|7th Annual VaRaces Awards|
People's Chase Award
This year saw a high number of forum users participating in the People's Chase Award. This year’s selection was also particularly difficult in light of the strong contenders in each category. The Nominees were:
The dark horse of 2008 car chase films. With an extended night time car chase Eagle Eye was a sure fire hit amongst car chase fans.
The Dark Knight
The second biggest grossing film of all time, no surprise that The Dark Knight proved popular with its multi-car chase, and featuring the Batpod in its first outing in the Christopher Nolan franchise.
With its extended car chase set in Salamanca, Spain, Vantage Point appealed to all those automotive fans who love to see a car chase set in European locales.
Quantum of Solace
Although car chases are a staple in James Bond films, they often do not rank amongst the best pursuit sequences captured on film. Quantum of Solace changes things with a stand out car chase that opens the film.
Paul W.S. Anderson’s remake of the 1970s exploitation classic Death Race 2000, kept true to its predecessor’s quota of violence, and more importantly, spectacular automotive warfare.
The sleeper car chase hit of 2008, Eagle Eye did not have the same promotion and marketing as other candidates for the Awards which made it even more popular amongst car chase fans.
Most Inventive Car Chase:
This award goes to the film that tries to do something special with its car chase sequences and that makes them different from those of the past. 2008 saw a number of car chase films that redefined the pursuit sequence. The Nominees are:
Viewers have seen flying vehicles feature in car chase before but usually they are police helicopters in hot pursuit of fleeing criminals. Less frequently do you see single prop planes in a chase, especially with the film’s protagonist dangling precariously from it.
The Dark Knight
Multi-vehicle pursuit sequences are nothing new to the car chase genre but the car chase in The Dark Knight takes this one step further with the sheer variety of vehicles appearing in the sequence.
Animation always offers the opportunity to do something different with a pursuit sequence and Disney’s Bolt does not disappoint. Using the conventions associated with action films, to the point of including slow motion inserts, we see Bolt and his owner elude their pursuers through their super powers.
The Dark Knight
Few car chase sequences can boast of featuring as many various vehicles including obligatory cop cars, an overhead helicopter, a SWAT van, a 16-wheeler, a garbage truck, and last but not least the new Batpod, all working to full affect.
Best DVD Release:
While 2008 was not a spectacular year for car chase DVD releases with few distributors releasing their back catalogue of previous car chase films, and with the full package of extras increasingly migrating to Blue-ray editions. However there were some DVD releases of note. The Nominees are:
Optimum’s Region 2 release of Robbery on DVD is a welcome event, despite the fact that it is presented in full frame rather than its original widescreen format. Nonetheless, it is great to see how Peter Yates, who would become famous later for directing Bullitt, gained his experience in staging car chases with the opening car chase in Robbery which still holds up well several decades on.
While not packed with extra features, those that appear on this DVD are, comparatively speaking, lengthy and provide a detailed look behind the racing scenes and the staging of the stunts.
Unfairly dismissed by critics upon its initial theatrical release, its appearance on DVD brought a new set of special effects fans keen to see its innovative and spectacular visual design. Its extras, especially ‘Speed Racer: Supercharged’ provide greater insight into the design of the vehicles and the stunning racetrack venues.
For a DVD release that attracted a wider range of viewers and facilitated a greater appreciation of the film itself.
Most Destructive Chase Scene:
Destructive automotive scenes are the mainstay of the car chase for which this award goes to. All of the main contenders for 2008 had something to offer in the auto carnage department. The Nominees are:
Not only is the car chase in Eagle Eye noteworthy as an extended night time pursuit sequence, it is also notable for the extent of the multi-vehicle destruction that the chase leaves in its path. Few vehicles involved in the chase survive intact.
Doomsday Special Guest Presenter: thedriveintheatre
This Brit flick tanked at the box-office, and although it had a cringe-worthy plot reminiscent of Mad Max and 28 Weeks Later, it has a pretty sweet chase at the end with the protagonist in a Bentley with feral-looking barbarians on her tail. Her luxury ride turns the bandits to road-kill, rams their ugly piecemeal vehicles aside, and even bursts through an obstructing school bus in a glorious display of pyrotechnics.
