A promo image for "Death Race 2050." [Image by New Horizons / Universal Pictures Home Entertainment]

‘Death Race 2050’: Roger Corman’s Reimagining Crashes Into The Present

Death Race 2050 is Roger Corman’s modern day, new version of the cult-classic movie he produced over 40 years ago, Death Race 2000. With an unusual premise, comedy, and violence, it has remained a favorite of B-movie fans worldwide.

The first Death Race 2050 trailer was released in October 2016 at NY Comic-Con, appearing to promise a return to the dystopian, yet comedic, tone of the original film.

Today marks the official release date for the film, so fans will now get a chance to see for themselves how the movie compares to the original.

For those not familiar with Death Race 2000 and Roger Corman, here is a quick look back at their history.

The Original Death Race

Death Race 2000 was a dark satire set 25 years in the future (going from the then-present of 1975 to the year 2000). The plot was based around a TV game show in which contestants drove in super fast assault vehicles and advanced by murdering victims with their cars.

The film starred David Carradine as a racer named Frankenstein. He is the top player in the game but has become disillusioned with the unending violence. Over the course of the movie, he learns about and decides to help a resistance movement set on destroying the tyrannical government, which uses the race as a distraction for the masses.

A 2008 remake starring Jason Statham de-emphasized most of the satire and focused more on the action of the races.

Jason Statham in 2008. [Image by Brad Barket/Getty Images]
Jason Statham in 2008. [Image by Brad Barket/Getty Images]

This version had a larger budget and was produced by a major studio (Universal), as opposed to Corman’s indie original. It did well enough on its own to spawn two sequels in that new story timeline.

The new movie has actor Manu Bennett in the role of Frankenstein, once again the deadliest racer in the games.

Manu Bennett. [Image by Phil Walter/Getty Images]
Manu Bennett. [Image by Phil Walter/Getty Images]

Roger Corman

Roger Corman has been making movies since the 1950s. He’s known for very low budgets and quickly making films, with some only taking weeks to finish. Corman directed or co-directed over 50 movies in 16 years (between 1955 to 1971).

Roger Corman in 1963. [Image by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]
Roger Corman in 1963. [Image by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]

Retiring from directing at the start of the 1970s, Corman became a movie producer and had stayed in the business ever since, producing a huge number of films in the ensuing decades. Roger Corman turned 90 in 2016, but he absolutely isn’t finished with show-business.

Roger Corman in 2016. [Image by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Turner]
Roger Corman in 2016. [Image by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Turner]

Corman was actively involved in conceiving and shaping the creative direction of Death Race 2050. According to an interview in FilmInk Australia, he wrote the initial proposal for the film himself after suggesting the idea to Universal Studios. Corman also noted the difference in budgets between the original, the 2008 version, and the new film.

“I’ve always thought of motion pictures as a combination of art and business. When you’re dealing with that kind of money the business end of the equation begins to take over. It’s tough to gamble with 200 million dollars – you pretty much have to play it safe. Whereas with a picture like Death Race 2050, which to me is a big budget picture but to Universal is a low budget film simply because of the different way they operate, I’m able to satirise, to make comments about society, to joke about things in society, while I combine it with the action of the fast car racing. So I and other people working this way do have greater freedom to play around and to experiment.”

Bringing Back The Comedy, And Commentary

In another interview, with the LA Weekly, Corman says he was upfront with Universal about what was lacking in the 2008 remake.

“I called Universal, and I said, ‘You did a good job, but you’ve taken out the killing of the pedestrians and the broken-society themes.'”

He made sure to note, however, that the comedic element of the satire in the new movie came before the commentary aspect.

“It’s very important that these political and social comments be in the film… But they’re beneath the surface. It’s a car-racing black comedy, and the audience must see that. First, they must see all the laughs.”

Supporting characters in the original film were broad comedic stereotypes. There was “‘Calamity’ Jane Kelly”, a cowgirl/Western parody; “Matilda the Hun” was a German/Nazi caricature; and “‘Machine-Gun’ Joe Viterbo” (played by a pre-stardom Sylvester Stallone) was a riff on a Mafia/gangster-type.

The trend has continued in Death Race 2050, this time updated with more modern ideas to make fun of. There is “The Chairman,” (played by Malcolm McDowell) the evil capitalist government overlord of what has become The United Corporations of America; “Perfectus,” a genetically engineered super-racer; and “Tammy The Terrorist,” a white American radical who worships pop-culture rather than extremist religion. All the new characters in the film were developed from ideas by Corman himself. He explained further in the LA Weekly interview.

“I spent the most time on Tammy because I was thinking about terrorism, and I preferred to stay away from ISIS… There have been more terrorist attacks of Americans against Americans than ISIS against Americans, so I specifically wanted her to be an American woman.”

“On the first death, Tammy says, ‘All hail Saint Elvis Presley.’ The line just came to me… I invented her religion, where sometimes she’s quoting Michael Jackson and sometimes the Bible, and that’s her terrorist fundamentalism.”

If that wasn’t enough, one of the racers isn’t human at all – it’s a self-driving car. Over the course of the movie, it becomes self-aware and begins to question its own existence.

“Gung-ho Spirit”

Early reactions to the film have been mostly positive. In a review on horror movie fansite Dread Central, it received a 3.5 out of 5.

“Corman has taken the wheel of the franchise once again. It’s fun to see him revisit such a cool premise… Death Race 2050 stars the always-magnetic Malcolm McDowell as The Chairman – an eerily Trump-like character…”

“No, you cannot keep lightning in a bottle and nobody can recapture the sleazy fun of the mid-1970s… The gore is courtesy of computer – there’s a lot of CG… The result is dodgy at best… It just adds to the cheese-factor, and so for me it’s fine… Overall I think if you’re a fan of the original 1975 movie, you will appreciate the gung-ho spirit with which Death Race 2050 is presented.”

Fans will now have a chance to experience the Death Race story once again, with a new wacky cast of characters, reflecting and refracting the sometimes unusual world we live in today.

Death Race 2050 is now available on Blu-Ray, DVD, and Digital HD from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

[Featured Image by New Horizons/Universal Pictures Home Entertainment]

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