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What makes a good racing film (or any other sports film)?

Have you ever wondered why some racing and other sports films are so well received, while others miss the mark?

This topic caught my attention when I recorded an episode for my podcast last night in which a friend and I talked about Field of Dreamswhich I consider to be one of the best sports films of all time.

It reminded me of elements of production, storytelling and acting that make films, especially sports films, successful.

Let us address this in the context of Field of Dreams.

This film works because it takes itself seriously and knows exactly what it is. It doesn't have any frills – Ray's wife is completely sold on the idea of ​​the “voice” and that the baseball field must be built, all at the risk of endangering the farm.

There is no conflict that would normally arise between the couple in a real-life situation: she agrees, but eventually becomes concerned, but then she is back on board when she and Ray realize that they are having exactly the same dream.

There is a fine line between the absence of conflict, i.e. a film without conflict that feels superfluous, and to convoluted and full of drama. I think a lot of sports movies get that balance just right – maybe a little too much in one direction or the other – to the point where they satisfy all three types of viewers: those who are familiar with the sport or the true story it depicts, those who aren't interested in the sport at all, and those who watch it for both the story and the sports aspect.

Some good examples from racing films:

Days of Thunderas much crap as there is at times, and as a passionate defender of the film itself, he does it very well. We experience conflict on several levels: Cole Trickle and Rowdy Burns, a relatively friendly rivalry; Cole and Russ Wheeler, a not so friendly rivalry, and Cole himself, getting used to NASCAR and the like.

This balance is due in large part to Tony Scott, one of the greatest directors of American films (despite his British heritage), and his talent behind the camera.

Other films don't manage this balance quite as well and get lost in their own way of telling the story. Race for glory: Audi vs. Lanciawhich came out earlier this year is a perfect example of this. Rally films should be exciting by nature. This is a racing discipline with constant challenges, changing environments and a crucial tandem of driver and navigator working together to achieve the best possible time.

So there could be conflicts in the car, a ticking clock, or unexpected weather, whatever could affect the outcome (although I know this is based on a true story).

Instead, we get a terribly boring and dull film that never feels like it's really moving forward, and that supposed “vs.” in the title isn't nearly as dramatic as it should be.

Back to the “good” end of this spectrum: Hurry is another perfect example, and a higher quality one at that. Historical accuracy is key, as is the deft directing hand of Ron Howard and the fiery performances of Chris Hemsworth (who is truly phenomenal in Furiousif you haven't seen it yet) and Daniel Brühl.

We have dramatic tension scenes between the two drivers, well-crafted racing scenes, and an all-encompassing rivalry that works – no frills, just that rivalry and the people around it.

Sports movies work best when they're relatively straightforward beyond the story they're telling. There's no need to over-stuff an already solid premise.

We'll be postponing our documentation of movie-themed paint jobs for another week. I'll make sure to cover everything I can.

Follow @adamncheek


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