The Dark Knight
The pursuit sequence in The Dark Knight features a significant amount of destruction: a 16-wheeler and a garbage truck ram an assortment of vehicles off the road; the Joker fires a bazooka at the escorting police vehicles; an overhead police helicopter is brought crashing to the ground; and finally the Joker in his 16-wheeler does battle with Batman in his Batpod.
Eagle Eye Special Guest Presenter: Star Wars Fanatic
Eagle Eye turned out to be a surprise gem of 2008 in terms of car chase action, with it's gloriously destructive night time pursuit sequence. A flock of police cars chase down a Porsche Cayenne, and it is safe to say that none of them survive the scene in one piece - every crash scene was an onslaught of high quality automotive carnage, as cars tumble, explode and even get crushed in quick succession throughout. The sheer quantity and quality of note worthy, stomach churning crashes makes it by far and away the most destructive car chase of 2008, not to mention being genuinely thrilling to watch, which is what a good car chase is all about.
Driving skills are an integral part of any good car chase, both at the level of the stunt drivers performing difficult manoeuvres and at the level of the fictional drivers in the film. The 2008 Nominees are:
Quantum of Solace
Along with possessing a mastery of using weapons of all kinds, James Bond is also in possession of expert driving skills. These are fully on show in the opening car chase in Quantum of Solace as Bond eludes villains in Alfa Romeos, performs 360s, and avoids collisions with a range of passing vehicles.
Vantage Point Special Guest Presenter: thedriveintheatre
In one of the most thrilling pursuit sequences of the year and recent memory, Dennis Quaid as Secret Service Agent Barnes chases down his rogue partner played by Matthew Fox in a harrowing pursuit through Salamanca (or rather, Mexico City). The two equally-matched civilian and police Astras swerve in and out of the heavy traffic in an elaborate dance of death, bringing to mind the excellent Bourne Supremacy chase in 2005 for its use of pedestrian vehicles, precise stuntwork, and high-wire score. Barnes expertly maneuvers his indestructible vehicle through every conceivable obstacle and situation thrown at it, regaining control after a spinout, avoiding bullets and an airbourne Jaguar, mounting sidewalks, tumbling down staircases, ramming parked cars and plowing through a cafe. Of course, nothing lasts forever, as the chase comes to a painful end with a gut-wrenching T-bone that will leave you breathless.
Fox (aka Angelina Jolie) as a professional assassin demonstrates her driving abilities as she rescues a frustrated office worker from an assassination attempt in a Dodge Viper SRT-10. Although some of the major stunt scenes are admittedly CGI assisted, there is no question about the driving skills on display.
Quantum of Solace Special Guest Presenter: Star Wars Fanatic
After the disappointing car chase that was featured in Casino Royale, Daniel Craig's successive venture into the Bond franchise more than made up for this misfire, as the film opens in the midst of an intense high speed pursuit. Yes, it's just a tad too short (although it's at least longer than Casino Royale's pitiful length) and yes, it does suffer from a dollop of rapid-fire shaky cam editing, but there's something inherently appealing about the classic scenario of Bond eluding bad guys in an Aston Martin, a feast we haven't truly enjoyed since 2002's Die Another Day. It's given an almighty workout, as it tears through narrow mountain roads, avoids out of control trucks and police vehicles, performs a 360 and hurtles through a twisting dirt road quarry. Not a bad way to start a film, and the fact that numerous stuntmen were injured during the making of the film after various accidents only goes to exemplify the skill and danger of performing these manoeuvres.
