Wednesday 21 February 2018

Movie Review: 1: Life On The Limit (2013)

A history of Formula 1 racing with an emphasis on safety, 1: Life On The Limit is at times lacking in focus but nevertheless delivers an effective overview of the sport.

The film is close to two hours, and the first 30 minutes jump all over the place. Some history, some celebration, short driver profiles, brief manufacturer introductions, plenty of racing footage, and quite uninspired narration by a seemingly disinterested Michael Fassbender. What director Peter Crowder and writer Mark Monroe are trying to say and how they are trying to say it remain a mystery.

But the filmmakers compiled an impressive interview list with more than 20 former and current drivers. The likes of John Watson, Damon Hill, Mario Andretti, Jackie Stewart, Jackie Icks, Emerson Fittipaldi and Jody Scheckter featuring prominently. And gradually, Crowder latches on to a theme: from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, speeds increased dramatically thanks to more powerful engines and the introduction of aerodynamics. And yet the sport was still in the dark ages when it came to track design, marshall training and trackside medical services and supervision.

Driver deaths became commonplace, and the sport lost luminaries like Lorenzo Bandini, Jim Clark, Piers Courage, Jochen Rindt, Roger Williamson, and Francois Cevert. Under Stewart's leadership the drivers began to organize and demand safer conditions, while in parallel Bernie Eccelstone and Max Mosley emerged from the ranks of team owners to positions of control, eventually pushing through transformative changes to car and track safety.

Through the story of safety's evolution, Crowder and Monroe pause at the legendary 1976 title fight between Niki Lauda and James Hunt, and take frequent and unrelated side trips to stories such as team Hesketh's unconventional emergence, Enzo Ferrari's condescending attitude towards the first wave of British teams, and the drivers' jet-set lifestyle.

Some of the filmmakers' more relevant decisions are also bewildering. Some tragic deaths, including Tom Pryce in 1977, are ignored completely, while others are tackled in sometimes gory descriptive and visual detail.

1: Life On The Limit teases out the rivalry between Stewart and Icks, as the former carried the flag for improved safety while the latter remained loyal to the fatalistic and carefree ethos of bygone days. Although not satisfactorily dealt with, the film does also touch upon the tragic unintended consequences of poorly designed and poorly installed safety guardrails causing the deaths of Cevert and Helmuth Koinigg.

The final 20 minutes are rushed. After dawdling for a long time in the period leading up to Ronnie Peterson's death in 1977, the accelerate button is pushed and the next 35 years are dealt with seemingly in a blur.

1: Life On The Limit is thematically messy, but with some spectacular historic footage bringing the past to life, it is also an often affectionate look back on how far the world's elite motor racing series has progressed.

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