What I learned from watching "Supercross the Movie"

After a few years of production and what seemed like an eternity of hype, Supercross the Movie was going to finally be the film that really showed what is was like at the top level of the sport. A realistic depiction with the best motocross camera work in the history of film. Sadly, even before the release, the reports from the previews were sounding grim. With the reviews all coming to the consensus that the movie was terrible, I didn’t make much of an effort to see it. An urgent effort would have been what was needed, as poor attendance lead to a very short stay in the theatres. After what was a very long time, given its brief theater run, it was finally released to DVD. Even then, I stubbornly waited until it was no longer a 2-day rental.

With very low expectations, the movie did provide one surprise for me. It was worse than I could have possibly imagined. This is something that MTV2 might not even air. I sat through the thankfully short running time, waiting for it to get better, and it never did. At the end, I began to think that maybe the problem wasn’t the movie, but my attitude towards it. Just because this is not the movie I would make doesn’t mean there might not be positive things about it. Thinking along the lines of what people learned from the movie Independence Day such as “Fireballs don’t go through doors”, I decided to watch it again and see what the movie could teach me. While I was at it, I tried to think of it as humor, much like the accidentally funny, Striptease, was re-marketed as a comedy after the previews. Or perhaps, it could become the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” of the motocross community. Someone had to be the one to make the sacrifice and watch it a second time.

I’ll have to admit that watching the movie with this new outlook improved it dramatically. The biggest thing I learned, and I’m so sarcastically glad that the public now has this general perception (or the small part of the public that actually saw the movie), is that each factory team consists of one star, and the rest are “blockers”. It’s the blocker’s job to initiate contact with anyone that dares try to challenge the star. Another thing that I learned is that the primary way to pass someone is to crash him off the track or have your “Blocker” do it for you.

This brought to mind the powerhouse Honda teams of the late 70s and early 80s. I couldn’t figure out who the blockers were. Seems like they were all trying to win. Luckily for us fans, money and protocol must have reigned in those lone-cowboy types. How dare they have the nerve to try to give their sponsor’s bike a national victory.

I also found out that some of my basic riding techniques are wrong. All these years, I thought that the fastest way to accelerate was to stay forward, crank it wide open, and go through the gears, adjusting your weight slowly back as needed. As it turns out, the fastest way to accelerate is to carry a third gear, 30-degree, wheelie. Time and time again, the rider doing that would surge ahead of all those around him. It worked in Supermoto and Motocross. As good as Ricky Carmichael is, you’d think he’d know this simple technique, but he doesn’t. On all his holeshots, the front wheel is just barely skimming the ground.

From a filmmaking point of view, the movie had much to teach me also. At first, when they were mixing the racing action shots with the close-ups of the actors in helmets looking around, I thought they were trying to be funny. The light was off on the actor’s shots, they were obviously standing still, and in a few cases, gear would change or clean itself. After using that technique about forty times, a wave of horror washed over me, as I realized that they were being serious. The cuts reminded me of some of my favorite movies growing up, the whole “Godzilla vs Various Monsters” series. I had thought that after fifty years of innovations and with a budget 100 times their size, Supercross would easily surpass those high technical standards, but the filmmaking novice that I am, I was obviously wrong.

The other thing I noticed about nearly all the scenes, but especially the race sequences, was that no camera could be focused on one thing for longer than a second and no single shot could be longer than two seconds. Just as I was beginning to enjoy a shot, off it went. If racing was really that chaotic and frenetic, everyone involved, including the spectators, would have really bad headaches at the end of the day. In the moviemaker’s defense, part of the reason for the really quick shots was that they were using footage from several different races and it’s harder to notice that kind of thing when the shots are nearly subliminal in length.

It’s still hard to imagine why a decent non-documentary movie about racing motorcycles remains such an elusive beast. With all the interesting actual stories out there, why must they always try to make one up? There are a lot of riders whose stories would make very good subjects; Donny Schmit, David Bailey, Doug Henry, Ron Lechein, Kenny Roberts, and Ricky Graham just to name a few. They might not all have happy endings, but they were all champions and all had lives that even people that weren’t big fans of the sport could find compelling. You’d need almost every fast vintage rider in the country to re-create the races, but how cool would that be? This would be the part of this movie review (yes, that is how I categorized this rambling tirade) where I would pitch my “Life of Donny Schmit” screenplay. Unfortunately, my research indicates that well-financed movie producers represent a statistically insignificant segment of this site's readership.

As a final gift to you, the reader, I’ll leave you with some highlights to watch for:

• The time from the start of the movie until the first crash clip montage was three minutes, twenty-four seconds, breaking the previous record of 5:25 set by the recent remake of Evil Knievel.

• Something that was said early in the movie gave me a lot to ponder. The narrating character says, “Our dream is indoor motocross. Indoor. Outdoor. The whole deal.” Is it me or does that make no sense at all? Kind of like there are some words missing or in the wrong spot or something. Perhaps it’s some type of anagram or secret code. Something to think about during the many predictable-dialog sequences that follow.

• A bit later in the movie, one rider is telling the other that, “Tyler Evans is the dirtiest rider on the circuit” and the other one says something about “I’ll keep him off you”. They’re having this whole conversation while walking directly behind him less than ten feet away. They must have bought into the whole “tattoos cause deafness” urban legend

• I liked the way that the Hog Heaven daughter gained about 50 pounds between taking off from her house and landing the back flip.

• The “Rick Ryan winning Daytona” story is surprisingly accurate.

• Tyler Evans was involved in another one of my favorite scenes towards the end of the movie. After he and another rider run off the track and crash, Tyler is up first and gives the other guy a quick boot to the head as he’s trying to get up. The announcer doesn’t say a thing about it.

• Towards the end of the movie, the cheesy cutaway shots increase at an almost exponential pace, and the first use of the B classic, the three-way screen shot, comes into play. They were pulling out all the cinematic big guns for the climatic final race. See how many you can spot.

• After winning the big race at the end of the movie and vanquishing his foes, the hero is back in the pits having a conversation with his girl friend. The funny part is that they are showing it on the Jumbotron, complete with the shots switching back and forth. I’ll give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt on that one and assume that they are doing a parody of the final scene of Police Squad.

• For your final assignment, as the final credits roll, other than Robert Patrick, try to name one movie that any of the actors have been in.