"A chimpanzee sets out to break the ultimate land speed record."
400 MPH is a short film created by six artists about how unlimited ambition may lead to self-destruction. Based on the Greek myth of Icarus, the short produced at French school Supinfocom Rubika offers a modern take on the classic story. It deals with themes such as excess, pride and overstepping one’s limits (hubris, as it was known in Ancient Greece).
One main character (a chimpanzee named Icarus), a conflict with the environment (the limits imposed by nature), an emphasis on vehicles and speed, and a portrait of over-ambition are the main elements of the short. Staged on the Bonneville Salt Flats, in the U.S.A., the aesthetic of the short is impressive, great work has been dedicated to character design, vehicles, environment, lighting, grading, etc. The expressiveness of the chimpanzee plays a prominent role in building and transmitting conflict, animation quality and acting are worth noting, too.
Visual rhythm is a key element of the film. The artists have focused on transmitting the impression of speed, through editing, fast camera moves, motion within the frame, camera shakes, contrasting static and moving cameras, etc. Framing employs long shots and extreme long shots to describe the vehicles and the environment, as well as plenty of tighter shots including close-ups to convey Icarus’ expressions and deliver the impression of speed. POV shots are used extensively, too. As tension rises and subjectivity in narration is increased, extreme close-ups are employed. The color palette shifts to warmer colors to contribute to this effect. A camera move at 3.09 plays with screen directions to transmit the idea that Icarus is aiming for the sun itself, rather than to break the speed record.
400MPH makes interesting use of voice-over narration. Together with the inclusion of overlaid graphics (speed measurements) the film is given the structure and tone of a TV show or documentary. These elements also help give the story a more cohesive whole.
What makes 400MPH work so well? A creative script with an unlikely main character, excellent aesthetic work, expressive character with a strong conflict and a compelling representation of a myth that is thousands of years old in a way that allows its message to reach a contemporary audience.