VaRaces regularly reports on the latest driving simulation game, just as much as its covers car chase/racing film releases. 2008 saw the release of three major driving simulation games. The Nominees are:
Burnout Paradise Special Guest Presenter: thedriveintheatre
The Burnout series has always been the benchmark and best advocate for the much-ignored Racing category of video games. So it is only natural that they upped the ante with another groundbreaking winner, featuring an open-world environment, a streamlined online lobby system that is launched with the touch of a button, and, this is important, fully destructible vehicles (which other games like Test Drive Unlimited and Need for Speed Undercover failed to implement due to their use of licensed cars). Another revolutionary aspect is the ability to choose the route you'll take during races (without those annoying 'invisible barriers'). There are a multitude of events to choose from, and even the usual 'Find the 100 Billboards/Gates' treasure hunts. The game also evolves since its release with perennial updates through expansion packs and patches, so that you have the day and night cycles of Midnight Club LA, the law enforcement authority of NFS Undercover, and my personal favourite, the Legendary Cars Pack, featuring cars based on famous movie ones like KITT and General Lee. With its jaw-dropping action (in eye-popping slow-motion HD), variety of vehicles (from muscle cars to SUVs to even bikes), and its dynamically changing content (which you can buy as a complete package in the Ultimate Box), Criterion has truly delivered another stellar installment in an already exceptional series.
Motorstorm: Pacific Rift Special Guest Presenter: Star Wars Fanatic
The debut of Evolution Studio's Motorstorm instantly won me over, and rapidly became one of my favourite ever racing games, thanks to its consistently intense off road action. Mercifully, the sequel continues where the original left off, adding with it a slew of additional content and features, with the action diversifying across a more varied set of enriched locations, bringing with it new elements such as water and lava. Simply put, the sequel felt like a much more complete experience and was more fun to play than ever.
Gran Turismo 5 Prologue
The next installment in the Polyphony Digital’s franchise, had on offer its usual range of supercars, outstanding graphics, as players had the chance to drive around real and fictional racing circuits.
With its open world driving environment, detailed crash graphics, and downloadable content, Burnout Paradise offers the state of the art in the driving simulation game.
Best Racing Scene:
2008 was a better year for the racing film, seeing remakes of major racing fare from exploitation classics of the 1970s and television animation. The Nominees are:
Death Race Special Guest Presenter: Star Wars Fanatic
As the title suggests, Death Race packs in a multitude of extended race scenes, all of which delivered. A remake of Death Race 2000, each race was a relentless affair as vehicles jostled for position using any means necessary, including the utilisation of mounted weaponry, resulting in some harrowing fatality scenes.
Speed Racer Special Guest Presenter: thedriveintheatre
Even though a bomb at the box office, this CGI-laden fest is truly underrated, and IMO, deserves more attention. The story is pretty standard and formulaic, but the Wachoskis and Silver bring something new to the table of vehicular competition unlike anything you've ever seen. It's a Technicolor-saturated feast for the eyes, a searing indictment of the increased commercialization of a once glorious sport, and an ode to the true spirit of racing. The film does away with the usual plot progression and editing format, with rapid dissolves and manic transitions between the different characters' perspectives, thoughts, flashbacks, and fast-forwards, while talking heads swivel and wipe through the various racing shots. Cars are the ultimate weapon in this brutal free-for-all, as they perform gymnastic moves not unlike the humans in The Matrix, cartwheeling, shunting, and vaulting over each other in a fight to the finish. The drivers are one with the vehicle, stomping their feet as their change gears in quick succession, pressing buttons and odd levers to deploy their defense mechanisms, and skirting the fine line (often literally) between life and death. Even if you ignore the political commentary on ruthless corporate conglomerates, or the tribute to the original anime's style of hyper-kinetic cuts and exaggerated actions, there's still something to admire about the headache-inducing madness that takes place in that world. From the opening race where Speed races the ghost projection of his brother, to the mad bid for the finish line as Speed simultaneously obliterates all competition and bends the time-space continuum, this tribute to both computer technology and retro-cartoons is the ultimate trip in more ways than one.
Although many critics complained that Speed Racer was more visual effects eye candy than a film with a compelling story, what they overlooked was its innovative design of gravity defying racing circuits. It is for such innovations that the film takes the Best Racing Scene Award.
