The Baja 1000 race is considered one of the most grueling, challenging events for off-road racers and adventure fanatics. A 1,000-mile journey across Mexico's Baja peninsula, the event has attracted the largest names in the sport for decades. Director Dana Brown (the lukewarm surfing documentary "Step Into Liquid") took his cameras to the 2003 event to give the audience a peek into what it takes to accomplish such a difficult race.
"Step Into Liquid" showcased Brown as a filmmaker who loves his metaphors. "Dust to Glory" (IMDb listing) is no different, utilizing the massive amount of racing celebrities on hand to ponder the larger meaning of the competition. At first, it's interesting to see such luminaries as Robby Gordon and JN Roberts pontificate on the mystical nature of the journey, but Brown eventually goes overboard with these moments, trying to pound into the audience that this isn't just a bunch of wealthy gearheads trying to shake out some middle-age blues. It's astonishing to watch "Dust" and see that the race footage is secondary to Brown's pushy vision. He's forcing the material into something that it's not; trying to shape the event into a metaphor for humanity. The contest just doesn't register emotionally. The long, sermonizing stretches of the picture take away from the real life of the Baja 1000: the race itself.
The actual footage that Brown finally gets around to putting up on the screen is terrific. Armed with helicopters, body-mounted cameras, and a crew of many, Brown is able to depict the circus-like energy of the event. He frequently gets his cameras into the heat of the moment, capturing the insanely unorganized mood of the journey. Of particular note is the footage of the spectators, who often, if you can believe it, feel the need to dash in front of the speeding cars for maximum effect. Honestly, I could watch an entire movie of just that, as it demonstrates a unique brand of insanity that isn't found among the professional participants. Also fun is a brief tangent that finds Mario Andretti and a friend stranded in the desert, forced to hitch a ride after running their tricked-out truck directly into the ground.
Brown (who also provides intrusive narration) is able to encapsulate the spirit of the race, and the unusual amount of respect shown between the contestants. "Dust to Glory" is a nice primer on this yearly event, but I hope one day a better filmmaker will come along and give the race a more epic presentation that respects the fascinating physical drain on the contestants and their vehicles.
Filmfodder Grade: C+