The premise behind the latest Imax jaunt certainly intrigues: Demonstrate the complex functioning of the brain as it copes with one of the most mentally and physically demanding sporting events ever devised, the Tour de France. Throw in a couple of bikers as the narrative’s designated heroes, to add human interest, and pic indeed seems “Wired to Win.” Unfortunately, the execution fails to entirely flesh out the conceit. Despite some truly stunning imagery of the 2003 Tour, medically produced docu seems too distractingly neurological for biking fans and too elementary for science geeks.
Of the three strands helmer Bayley Silleck strives to weave together, the logistically-challenging documentation of the Tour de France presents the biggest difficulties and yields the most exhilarating rewards. Imax lenser Rodney Taylor, utilizing pans up mist-shrouded peaks, soaring helicopter overviews, and vantage points among spectators perched high above the ribbon of roadway, fully deploys the giant screen’s vertical reach to capture the awesome scale of the Alpine terrain through which the cyclists race.
And an overcast Paris has never looked more splendid than in the gliding, sky-filled sweep over the city charting the final leg of the race.
The second strand is the 3-D simulations of the human brain which, we are constantly reminded, micromanages the movements of the athletes. This unfolds less auspiciously.
The flow of electrical energy through the brain is prettily if conventionally imagined as pulses of light streaking through floating filmy structures. Once the animation approaches what should be the high point of its synthesis with live-action, however, an unfortunate, often ludicrous literalism creeps in.
Viewers are treated to the sight of a hovering brain, reminiscent of a tacky educational toy, suspended midair above a bicycle, the filmmakers blithely unaware of the surrealistic absurdity.
Only once does the film attempt to deliver on its promise and show the brain responding to the rigors of the race. A shouted warning to a biker triggers a transition from live-action to animation as the camera tunnels into his ear to track complexly simultaneous mental activities as, in a split-second, the brain must respond to danger.
Unfortunately the shift back to the real live-action world to reveal the source of peril produces an incredibly flat, anticlimactic shot of a pile of rocks.
As for the heroic strain, the filmmakers were extremely lucky in their choice of the 2003 Tour de France, the event’s centennial year, and in their selection of protagonists, Australian Baden Cooke and Frenchman Jimmy Casper. After Casper is injured in an early catastrophic pileup, the question of how long he can continue in a neck brace adds unexpected suspense, while Cooke, in only his second Tour, winds up in serious contention to win the coveted green jersey for best sprinter.
Nevertheless, filmmakers never completely interrelate their evocations of the neural system, the grandeur of the race, and the would-be success of the two young men whose drama is told through sincere, but pedestrian, voice-over.
Similarly, pic’s narration underwhelms, despite Alfred Molina’s mellifluous delivery. In attempting to appeal to all demographics, commentary opts for a sententious mixture of generalized science, adventure and moral uplift.