Forty years on, Grand Prix is still the best motor racing film ever made. The cars may be faster now, filming techniques improved and special effects more advanced, yet the film still has a truly epic scale and a feeling of veracity down to the last gear change that would be impossible to duplicate today. It feels real because much of it is real, the actors (with the exception of Brian Bedford) doing much of the driving themselves, with the production even entering cars in real races to seamlessly match footage. The real danger is only underlined by the fact that so many of the professional drivers in the film died racing themselves (ten in the decade following the filming alone). The crashes are there, along with the knowledge that that's what many in the crowd come for, but more than that, each race has a different character: more than just a different look, they're almost tone poems at times, one race from the driver's seat, another from a spectator's, another almost inside a character's head. Yet throughout, unlike later films, you always have a clear idea of what is going on and what point the race scenes are trying to make. The sequences have clearly been thought through and designed both emotionally as well as visually, with the great use of long lenses to establish scale and speed as cars drift in and out of focus giving the film a feel at once realistic and almost dreamlike (an impression further heightened in Saul Bass' almost balletic split-screen sequence). It's still a remarkably good looking film, too, not least because it was made at a time when the cars still looked like bullets rather than vacuum cleaners.
The plot itself may be simply a globe-trotting star-studded soap opera at heart - the roadshow equivalent of a doorstop bestseller - but it's a more than serviceable framework to hang the racing scenes on: after a spectacular crash in the Monte Carlo Grand Prix that cripples team mate Brian Bedford, James Garner's Formula One tries to work his way back on the circuit by racing for Toshiro Mifune's fledgling team while having an affair with Bedford's wife Jessica Walter. But while top-billed Garner may be the nominal and not particularly sympathetic lead, it's Yves Montand's ageing champion gradually realizing the absurdity of what he does but unable to quit who makes the greatest impression: so much so that when Garner disappears for much of the last third of the movie you barely miss him. Yet the cars remain the real stars, thanks to John Frankenheimer's constantly imaginative direction and his obvious enthusiasm for the material without ever losing himself in the minutiae as Steve McQueen did with Le Mans.
The film used every 65mm SuperPanavision camera then in existence, and thankfully the widescreen DVD transfer is a considerable improvement over the TV prints. Although it hasn't restored Mifune's voice, which was reportedly in the version shown at the film's premiere but subsequently replaced by Paul Frees on all prints (Adolfo Celi is also very obviously dubbed, possibly by Maximilian Schell), it does boast a good array of featurettes covering the making of the film and the Overture and Entr'acte from Maurice Jarre's excellent score have been retained.
"When I look back, I don't know how the hell we ever did that film." - John Frankenheimer
At 176 minutes, Grand Prix is the very definition of epic, but is so perfectly edited and shot that it never really feels that length. I'm always weary of movies with bloated running times, but Grand Prix even features the 5-minute intermission as seen in theatres, so there's no reason to feel guilty for getting up and stretching your legs a bit.
The film follows four Formula 1 drivers as they question life, chase women, and face a crisis of confidence. It's very Day-of-Thunder-ish, but I guess there's only so much story you can shoehorn in-between racing scenes in a film like this. The documentary feel adds an authentic edge to it, which helps keep a far distance from Tony Scott's similarly-themed disaster.
Shot in 70mm and originally projected in Cinerama (a curved screen for an immersive experience, an early form of IMAX in a way), John Frankenheimer does not hold back and thrusts the audience right into the middle of real races. Up until this point racing movies were mostly b-grade drive-in material with actors shot against a projected backdrop (think of Clark Gable in To Please a Lady) and audiences had never really seen it for real, in color, and especially not from the driver's point-of-view. Some shots are mesmerizing, especially the camera, one inch above the surface of the tarmac, hurtling down the road. Few movies have ever given you this sense of speed. And it's all done for real. I'm not saying that there's no place for CGI in movies, but if you want something to look good, you're going to have to do it the hard way.
Grand Prix deservedly won three Oscars for Best Sound, Best Sound Editing, and Best Film Editing. It will never win awards or recognition for the story, but for sheer sight and sound it's a force to be reckoned with.
