I’ve seen a lot of films about auto racing in my time; to this day, 1966’s Grand Prix is still at the top of the list. Part race car movie, part soap opera, Grand Prix manages to place the viewer inside the action on the track. In the typical glamorous fashion one might expect from a Hollywood production, a cast of international actors was gathered: James Garner, Yves Montand, Brian Bedford, Jessica Walter, Antonio Sabato (Senior, the father of Antonio, Jr) and Eva Marie Saint. Grand Prix also features an impressive supporting cast which includes everyone from Toshiro Mifune to Genevieve Page.

Grand PrixThe film explores the professional and personal lives of four fictional drivers competing for the world championship during a Grand Prix formula-one racing season. Pete Aron (James Garner), an American driving for BRM, hasn’t won a grand prix race since he left Ferrari three years earlier; Jean-Pierre Sarti (Yves Montand), a Frenchman, twice World Champion, now number one at Ferrari, is seriously contemplating retirement; Scott Stoddard (Brian Bedford), Pete’s teammate for BRM, is a wealthy Englishman is trying to match the legend of his older brother, a world champion driver killed in a racing accident; finally,  there’s Italian Nino Barlini (Antonio Sabato), Sarti’s teammate for Ferrari, a former motorcycle racer, and resident Casanova.

Behind the scenes, Louise Frederickson (Eva Maria Saint), is an American journalist covering the racing season for a fashion magazine. She becomes romantically involved with Sarti, despite his status as a married man. We also meet Scott Stoddard’s American wife, Pat (Jessica Walter). She thoroughly enjoys the finer things in life, and despises her husband’s career in racing. When Scott gets into a horrifying accident during the first race sequence, which leads to some melodrama; she leaves Scott and takes up with Pete. Toshiro Mifune appears as Izo Yamura, a rich Japanese industrialist, wishing to put together a team good enough to win the world championship; Lise (Francoise Hardy), is Nino’s newest girlfriend. For unexplained reasons, Pete virtually disappears for the films second half, only to reappear for the final race of the season.

Robert Alan Aurthur’s screenplay is largely forgettable because of the soap opera elements. If you can look past all of that, it’s the racing sequences that make Grand Prix such a memorable dazzler. Director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, Ronin), was a craftsman behind the camera, and was able to create excitement with each live action shot. He used multiple screens, overheads, close-ups, and a multitude of point-of-view shots to put the audience right in the midst of the action.

Also adding to the films excitement is the fact that it was shot all over Europe. Everything is expertly photographed and presented. Everything is accompanied by Maurice Jarre’s evocative score, which only serves to add more depth of emotion to each racing scene.

Racing veterans Phil Hill, Joakim Bonnier, and Richie Ginther acted as advisors on the film, with Carroll Shelby as technical consultant. Smartly, Frankenheimer persuaded real-life formula-one drivers Graham Hill, Lorenzo Bandini, Bob Bondurant, Jack Brabham, Jimmy Clark, and others to participate in a number of scenes, lending a further note of authenticity to the proceedings.

Presented in a 1080p/AVC transfer in the 2.20:1 aspect ratio, Grand Prix looks quite stunning on Blu-ray. Taken from the original 65mm elements, this is impressive stuff. The picture is very clean, and vividly detailed. The colors are deep and rich. There are no real digital anomalies to speak of. Grain is almost zero, too, except that which is inherent to the original print; motion effects, halos, and pixilation are non entities.

The  lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 captures a wide front channel stereo spread, along with a strong dynamic impact and good overall clarity. It should be noted though, the rear channels convey only minimal car effects and crowd noise. However, the soundtrack serves the racing sequences well, which is the highlight of the film.

We get the following special features which have been ported over from the previously released 2 DVD and HD-DVD versions:

  • Pushing the Limit: The Making of Grand Prix (SD; 29:08) a fascinating documentary which features interviews with Garner, Saint and others alongside a wealth of vintage footage. The shoot was evidently turbulent, as evidenced by Frankenheimer’s quote “I don’t know how the hell we ever did that film” which starts the featurette out, and those emotions are on display in a couple of the clips here.
  • The Style and Sound of Speed (SD; 11:40). Saul Bass contributed on several levels to Grand Prix, helping to do the pioneering split screen technique as well as some of the sound design elements and other special effects. This excellent overview helps to highlight his contributions to the film.
  • Flat Out: Formula One in the Sixties (SD; 17:26) is a nice history of racing in general, and Formula One in particular, including a host of interviews with real life race drivers.
  • Brands Hatch: Chasing the Checkered Flag (SD; 10:36) takes us on a nice tour of one of Britain’s most iconic courses, setting of one of Grand Prix‘s most famous sequences.
  • Grand Prix: Challenge of the Champions (SD; 12:45) is a fun vintage featurette made to promote the film before its initial release.
  • Trailers