grand Prix: Challenge of the Champions. The 12-minute and 39-second piece takes us to Monaco for aspects of the movie’s production. It features some decent behind the scenes footage, but its absurdly breathless narration heaps hyperbole on us. We don’t actually learn much about the flick’s creation.

Grand Prix deserves kudos for its exciting, innovative race sequences. Too bad that it totally squanders that goodwill with all the limp character drama that surrounds those scenes. The Blu-ray features excellent picture and positive audio as well as a smattering of interesting programs. Race fans will want to check out Grand Prix to see its depiction of its era’s motorsports, but they’ll take advantage of chapter search to avoid the uncompelling dramatic storyline. They’ll be happy with this Blu-ray, as it offers a terrific representation of the film and becomes a good upgrade over the DVD.

To rate this film visit the Special Edition review of GRAND PRIX

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main