Behind The Wheel with Roger Corman’s DEATH RACE 2050 on Blu-ray!

Death Race 2050 hits Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD on January 17 from Universal.

The original Death Race 2000 is one of my all-time favorites. Produced by Roger Corman and directed by frequent collaborator Paul Bartel, it’s a colorful and ludicrously indulgent political satire that mixes Wacky Races shenanigans with hard-R violence and over-the-top dystopian commentary condemning that violence. We shared the film as a Two Cents pick back in 2014.

In 2008, Universal released Death Race, an updated retooling of the classic. The more modernized and action-oriented studio take brought on director Paul W. S. Anderson’s trademark energy and explosive effects and significant star power led by Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, and Joan Allen. I love the remake and its two excellent DTV prequels which followed, but on their own terms. They changed the formula dramatically, lessening the bombastic satire and changing the nature of the race from a cross-country pedestrian-murdering campfest to a vehicular version of The Running Man with Super Mario Kart style power-ups — but played straight, without the goofiness that those comparisons imply.

Consider Death Race 2050 a return to the goofyiness. It’s yet another reboot of the franchise, but played much more in keeping with the original: low budget, gaudy, full of colorful characters and vehicles, and— perhaps most critically — once again produced by Roger Corman.

The film once again pits a masked, black leather-clad driver named Frankenstein (Manu Bennett) in the gladitorial Death Race, a gore-soaked Cannonball Run scored not only by time, but by kills. He and his opponents operate wildly designed supercars equipped with tricks and weaponry to murder pedestrians — or each other.

Driving against him are a cartoonish rogues gallery of weirdos including a flamboyant bodybuilder with a god complex, a star-spangled religious leader whose personality cult has taken over America’s heartland, a hip-hop mogul whose latest hit consists of perhaps 5 unique words, and a driverless A.I. construct that gets sidetracked by an existential crisis.

As Frankenstein and his race-assigned co-pilot Annie set out on their trek, they’re besieged not only by other drivers, but by triggerhappy gun lovers and resistance fighters who oppose the race.

The movie trades in the classic 35mm aesthetic for a digital makeover with a lot of CGI blood and green screen compositing, but actually looks quite a bit better than the garish impression I got from the trailers. And sure, I could complain that it’s not shot on film, but it’s in the Corman tradition of low-budget filmmaking, and more importantly, the production design is on point. The cartoonish aesthetic of the characters (obnoxious commentators included), and their cars and costumes, is right in line with Death Race 2000, with a dash of The Hunger Games. It looks and feels like the same world we know. It’s also clear that a lot of the vehicular stuff is shot practically.

That said, I’m actually unsure whether Death Race 2050 is supposed to be a sequel or a remake. There are no continuity references or connections to the 2000 race, nor any insight into the legacy of the original Frankenstein or why the races are back on after he ended the practice 50 years ago. Sure, anything could have happened in that time, but it would’ve been nice to build some exposition into the script.

Perhaps the truest analysis is that it’s simply a repeat of a certain theme: if Death Race 2000 was looking at a dystopian future based on the present 1975, the Death Race 2050 is doing the same for contemporary 2017. The United Corporations of America is ruled by a charismatic Chairman (Malcolm MacDowell), whose business mogul background and floppy hair recall Donald Trump. This is a world where the “Alt-Right” has abandoned any pretense of Christianity and morphed into a straight-up religious cult of gun-toting, celebrity-worshipping hillbillies. And the unemployed masses live plugged into virtual reality entertainment, not unlike some hardcore gamers. My favorite touch, though, is the remapping of the country, with hilariously renamed geography like Upper Shitville (Baltimore), Walmartinique (Arkansas), and Eastern Fall Out Zone (New Jersey).

While the film’s plot is very similar to 2000, it does a pretty good job of riding the line of changing things up but not making them too different. Many of the key story beats and fan favorite moments are repeated here, but are served up in ways that keep them fresh for folks who already know the original. More importantly, certain characters’ motivations and sympathies are different, so there are surprises to be had.

The Package

Death Race 2050 arrives direct-to-video on Blu-ray (and DVD & VOD) on January 17 from Universal. The Blu-ray release is a combo pack with all three formats and a little over a half hour of behind-the-scenes extras. My copy came with a slipcover, fully embossed on three sides and with glossy images on a matte surface.

Special Features

The Making Of Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050 (10:16)
Behind the scenes with cast and crew, most notably Roger Corman describing how the film came about.

The Look Of 2050 (6:29)

On the film’s style, especially shooting in South America and using its unique landscapes and architecture to shape the film’s design.

Cars! Cars! Cars! (4:33)

The cars film’s iconic cars were shot practically with digital embellishments. Despite looking pretty effective on screen, their construction is astonishingly cheap. Pretty fascinating stuff.

Cast Car Tours (8:30)
Each of the cast’s drivers gives a quick visual tour of their car and its features.

Deleted Scenes (5:35)
Nothing particularly eye-opening, mostly more character moments with Minerva and Tammy.

I had a good time with this. While an unnecessary and improbable late sequel, it’s by no means an unwelcome one. It probably goes without saying that Death Race 2050 can’t compare to the original, but for what it is, it surpassed my expectations and I found it silly, thoughtful, and entertaining — which is exactly what a movie called Death Race 2050 should be.

A/V Out.

Get it on Amazon:
Death Race 2050 — [Blu-ray] | [DVD]

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