The Blu Ray presents the film in brilliant 2.20:1 1080p with DTS HD-MA sound and a fair amount of extras. The footage of Frankenheimer is all retrospective, and there's not nearly enough of him. The man had little regard towards the end of his career after making drek like The Island of Doctor Moreau and Reindeer Games (though Ronin more than makes up for it). I always thought he was an underrated filmmaker who deserved more acclaim. If you're into racing movies Steve McQueen's Le Mans [Blu-ray] might also be worth a look, or even Days of Thunder [Blu-ray]  if you're the self-hating type.
This film represents the ultimate in cinematic experiences possible from your living room. You get a four minute overture to start with where a still image is displayed accompanied by music from the film, and then when the film starts proper - there's a new sound, the revving of engines, and it's then that you realise that this film is serious about the racing.
I've seen lots of DVDs, hundreds, perhaps thousands, but I don't think I've ever seen picture quality quite like that of 'Grand Prix'. The film starts at Monaco and the video quality is mind blowing. It's far crisper and more vivid than anything I've seen on DVD. The film runs to nearly three hours and could have been squeezed onto 1 disk, but instead we have the minor inconvenience of having to change the disk part-way through - but the reward is a film which has minimal compression and maximum DVD transfer quality.
On-board camera, aerial shots, and split screen are used to the fullest to make sure that we get a full sense of what's going on. In fact, the on-board footage is so good that I feel as though I now have a better idea of what it must feel like to drive an F1 car! There's no filming against pre-recorded backgrounds here, everything looks so real - the realism is accentuated by having real drivers of the time appearing in the film. The likes of Jochen Rindt (who would eventually become the first post-humus world champion a few years later) and Graham Hill are present, Hill even has the odd line and you get a sense of his famous charisma.
Grand Prix is uber stylish with a blend of sixties chic and the glamour of F1, it's the perfect backdrop for a romance and the plots off the track focus on three or four of the drivers and the relationships they have. After the Monaco race the film does start to feel a bit flat, but as the characters are developed you become immersed.
Additional to the film are some very good bonus features, including a 'making of' about the feature. Most impressive however is the documentary 'Flat Out' which gives expert and drivers opinion on the 'sixties Formula 1 scene. There are many familiar faces in the documentary, including the legend that is Stirling Moss.
In a nutshell: A film which racing enthusiasts will love for the thrill of the racing footage which is unparalleled in its imaginative direction and quality, and there's a lot of racing here to enjoy. An engaging series of personal stories underpin the film and make it a solid watch. Racing has drama, tragedy, personal battles on and off the track - this film captures it all, from both the point of view of the drivers and of those close to them. It all seems so real that when an accident happens you get that sickening feeling in your stomach and you watch in horror. It's great to watch a DVD which was created with such a passion for the sport and is now presented in a package which continues that passion and ensures that the original vision has been preserved in all its original cinematic glory.
on 4 August 2011
Before I bought this imported item, my research indicated that it should play in the UK, but nobody would guarantee it, indeed the dealer at the American end said it would not - for those with similar worries - rest assured it does play on a Region B player. Not only does it play but the picure quality is superb, better then some modern films issued in Blu-ray.
on 9 November 2011
Watching this again 45 years after it was made, and about 35 years since I last saw it, I have to say it is better than I remember. When it was first released, opinion was divided among enthusists, as to whether it was an accurate representation of the grand prix scene, or a film made at grand prix circuits, with a cheesy plot. I have to say I tended to agree with the latter viewpoint. but seeing it again and just viewing it as a piece of cinema its not so bad. The plot revolves around four drivers trying to win the F.1. title, an ageing two time champion getting tired of the 'life', the younger brother of an ex world champion trying to emulate him, a middle aged american getting a last chance with a new Japanese entrant, and a young Italian 'hot-shot. Throw in the emotional complications of the wives - girlfriends and that's the plot. The film was shot during the 1966 grand prix season, and intermixed shots of the actual race with staged sequences, the actors using F.3. cars modified to look like the real thing. Even an enthusiast had to look closely to see the difference. Part of the plot was to highlight the dangers of G.P.racing in the 1960's, and apart from the staged accidents, there is the sequence shot at the Belgian G.P. when a cloud-burst on the first lap caused chaos. A by product of shooting at the circuits are the 'cameos' of the G.P. drivers of the time. A staged shot of a G.P.D.A. meeting at Spa, is a collection of 'ghosts' as a lot of the actual drivers featured were no longer around five years after it was shot. All in all, in retrospect not a bad attempt to portray the excitement, passion and danger of G.P. racing.
