Le Mans, The Movie. Can It Ever Be Bettered?

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If you’re a fan of proper racing action in the movies, it doesn’t get better than Le Mans. The 1971 movie is notable not for Steve McQueen in the starring role, but for the virtually documentary-level attention to detail in the race scenes. Large portions of on-board footage were filmed at the actual 1970 race, and the rest of it at the same location afterwards. The resulting film had some sort of plot involving McQueen racing to avenge the death of his friend’s husband (or something), but it was the action sequences of Porsche 917s and Ferrari 512 that grabbed the attention and stayed in the mind.

That was 40 years ago, and no movie has really come as close to realistically portraying the world of motorsports since. Days of Thunder was pure Hollywood. Sylvester Stallone’s Driven was pure toss. Senna is awesome, but it’s a documentary. And Grand Prix, the only film we can think of to rival Le Mans’ action, was made five years beforehand.

So we’re pretty sceptical that any planned films about racing can be worth getting excited about, but we’ll admit that our interest has been piqued by director Ron Howard’s latest project. The man behind Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon and A Beautiful Mind has some impressive achievements on his resume (we’ll ignore The Da Vinci Code for now), and he’s in the early stages of Rush, a drama focusing on the rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt during the infamous 1976 Formula 1 season. The 70s was a hugely important time in F1, when the transition was made from the death trap speed machines of the post-war period to the aerodynamic age that we’re still in today. And the paddock was full of characters; immense characters like Hunt and Lauda, Fittipaldi, Peterson and Ickx, Amon and Andretti. Many of the drivers that started their careers in the 70s wouldn’t see the decade out. There was glamour, danger and raw mechanical speed to Formula 1; it was a world before the sanitised corporate environment that the sport has become.

So far, details of Rush are limited. Chris Hemsworth (Thor) has been cast as James Hunt, while Daniel Bruehl (Inglourious Basterds) will play Lauda. Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen, The Last King of Scotland) has written the script. All good signs.However, Howard has said in recent interviews that Rush will be “sizzling and sexy”, which doesn’t fill us with enthusiasm, and he’s also said that going to actual race venues to shoot is not a necessity, which is worrying. Please Ron, don’t let this be another unrealistic CGI fest. The source material is rich and the period machinery so exhilarating that to balls this up would upset a lot of petrolheaded movie-goers.

Categories: Lifestyle


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  1. Just visited the Porsche museum in Stuttgart and they have a large section devoted to the 917 and Le Mans. An epic day out.

  2. If anyone does ever try to make the ultimate LeMans movie it would have to be about the 1955 race though. Jaguar and Mercedes, Hawthorn and Fangio going absolutely balls out, neck and neck and lap after lap for hours on end, against the background of ‘that’ tragic crash.

  3. I don’t think LeMans or Grand Prix could never be remade ‘better’. The unhurried pace, authenticity and non-sensationalism involved in the process of making LeMans in particular are what combine to create and communicate that distinct 1970s mood so faithfully and in such an uncontrived, almost documentary like manner.

    I’m not sure that such a brass tacks treatment would ever make it through the contemporary big budget Hollywood filmmaking complex be it in terms of the storyline or directorial approach, never mind the temptation to liberally apply CGI.

    As long as they tell the story with a decent mix of historical accuracy and panache there’s hope though, and Ron Howard has been there and done it well. Somebody might just need to give him a few passenger rides in vintage race cars for him to really ‘get’ it is all.

  4. Couldn’t have said it better myself! Part of what made “Le Mans” special was that it was truly period correct (it was shot in era it portrayed and with the accuracy of a documentary). Filming the real cars and using some actual footage from the 1970 race. Not to mention Steve McQueen jumping in the drivers seat himself. Anyone whom tackles Mulsanne flat out in the dark has my ultimate respect.

    Ron Howard’s production of the “Hunt vs. Lauda” saga is an interesting prospect. It will be like playboy party, set on the streets of Monte Carlo, with some added drama from a biographical plot. He has the means to make Mcqueen’s budget (which recall almost sent him broke!) pale insignificance. Will it include restored archive footage or will private collectors let out their precious metal??? With current HD filming techniques and digital special effects it could redefine the genre of motorsport films. So long as he keeps it real and doesn’t turn it into a Hollywood cliché.

  5. McQueen or Micheal Delaney, was not racing to avenge the death of his friend’s husband, he was racing because:

    “A lot of people go through life doing things badly. Racing’s important to men who do it well. When you’re racing, it… it’s life. Anything that happens before or after… is just waiting..”