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Dust to Glory

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 04/07/05 01:27:15

"Everyone loves the crazy."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

I'm not a car person. I have relatives who are fans of stock-car racing, but I tend to see that as watching other people drive all afternoon and not get anywhere. I tell friends and family members that owning a truck is wasteful. I not only don't own a vehicle of my own, but I never bothered to get my driver's license. With all that said, I found Dust to Glory, a chronicle of the Baja 1000 cross-country race, to be a ton of fun.

See, even if I don't like dealing with automobiles myself, I do like speed. I stand in awe of raw mechanical power, and can't really conceive of having control of one of these cars/trucks/motorcycles without killing someone (probably myself). There's also something delightfully pure about the race itself: Anyone can enter, from a pair of locals in a twenty-year-old Volkswagen Beetle to a sponsored team in a million dollar "trophy truck". The thousand mile race has the same start and end points, but the actual course changes from year to year, and always includes a bunch of different terrain, from mountains to beach, rolling dunes to extremely loose silt.

And it's crazy. Let's forget the silt for a moment, and how it creates an almost impenetrable could of dust, bad enough for the people in cars and trucks who can accelerate through it, but for the guys on bikes and quads. Let's talk about the gigantic crowds lining the sides of the course, mere feet away from souped-up cars speeding past, making sharp turns, bouncing all over the place. Or how etiquette for signalling the desire to pass is to bump the car in front of you. Or how vast stretches of the race take are out in the desert, away from any pit crew; if you get in trouble, you hope the next racer to come by sees you and lets people at the next checkpoint or pit stop know.

The participants are interesting stories themselves. Stuntman Mouse McCoy is going to attempt the full thousand miles on his motorcycle without teammates (generally, team members swap off every two or three hundred miles). 62-year-old cyclist J.N. Roberts, who was on the first winning team back in 1967, is part of a team with his son Jimmy. Another family is racing in Class 1 automobiles with three generations, including a sixteen-year-old who just got his license a few months earlier. A cycle racer bumped from Honda Team A is bumped to Team B has something to prove. The wives and daughters of other racers form a team.

Writer/director/narrator Dana Brown intersperses these stories with historical information on the race, visits to locals who have become a part of the race, and time spent with the likes of race founder Sal Fish and Grand Marshall Mario Andretti (who takes to offroading like a fish to water). Brown and editor Scott Waugh have previously worked together on surfing movies like Endless Summer II and Step Into Liquid, and give the picture a distinctive look, with lots of off-center extreme close-ups when having racers talk about the event. The structure leads a little to be desired - the movie is kind of front-loaded, as racers are leaving every thirty seconds and zipping through great big crowds in broad daylight. Later, the racers aren't quite so bunched up, and it gets dark, and the craziness isn't quite so complete. Brown's narration is outright enthusiastic, and Nathan Furst's bombastic score is a good match for the action on the screen.

It's tough to overstate what an amazing achievement filming this race is. They got some footage from teams making practice runs, but consider the challenge: A thousand mile course, mostly in the middle of the desert, trying to capture vehicles moving up to a hundred miles an hour, and no second takes. You're used to seeing "second unit" in credits? There's a couple dozen units in action here, including a dozen on the ground and about five in the air. There are cameras in cars and mounted on helmets. There must have been a mountain of footage, much of it beautifully shot. Early on, I was wishing this was an IMAX movie, but I can't imagine the logistics would work with that format.

This is cool stuff. As I said before, I'm not a big car person, but there's fun to be had here. Who doesn't enjoy fast cars?

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