STM: TT3D – Closer to the Edge Review

May 3, 2011
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

Padgetts Honda Superbike rider Ian Hutchinson - 2010 Isle of Man TT
It takes a different breed of rider to compete in the Isle of Man TT. Ian Hutchison, above, is one such rider. The new film ‘TT3D: Closer to the Edge’ documents the unique race, its cast of characters and its inherent dangers.

The opening few seconds of “Closer to the Edge” take you deep into what makes the TT both uniquely attractive – and suicidally dangerous. The onboard camera gives a rider’s eye view from the start on Glencrutchery Road, down Bray Hill at 160 mph and on to Quarter Bridge. Seen from this perspective – and the footage, genuinely, is not accelerated for effect – it is truly terrifying. And what’s this stretch of road like when it’s not a race track? Quite simply an imperfect, urban road threading its way past front gardens and round the entrance to a pub.

To understand the TT it is helpful to do a small piece of practical research. Blink once. In the time it took you to close and open your eyes, a TT rider would have covered slightly more than the length of a school bus.

Now, say: “One and two.” That’s the old school way of counting one second. In that single second, most TT racers will have ridden the length of a football field.

“Closer to the Edge” is an important film – not only for fans of bike racing but also for motorcycling in general, because director Richard De Aragues has made the first bike movie since the original “On Any Sunday” to have a genuinely universal appeal.

Like “On Any Sunday’s” Bruce Brown, De Aragues is a thoroughly sound, professional film maker with a comprehensive understanding of what is needed to make a good movie. With a background based in high budget commercial and promotional films, De Aragues clearly has the technical and artistic skills to produce a thoroughly good product but additionally, and importantly, he is a bike fan. This is evident in the affection he shows to his “cast” of TT superstars.

De Aragues is bold and brave as well. He skates right up to the edge of sentimentality by including scenes of great poignancy and tenderness. I had to hold back the tears as 15 times TT winner John McGuiness described how he mowed the lawn and tidied his house before he left for the TT, “…just in case.” And this “just in case” could easily mean death.

There is also a wonderfully gentle and sensitive scene where Bridget Dobbs, the widow of New Zealand rider Paul Dobbs who was killed in the 2010 Supersport race, expresses her thanks to the TT for the pleasure it has given to the family and how much she misses it.

Riding this near to the emotional cliff edge is fraught with danger for any documentary maker, but De Aragues executes his task with consummate grace and dignity.

De Aragues did have one enormous slice of luck in having Guy Martin as a central thread in the film. Martin is a parody of the “Man of the People” – Bob Dylan with a Superbike.

We follow him from his rural home in central England through arguments with his long suffering sponsor Wilson Craig; arguments with race officials over the validity of his competition license; arguments about riding his race bike illegally through the streets of Douglas and, most dramatically, arguments over breaking a pit lane speed limit incurring a penalty which cost him a place on the podium.

Martin is indulged by De Aragues like a spoilt brat at a birthday party – and the English rider responds with a virtuoso performance of eccentricity. Only when Martin assiduously describes to the camera when and where he masturbates does the fondness and affection for his star become pure sycophancy as we are encouraged to worship the rider’s enormous ego.

Wilson Craig Honda rider Guy Martin - 2010 Isle of Man TT
The Isle of Man TT is a race like no other. Props go to De Aragues for capturing the spirit and passion that surrounds the race in his film ‘TT3D: Closer to the Edge.”

Ian Hutchinson is a wonderful counterpoint to Martin. The modest, quiet spoken, professional racer simply gets on with the job of winning 5 TTs – whilst Martin sulks, complains, blows up bikes and then crashes in the most spectacular way possible. If De Aragues had been able to cast these characters he couldn’t have done better.

Throughout the film there are action scenes which cause you to catch your breath. Conor Cummins bouncing over the top of the Verandah at 170 mph is horrifying – as are the slow motion shots of bikes snaking and sliding between stone walls and alongside groves of utterly immoveable trees – contact with which means certain death.

Throughout the film De Aragues shows courage in his decision making and largely this pays off. American Jared Leto acts not so much as a conventional narrator but more of an omniscient observer – never intrusive and never cajoling the viewer into adopting an opinion. Probably Leto got the job because the film needs to sell in America but his calm, unemotional, slightly distant narration is impeccable – as is his pronounciation of English place and personal names. This calmness is essential. What we don’t need is a hysterical, hyperbole riddled tirade telling us how dangerous and addictive is the TT. Leto’s almost dispassionate delivery starkly exposes the facts – and this is exactly what is needed.

What does not work so well is the 3D. This visual trickery is fine for cartoons but the narrative drive of this film is so strong, and so elegantly executed, that it doesn’t need any gimmicks to help it. The bikes don’t look any more real than they appear on conventional film and wearing plastic glasses is an unnecessary irritation.

However, the 3D element is a trivial distraction compared with the pleasure of watching not only the finest motorcycle racing film for decades but, almost more importantly for our sport, a very fine piece of cinema in its own right. Don’t miss it.

“Closer to the Edge” is currently negotiating for US release and we will bring you precise details when they are available. 

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