on 8 August 2006
You know how you remember things from your childhood? ...and if, by chance, years later, you have the opportunity to revisit them and those things seem smaller, duller, less exciting in reality than you remember them and you wish for ever afterwards that you had let them remain just as memories?
'Grand Prix' is not one of those!......I watched it ..oh..8,10 times in the movies when I was 11 years old and no movie since then has even come close to the sensational excitment it offered. Now that it is available in DVD I had to buy it, but with the trepidation of wondering if by watching it on the small screen it would tarnish forever my memories of it. No Way!. The quality of the dvd is crystal clear, almost 3D. although it cant possibly replicate the fabulous cinerama geometry and some of Saul Bass' amazing montages suffer as a result. The 5.1 sound is fantastic and , yes, I still tilt my head into the corners during the on-car sequences. The exploding wreck in the last scene made me jump in fright!
Looking back 40 years, it's quite incredible that they even made this film. It's inconceivable that in this modern insurance-nervous, product placement, focus group led world that it could be made today. As you watch you realise that it really is Yves Montand driving that car on-track, it really is James Garner jumping out of that blazing wreck ( and getting burnt in the process....)
The plotline is , frankly, predictable, but has worn the passage of time well enough to keep the non-petrolhead engaged for the not inconsiderable duration of the movie: World weary old pro wonders if it's time to hang up his helmet. Care-free young hot-shot threatens his crown. Obsessive nearly-man sees his health and his marriage crumble as he strives to beat the achivements of his dead brother.....Add some romantic complications , and set in the picturesque backdrop of the European grand prix tour. But its during the racing sequences that Grand Prix comes alive. A seamless blend of documentary and location footage create a style that has been copied many times since, but never to such good effect. There is no green-screen, no CGI. You never find yourself thinking ' wow, these effects are good, they look almost real' you find yourself thinking ' Jeez this track is bumpy, that exhaust pipe is hot....'Look out Jean-Pierre!'.... ( I feel dizzy).....'
For the racing enthusiast, this is a captivating journey back into motor racing's most romantic age.
For the movie buff this is an insight into movie making as it has never been done before or since and is the masterpiece of one of cinemas great directors.
Just buy it.
I saw this when it came out and remembered scenes from with complete clarity, somuchso that I would think of it often as I grew up. These were the perceptions of a kid - of crashes, of infidelities in troubled marriages, of unscrupulous bosses, of the rise of Japanese industrialists, of untimely death - peering into adult life. In a way, I was scared that I wouldn't like it today, but I wanted to watch it with my son as my dad did with me. Happily, it was almost completely satisfying as an adult.
I think the most important characters in the film are, in a way, the race cars of the mid60s. You get wonderful details about how they function, how they are designed, what their limits are, etc. Of course, the men who create them are present, but they are mainly seen as businessmen of extraordinarily aggressive will to win at any cost, even the lives of their drivers. Then, there are the drivers, who are the true lifeblood of the story, and their women. My favorite is Yves Montand, a man of great talent and wisdom in a stalled marriage and burning out as a human being. His team mate is an insensitive egoist from Sicily, an up-and-comer, who seduces a stupid groupie, the astonishingly beautiful Francoise Hardy in her prime. Garner is excellent as a striver entering middle age, perhaps blowing his last chance. He is seduced by the estranged wife of his old partner, who blames him for the terrible accident that maims him for life. Toshiro Mifune is outstanding as a Japanese industrialist who wants to overcome the unchampion-like psychology of his Japanese drivers, employing subtle manipulation to do so. Jessica (Play Misty4me) Walter, the estranged wife, delivered a performance so superior to Saint's that I was stunned. Hardy made a great bombshell bimbo, to mirror the shallowness of her rock star boyfriend. Brian Bedford, the wounded and implacably ambitious driver also develops a great character, complete with a pushy aristocratic mother that wants him to return and win, even if it costs him his life.
