I remember the exact moment I knew Star Trek: Into Darkness was going to be a complete piece of crap. It was Jon Stewart’s interview with JJ Abrams, who announced, unprompted, that he didn’t like Star Trek. By contrast, I had extremely high hopes for Ron Howard’s Rush, a movie about the utterly insane 1976 Formula 1 championship battle between two legends of motorsport – Niki Lauda and James Hunt. In numerous interviews, Ron Howard was passionate, engaged and enthusiastic about both the rivalry and motorsport itself, and having seen (and loved) Apollo 13, I was looking forward to seeing the movie.
And then I did, and I had but one question: how did it all go so badly wrong?
For one, not once did I think I was watching an actual Formula 1 race, except in the very brief actual TV footage used in the movie while Lauda is recovering in hospital. There are certain defining characteristics of how F1 looks like on TV. For example, at every single track, in order to accommodate the F1 standing start, a wide-angle lens captures the race from a position some way down the start/finish straight (usually near the first turn). The camera never zooms in during the hold, but rotates as the pack goes past and then zooms in to the back of the pack. Then inevitably it hard cuts to either a shot from a helicopter or from the first turn slow enough to capture the cars as they go past. If you’ve ever seen an F1 race, this is a shot you will recognize instinctively. Not once, not a single time, in the depiction of nearly 15 races across the movie, does this ever happen. There are certain other stock shot setups in F1: cars slowing and locking up as they are turning around corners, weaving through corners, disappearing into the distance on a straight. None of these stock shots are present at all. Not once. Yes, there is slow-mo, which didn’t exist in the 1970s broadcasts, but even there, they have it wrong: with slow-mo on straights, not turns.
This is a film directed, filmed and edited by people who have NEVER seen an F1 race on TV.
If you told me this was set in Grand Theft Auto (no, not that one), I would believe you. To me, this is probably the greatest crime of all: we don’t have perfect recollections from the characters in the film, and for that we allow the script writers and movie makers leave to fill in the blanks, but we do have the celluloid that preserves the look and feel of F1 races from as far back as 1929; note the wide-angle lenses watching lots of cars. This isn’t how F1 looks like visually.
I can’t speak to the rest of the film’s authenticity: I was not around for it, but Niki Lauda himself wrote two books – To Hell and Back, For the Record – that chronicle his rise to the 1975 and 1977 world championships. What saddens me, however, is how shallowly everyone else is dealt with in the book. Mario Andretti, who went on to win the 1978 championship, and found a competitive racing dynasty, is barely rated a voiceover by an announcer. Clay Regazzoni is given a scant 90 seconds of screen time spread over 15 minutes of the movie. Lella Lombardi or Divina Galica? Nope – and 1976 was last time there were two women simultaneously in the championship. We don’t even get the privilege of learning the names of the dead: I believe the film portrays the deaths of Helmuth Koinigg and Mark Donahue, but this is based on my searching after watching the firm; it’s quite possible the film portrayed dangerous, but not fatal, accidents. In fact, even Marlene Lauda and Suzy Hunt barely rate screen time and are given just a handful of lines of dialogue. It’s fortunate then that the leads, Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl deliver, both in looks and temperaments of Hunt and Lauda, but this still leaves the film feeling rather like an engine without a chassis or wheels.
I could go on and on about this film as an F1 fan, but really, what you need to know about this film is this: on the opening weekend, during a time the rest of the cinema was packed, there were a mere 35 people in the auditorium when Rush started, including me. There were less than 25 at the end and yes, I counted. The film may one day recoup its costs outside of the US, where F1 isn’t popular, but it will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of fans of Formula 1.
Oh well. At least, next week, we have Gravity to look forward to. That at least looks right, but I’m prepared to be bitterly disappointed again.