Grand Prix 2-Disc Special Edition (DVD-2006)
Reviewed by Dennis Kwiatkowski
filmgoers may think of an ‘event’ film as something like Star Wars: Revenge
of the Sith, or one of the Lord of the Rings films, or Superman Returns. But the true event film goes back to at least the
1950’s and 1960’s with 70mm, six-track stereo super-productions such as Lawrence
of Arabia, The Sound of Music, Ben-Hur
and other such films, where images of spectacular clarity were matched with awesome sound in presentations of consummate showmanship.
‘event’ film now available on DVD for the first time is the 1966 single-lens Cinerama production of Grand Prix, director John Frankenheimer’s story of four drivers, the women they love and the insatiable
drive to win the Grand Prix championship. Featuring astonishing race-car sequences filmed at actual Grand Prix races in Monaco,
Belgium, France and Holland, to name just a few of the locations, Grand Prix provided
a ‘you are there in the driver’s seat’ visceral experience which had never been seen before and which has
not been equaled to this day.
production was fraught with risks and complexity. The director employed the world’s
supply of 70mm cameras, mounted on swooping helicopters and affixed to the actual Formula One racing cars themselves. The actors had to attend race-car driving school and do the actual driving in the
film themselves—something that could never be done today—for insurance reasons alone—but which adds incredible
realism to the film.
artistic and poetic use of split-screen and multiple-screen photography (accomplished well before the era of digital effects)
was another innovation pioneered in Grand Prix which has influenced subsequent
movies. Particular attention was also paid to the film’s sound design which
pushed the envelope in every way —ambient racing sounds and motor sounds were used by the director as one might use
music. And the engine sounds and gear shifting of each race car were individually recorded and matched in the complex racing
sequences with exquisite precision. It is no wonder the film won three Oscars
for its extraordinary sound, its editing, and its sound effects editing.
stars as racing driver Pete Aron, a part originally intended for Steve McQueen. But
McQueen’s unavailability was a stroke of great luck. Garner completely
claims the role and gives an archetypal performance. He is aided by an excellent
ensemble cast which includes Yves Montand, Brian Bedford, Eva Marie Saint, Antonio Sabato, Jessica Walters and Toshiro Mifune.
brilliant and underrated music score by Maurice Jarre prefigures composer John Williams with its use of trumpets and Wagnerian
counterpoint. After Grand Prix premiered,
fans of the film wore out their vinyl records of the soundtrack album through repeated playings--the score is that infectious. It is impossible to imagine Grand Prix
without Jarre’s towering film score.
Video’s 2-disc Special Edition DVD of Grand Prix also contains multiple documentaries
as extras which detail the enormity of director Frankenheimer’s accomplishment.
The director sought to do something different and exciting with this film. If
there is unevenness in the film’s drama and if its director occasionally overreaches in his gargantuan production, it
is compensated for by many great moments of filmmaking in this unique achievement.
transfer from the original 65mm elements is absolutely astonishing with a restored image of such clarity, and with a soundtrack
so superbly remastered, that this is the closest one is likely to get to the Cinerama experience on a televison screen. Still considered to be the greatest racing film ever made, Grand Prix loses none of its power or impact in its DVD debut.