The plot follows these characters and their career concerns through the grand prix circuit for world championship. It is so exciting that it made me a racing fan for many years, and intertwines well with the lives and conflicts of the drivers at a time when the sport was raw and largely undiscovered and the cars far more artisanal than today's high tech masterpieces that are converging on a single design. There is no other film that portrays this kind of danger and excitement in such vivid images, complete with the inner dialogues of the drivers as they explain what they are facing. It is absolutely masterful.
Nonetheless, the film isn't perfect. I was surprised at how wooden Eva Marie Saint's performance was, really a walkthrough role of a character that she didn't bother to develop. Her dialogue with Montand is stilted and formulaic. Some of the effects are clearly dated, with flying dummies and models, though it is rare to notice them.
The bluray print is really worth it, though I had my worries after some of the lousy prints I've seen of older films. They did a first rate transfer of this, evidently superior to dvd versions. Finally, the extras documentaries are interesting, if a bit much. Also, this is zone-free.
Recommended with enthusiasm.
on 2 June 2012
I've been waiting for ages to buy a decent copy of this. Having watched it ages ago on the tv I was paranoid that the quality of the print on a dvd or blu-ray would just be a nasty video transfer, boy was I wrong. This version is absolutely gorgeous and plays perfectly on my R2 blu-ray player! The clarity of the remastered print (from the original 65mm it says) is simply fabulous (even has the "entr'acte" bits as well). The colours, sound and picture quality are exquisite and made the hairs on my arms stand up, it's that good! So I reckon that this is the version to buy! (And what a price!)
on 22 August 2006
Great transfer with vibrant visuals and 5:1 sound. The thing that struck me was that I'd never seen a 60's racing car in real action in such detail. It is wonderful to see these cars being as they were in the 60's but from footage that looks like it could have been shot yesterday. The on board shots are stunning, even by todays standards. OK the story's a bit predictable and Yves Montand's character has totally OTT lines but even still, this film stands the test of time and truly is a classic.
The extras are great as well - lots of interview stuff with great drivers including Jack Brabham and Dan Gurney. The "making of" extra is so much better than the abysmal making of video that's been out for a while.
If you have any interest in historic F1, buy this. I can't recommend it enough. Just the cameo spotting alone makes it worth watching.
If you like fast cars and the roaring sound of, "VAROOOOM!" this is the movie for you. Or if you prefer soap opera romances and beautiful clothes, you, too, will like this movie. It opens with a bang on the picturesque streets of Monte Carlo, as the 1966 Grand Prix racers are bolting through town. We meet drivers from America, England, and France (James Garner, Brian Bedford, and Yves Montand) and follow their rivalry through the racing season. We also look behind the scenes at their love lives as they deal with conflicting feelings about racing.
This is an exciting and very enjoyable movie. Yves Montand never looked hunkier, even though he plays the oldest racer on the circuit. He's dreamy and so much better than his love interest, Eva Marie Saint, who is drab and dull and totally miscast as a fashionista. Brian Bedford, with his cute babyface and stiff-upper lip is memorable as a sensitive driver who never quite lived up to his famous brother. His love is well-played by kittenish Jessica Walter as a model with a roaming eye. On the down side, handsome James Garner isn't given much to do and his character is bland and uninspired. Many real Formula 1 drivers have minor parts and several real Grand Prix races were filmed in various countries adding an authentic flavor.
The film comes in two discs and the Extras are quite interesting, featuring interviews with director and cast that were filmed in the nineties. We learn that the stars didn't use stunt drivers, but actually drove themselves at high speeds for close-ups. The special effects are impressive, done decades before CGI. Maurice Jarre's soundtrack is lovely (and sounds a lot like his "Lawrence of Arabia" and even a bit like "Dr. Zhivago").
This is a movie with something for everyone - high speed racing excitement, romance, and moments of personal reflection. The acting and direction are excellent. Highly recommended.