An engrossing real-life adventure story, “The Human Race” chronicles an HIV-positive crew’s participation in the 1997 TransPacific Yacht Race from Long Beach to Honolulu. Pic’s style and inspirational tilt are best suited to broadcast venues. Beyond expected human-interest and gay-themed appeal, it offers considerable excitement as a sports docu, pure and simple.
This voyage was the brainchild of 37-year-old Robert Hudson, a longtime sailor and athlete who was diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1991 and figured the cheering arrival of drug-viral-treatment “cocktails” rated a grand, public gesture illustrating that fellow positives could now “get back on the treadmill of life.” Joined by veteran racer John Plander, he set about drafting fellow HIV-positive crew members for this nearly century-old, 2,200- mile competition.
Early progress is occupied with those crew tryouts, as well as fundraising (about $ 100,000 was needed) and dealing with the shifty, demanding owner of the boat secured. Crew ultimately comprises 10 men, half of whom have been diagnosed (and sometimes hospitalized with) full-blown AIDS. But perhaps more crucial in this context is fact that several of them have little or no sailing experience. Precious little training time is available before the race begins.
Yet, amazingly, the boat dubbed “Survivor” — with names of AIDS-felled loved ones and the famous (Ryan White, Paul Monette) painted on the hull — does well in the early days, placing as high as No. 4 among 39 entrants (mostly far better funded, with all-pro crews and route-customized vessels). Trip’s inevitable discomfort, tension and danger soon make an impact, however. A nighttime squall and El Nino winds count among many passing terrors. The Survivor stays abreast of hurricane Dolores by sheer luck.
Close quarters, 24-hour watches and personality differences create problems. By day six or seven, the crew is heatedly divided between less-experienced hands who want safety and communal spirit to prevail, and exasperated sailing vets who want to win the race. Pic bogs down a bit here, mostly because such blowups are more commented upon after the fact than actually witnessed. But team spirit rebounds well before the finish line. The Survivor places 19th among 32 finishers — not half bad, considering that several other boats were sidelined by broken rigging and other misfortunes.
Well-edited package is conventional in some aspects — notably the questionable early need to tell just “how” some crewmen became HIV-positive, and the pop-pablum musical scoring — but it does deliver cumulative emotional engagement. Capable verite lensing will look better on the tube than it does in bigscreen blowup. Sound recording is inevitably imperfect, reducing comprehension of some quips and arguments.