Chase of the Year:
This award goes to the best car chase sequence put to film in terms of execution, stuntwork, integration with story, innovation, and sheer destructiveness. Few car chases are strong in all areas. The best car chases are. The Nominees for the Chase of the Year Award for 2008:
Vantage Point Special Guest Presenter: Star Wars Fanatic
Vantage Point was already hotly anticipated by car chase enthusiasts, and they were certainly fulfilled to find that this espionage thriller lived up to its expectations, delivering a captivating chase sequence towards the end of the film. Vantage Point succeeds primarily through its location and choice of vehicle, with the narrow Spanish streets (ok it was actually filmed in Mexico if you want to be pedantic) acting as an obstacle course for the pursuers, with well staged hazardous traffic at every turn. As for the vehicle selection, the stars of the chase are none other than two Astras. Whilst this sounds underwhelming, in actual fact it works wonderfully well, as it means we get to marvel at seemingly average cars pushed to their limits, a premise that I often admire in a car chase. A chase between two exotic cars can be appealing, but featuring more everyday vehicles evokes a more down to earth vibe that is sometimes lacking in contemporary chases. The resulting pursuit was a delightfully fast paced spectacle, as the cars weave through the heavy traffic, drive the wrong way and plough into other vehicles, with one stand-out stunt in particular involving a vaulting Jaguar, which one Astra subsequently avoids. What also enhanced this chase was the outstanding orchestral soundtrack that accompanied the chase, which really nailed the atmosphere and required tension. All in all, Vantage Point provided a very respectable car chase, that enthusiasts would be hard pressed not to enjoy.
The dark horse car chase film of the 2008, the VaRaces People’s Choice Award winner, Eagle Eye possessed all the elements that go towards producing a great car chase.
The Dark Knight Special Guest Presenter: thedriveintheatre
2009's indisputable biggest mega-blockbuster smash-hit not only boasts a stellar cast, a thought-provoking story, and two of the greatest superhero and villain in comic-book history, but also the best vehicular pursuit in recent memory, surpassing its predecessor in Batman Begins by a mile.
The stakes are higher (with the life of a major character hanging in the balance), the stage is grander (the deserted streets of the fictional Gotham, shot in Chicago), the vehicles more varied (with cop cars, helicopter, SWAT van, 16-wheeler, garbage truck and the new Batpod thrown into the mix), and the action more spectacular (flying bazookas, the Batpod's nitrous leapfrog ending in explosive demise, and that indelible image of the entire semi flipping head over heels). It is the epitome of minimalism: no music, so all you hear is the rumble of the engines and the sudden crashes and gunfire; no CGI, so all you see is true-to-life, credible, real stuntwork with no computer trickery; and no shaky-cam, so all you witness is unadulterated, steady tracking shots untarnished by gimmicky motion blur.
Cinematic signifiers and metaphors abound: The ominous warning in the form of a firetruck on fire, a cruel joke that can only come from the Joker's twisted mind. The increasing firepower of the Joker's weapons, representing the film's theme of escalating violence. The Joker standing with a suicidal grin in the middle of the street, "the immovable object meeting the unstoppable force", silently pleading the Batman to end his miserable existence. The final Batpod crash as Batman fails to kill and ultimately defeat his arch-enemy, a greater metaphor for his eventual failure as a hero. The moments of comic relief running throughout like "Slaugher is the Best Medicine", the 'gun-finger' kids and the Joker's nonchalant reaction to the Batpod crash. The fact this is the first showdown between Batman and the Joker elevates the car chase from action sequence filler to an important plot-point of the movie, the ultimate clash between Good and Evil, Sanity and Madness, the Law and Anarchy.
The Dark Knight is many things to different people. A philosophical treatise on the nature of vigilantism, and how far can you protect yourself from Evil without becoming it. A global phenomenon and cinematic event without precedent, with legions of adoring fans and skeptical detractors. And an intelligent, magnificent, automotive tour-de-force for car chase fanatics everywhere.
