"The World's Fastest Indian" is a fairly straight forward film. It unravels rather unspectacularly, but does so in a tried and true formula that allows Anthony Hopkins to shine. His Burt Munro is a role that you can't imagine being played by anyone else (even if it based on a true story). Director Roger Donaldson has fashioned a film that, despite being an essentially by the numbers take on the material, is an inspirational and touching account of one man's passion.
It took Donaldson some 25 years to get Munro's tale to the big screen. His love of Burt's story is readily apparent in the way he handles the material. Donaldson wants to charm you just as Burt does. Much like Burt, the film is simple but grows on you rather quickly due to Munro's pervasive charm. The movie opens in 1960's New Zealand, where Burt is in the midst of working on his 1920 Indian motorcycle. His obsession with the bike is evident. He lives rather modestly, disturbs the neighbors with his early morning bike tests and cheerfully goes about his business while maintaining the love and support of his community.
Like Donaldson's devotion to the film, such is Burt's devotion to his motorcycle. He has spent well over 20 years working on his bike, perfecting it from day to day using the very limited resources he has at his disposal. His dream is to get the bike to the United States where he hopes to enter the Bonneville speed week trials at the Salt Flats in Utah. He endures some hardships along the way, including a slightly humiliating racing defeat, early on, by a group of Kiwi bikers.
Still, Burt persists despite a heart problem that never really seems to pose all that big a threat. His obstacles are more like minor speed bumps that he has to endure to make it to his destination. Burt manages to find a great amount of help along the way. He meets a host of characters that include a sweet and caring transvestite, who helps Burt clear his bike through customs; a car salesman, who recruits Burt to help fix some cars in exchange for the use of his mechanic shop; and the assorted group of speed week enthusiasts who grow to rally behind Burt and his big dreams of setting the land speed record.
From the onset it seems that the odds are stacked against him. He has little money for his trip to the U.S. but finds help from the people he befriends along his journey. Burt is relentlessly charismatic in his own quirky sort of way. He makes people smile with a few words and wins them over in no time. The film works in much the same fashion; while Burt is likable when you first meet him, he's downright loveable when the time comes for the credits to roll. To say the least, he's a delightfully infectious character.
There is a scene near the beginning of the third act when some of the speed week personnel ask Burt to check in for registration. He wanders over to the registration booth and speaks with the officials only to learn that he can't register because registration closed a few months prior. How was Burt to know all the way down in Kiwi land? Munro's reaction, his uncertainty, love of racing, passion and dedication comes through in spades and is a testament to Hopkins' genius as an actor. He manages to make Burt's trials and tribulations ours as well. We feel for Burt and cheer for him, root for him when things get a little tough and then we finally come to realize that there's a little bit of Burt in all of us and that's why, ultimately, we love him so much.
The film is presented in a 1.78:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer. This actually differs from the theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. When compared to some screen shots of the original aspect ratio the DVD transfer actually looks better. It makes the film seem a bit grander in its presentation. The original framing appears to cramp the film, giving it a visually stifling feeling. Nevertheless, the DVD looks great. Shot on location in parts of New Zealand, New Mexico and Utah the film is a pleasure to look at. The colors are very rich and bright, while black levels are solid throughout. There didn't appear to be any noticeable edge-enhancement anywhere. For the modestly sized film that it is, "The World's Fastest Indian" looks quite good.
The film is presented in both a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. The 5.1 mix is strong. Dialogue comes across crisp and clear; and music fills out the surrounds when needed. The mix roars to life when the motorcycle is put to the test, filling out the surrounds and punching through with the subwoofer as needed. Spanish subtitles are also included.
There are a good amount of extras on this presentation. First up is a commentary track by writer-director Roger Donaldson. The commentary is pretty solid stuff and offers the kind of information you'd hope for and expect for a film like this. Donaldson discusses everything from the film's production to some insightful information about Burt Munro. Overall, the commentary provides an idea about the kind of dedication Donaldson has had for Munro's story, showing the 25 year commitment he had to bringing Burt's story to life.
Easily, one of the best extras on this disc is 30 minute documentary directed by Donaldson called "Offerings to the Gods of Speed", which is a brief look at the real life Burt Munro. The doc features interviews with Munro, friends, family and people who have been impressed by his diligence in achieving his dream. The real Burt is just as infectious at Hopkins' portrayal of him. He's charismatic with a true love and passion for his 1920 Indian.
Also featured is "The Making of The World's Fastest Indian." The behind the scenes look runs about 45 Minutes long, and covers various aspects of the film's making. It offers insight into the development of the story, the director, the actors and their views on the real Burt Munro.
Four deleted scenes are also included, along with a brief advertisement for Munro's hometown of Invercargill, New Zealand.
"The World's Fastest Indian" is one little gem of a picture. It offers up a fair amount of enjoyment, all made possible by a superb performance by Anthony Hopkins. While the film might be somewhat trite in how it's presented, this is more than made up for by the sheer force of charm brought on by Hopkins acting and Donaldson's sure-handed direction. The story is uplifting, inspirational and filled with the same lively energy that makes Burt the kind of person we all hope to be.