Wednesday, March 9, 2016

#2,032. NASCAR: The IMAX Experience (2004)

Directed By: Simon Wincer

Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth

Tag line: "Up To 8 Stories High... 12,000 Watts Of Sound... 750 Horsepower"

Trivia: This movie won a Golden Reel at the 2005 Motion Picture Sound Editors Awards (for Best Sound Editing in a Special Venue Film)

There is no doubt about precisely when folks began racing each other in automobiles. It was the day they built the second automobile” – Richard Petty

I went into this 2004 film knowing absolutely nothing about NASCAR. I don’t watch the races on TV, and I couldn’t name five drivers if my life depended on it. This might explain why Simon Wincer’s documentary was such an eye-opening experience. Fans of the sport probably know this stuff forwards and backwards, but for me, it’s all brand-spanking new.

NASCAR: The IMAX Experience kicks things off with a brief lesson on the history of NASCAR (short for The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing), from its inception in the 1940s to the founding of a 2 ½ mile long track in Daytona Beach, Florida, currently the home of the biggest race the sport has to offer (every year, 250,000-odd fans make the pilgrimage to see the Daytona 500). Narrated by Kiefer Sutherland, NASCAR: The IMAX Experience puts us in the driver’s seat as cars reach speeds of 150 miles per hour; and visits the headquarters of some of the sport’s most successful teams, introducing us to the mechanics and engineers who dedicate their lives to building these awesome vehicles.

I enjoyed learning about NASCAR’s sometimes checkered past (the movie begins with a reenactment set during the days pf prohibition, in which bootleggers from the Blue Ridge Mountains outrun the police in an alcohol-fueled car), and was amazed by how much work it takes to create these automobiles (we see one built from the tires up) and ensure they’re always in top form (after every run, the car’s engine is taken apart, piece by piece, and inspected). But as informative and entertaining as these sequences were, it’s the races themselves that give NASCAR: The IMAX Experience its energy (cameras are mounted inside the vehicles, as well as on the front and back, giving us a first-person view of the action, which can get pretty intense).

Originally released in 3-D, NASCAR the IMAX Experience probably looked great projected onto a giant screen. But for a complete novice like myself, even watching it in the comfort of my living room gave me a better understanding of NASCAR and the thousands of people who’ve helped it become America’s largest spectator sport.

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