For me, the SPEED Channel has always been chaff. A specialty station that sits unused somewhere in the middle of my satellite dish menu. I’m not what you’d call a gearhead and was extremely happy the day my paychecks got big enough that I could pay someone else to change the spark plugs in my car. I realize, however, that there are plenty of people for whom motor vehicles are a downright obsession.
Take, for example, Australian actor Eric Bana (Hulk, Star Trek). He loves cars. Loves them so much he turned director in order to craft a cinematic love letter to his dream car. At the age of 15, Bana purchased a battered Ford Falcon Coupe—a legendary vehicle featured most prominently in the Mad Max films. Not surprisingly, the original Mad Max had quite an impression on young Mr. Bana, fueling his love for both movies and muscle cars.
Love the Beast, airing this weekend on SPEED, is in broad terms a biography tracing Bana’s early life and his rise to fame. But the focus remains laser-targeted on his classic Ford Falcon. It was, as he describes it, “the campfire” around which he and his friends clustered. Building cars, driving cars and ogling cars were the glue that held them together. Pre-fame, Bana tinkered with his “beast,” fixed it up and drove it around the suburbs of Melbourne. After he became famous, he held onto the car, painstakingly restoring it, racing it professionally and ultimately (tragically) destroying it in the infamous Targa Tasmania road rally.
Bana traces his automotive obsession, interviewing friends and family and sharing old home movies. He ventures afield as well, checking in with experts, both mechanical (Jeremy Clarkson from BBC’s “Top Gear”) and psychological (Dr. Phil, giving some uncharacteristically genuine insight). While it’s a treat to get a glimpse into car nut extraordinaire Jay Leno’s humongous garage, it’s the perspective these celebrity guests deliver that sticks with you.
Can you have a relationship with an inanimate object? This movie sure thinks so. Bana’s connection with his car is palpable and real and (in the end) surprisingly emotional. Even if you aren’t into cars, you can appreciate the feelings expressed. Substitute a house or a beloved childhood toy or a 62-inch flat-screen television (hubba, hubba) and I’m sure you’ll find a way to sympathize.
Of course, an appreciation for the automotive arts will take you a great deal deeper into this film. Much of its run time is eaten up with footage of the pivotal Tasmanian rally, giving a clue about the sort of behind-the-wheel thrill ride that pumps up the adrenaline of NASCAR lovers, Formula One worshippers and drag racing aficionados alike. If you don’t know your pan gasket from your gas tank, Love the Beast will intrigue you. If you are a genuine gearhead, Love the Beast will definitely serve to stoke your own need for speed.