Speed Racer - Mach 5
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Speed Racer - Mach 5

By By Michael Ordoña, Special to The Times

THE Wachowski brothers’ souped up, kaleidoscopic upgrade of “Speed Racer” may look like “The Matrix” on happy pills and feature an A-list cast (including Emile Hirsch, Matthew Fox and Susan Sarandon), but the real stars are the tricked-out cars that hurtle along tracks at 300 mph and battle each other midair. (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)
As in its cartoon forebear, Speed’s gleaming Mach 5 is outfitted with a few special features that would make even James Bond jealous. Per the Wachowskis’ dictate, the gadgets don’t stray far from the original versions, just enough to offer up a few surprises. (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)
“There are a couple of different ones that are pretty cool,” said lead conceptual designer Jeff Julian. “The jump jacks are probably used the most. (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)
The fencing quality of the wheel shields, that’s a new thing. But it’s hard to beat big, giant saw blades in front of a car.” ¶ Hirsch, though, has a special fondness for the stilt-like jump mechanism: “I hit the jump jack button and the machine jumps me up and gives me whiplash,” he jokes. (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)
Filming in a simulator on hydraulic pumps with pistons, Hirsch felt the full effect of high-speed racing, getting thrown from side to side and shot upward at will. (“It makes you seasick.”) And conceivably, he faced the danger a racer might. “The robotics they were using had a lot of power,” the actor says. (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)
“If you left the machine to its own devices, it could create enough G-forces to break your neck and kill you.” (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)
In the film’s hyper-reality -- with some 2,000 visual effects -- racers leave the ground in “car fu” battles. “There’s one maneuver in which Speed’s car spin-flips over an opponent,” visual effects supervisor Dan Glass says. “He then spins and crashes his [car’s] rear end into the other car to knock it off the track. It’s a surprise move, the equivalent of a roundhouse kick.” (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)
For the climactic race, Speed’s team builds the brand-new rocket-like Mach 6.

“We couldn’t change the Mach 5 much, it’s too iconic. But the Mach 6 is a true, purpose-built racer,” Julian says. “We had this idea of mixing an M-1 Abrams tank with a Formula One car.” (Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)