The Dark Knight
There are many outstanding aspects to this film, the armored car chase sequence amongst them. There is just something majestically epic about this chase that goes beyond the fact that its an extended multi-vehicle pursuit sequence, wreaking a path of destruction. The larger than life quality stems more from its integration with the story of the battle between two superhuman characters – Batman and the Joker. It is this linking of action and story that raises the armored car chase into the pantheon of great car chase sequences in film.
Worst Chase of the Year:
Invariably, with the release of a number of outstanding car chase/racing films each year, one also discovers those that disappoint, are poorly executed and staged, or are down right laughable. 2008 saw a few stinkers in this category and the Nominees are:
Transporter 3 Special Guest Presenter: Star Wars Fanatic
Oh dear oh dear. The Transporter series has had a somewhat unfortunate track record with car chases. The original packed a fair punch, with the opening sequence consisting of Jason Statham evading French police and was a fairly good chase sequence, good enough to win the 2002 Varaces chase of the year award in fact, even if I didn't' agree with the appalling rapping soundtrack. The sequel then came along featuring another chase, this time with an Audi, but was stricken with some truly abysmal CGI that completely marred the chase. And so, Transporter 3 arrives with the same Audi in tow, and all eyes were on it in the hope that it would redeem the previous travesty. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The film opened with a promising looking chase, with a premise and location akin to that of the original Transporter, but was inexplicably cut short after all of one minute. The main chase was yet to come however, but somehow they once again managed to make a complete hash of it. How you ask? By speeding up the entire car chase so that it looks woefully unnatural and jarring to the viewer. Utterly unforgivable.
Babylon A.D. Special Guest Presenter: thedriveintheatre
Not only is it the most unoriginal sci-fi flick to come out last year, but it also tacks on the lamest car chase at the end. In what can only be described as action filler, Diesel escapes from the baddies in Range Rovers. After a short jaunt through a forest and across a bridge, he proceeds to lean out of the window and blow them to smithereens before they barely started. The driving is unimpressive, the music is uninspired, the whole thing reeks of mediocrity. Just like the movie.
If there is going to be a Transporter 4, let’s hope the producers decide giving the car chase a miss next time round if they have yet to learn any lessons from the past…
Lifetime Achievement Award: Person
Paul Newman Special Guest Presenter: thedriveintheatre
An avid auto racing enthusiast, and an award-winning actor, Mr Newman passed away of lung cancer last year. He leaves behind a legacy of car chase cinema, and a mark in motorsport racing history. First discovering his life passion while researching his role as a racecar driver who alienates his wife in the 1969 film Winning, he continued to star in several automobile-related motion pictures like The MacKintosh Man with its Ford Transit/Mercedes car chase, and as a narrator for Super Speedway, an Imax film on Mario Andretti, and Dale, a biopic about the legendary NASCAR driver. But he will be best remembered in car chase cinema annals as the voice of Doc Hudson, a retired racecar in the animated film Cars. He was posthumously inducted into the Sports Car Club of America in 2009, and deserves to be recognised in this year's award.
Lifetime Acheivement Award: Vehicle
Just as Australia has a long history of producing great car chase films, it also is known for its production of high performance vehicles, with the jewel in the crown being the Ford Falcon. Although first produced in Australia in the early 1960s, its was the second generation models in which the Falcon began to go through the paces at racing circuits. When in 1973 the Ford XB Falcon was rolled out, it solidified its reputation as the great Australian muscle car.
It was in the 1970s that the Ford Falcon began to feature in automotive films, but it was its iconic appearance as Mel Gibson’s Pursuit Special in Mad Max (1979) that it became a part of car chase cinematic history. It would appear also in the sequel Mad Max 2 (1981) and has most recently become the subject of the documentary Love the Beast (2009) which follows actor Eric Bana’s obsession with his Ford Falcon XB Coupe. This Award goes then to the vehicle that helped put Australia on the automotive map.