Inside Pulse DVD Review – The World's Fastest Indian

DVD available at

Writer and Director:

Roger Donaldson


Anthony Hopkins……….Burt Munro
Aaron Murphy……….Tom
Christopher Lawford………Jim Moffat
Paul Rodriguez……….Fernando
Chris Williams……….Tina Washington
Bruce Greenwood……….Jerry
Diane Ladd……….Ada
William Lucking……….Rollie
Walton Goggins……….Marty Dickerson

Magnolia Films presents The World’s Fastest Indian. Running time: 127 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for brief language, drug use and a sexual reference). Released on DVD: June 13, 2006.

The movie:

Heroes come to fruition in different ways. For some it means having the testicular fortitude to do what the other guys won’t. That’s Burt Munro. But his canonizing didn’t happen overnight. It took many years before people would know just who is this crazy bugger.

Based on one hell of a true story, The World’s Fastest Indian is not a movie about a Native American sprinter. It’s about an old codger, his motorbike and a dream. For as long as Burt Munro could remember he wanted to go fast. So, he has spent most of his life tinkering with his 1920 Indian motorcycle.

He makes his residence in Invercargill, New Zealand. A tool shed, which doubles as his home, is a workshop of contrivances. Besides a bed, old tires, engine parts, and other pieces of equipment litter the place. Pistons that have been blown to smithereens are displayed on shelves as “Offerings to the God of Speed.”

Burt Munro is the type of bloke Ernest Hemmingway would have wanted to have a drink with. Only Munro isn’t stoic like Hemmingway’s protagonists. Their shared quality would be their love of adventure.

Way past sixty and nearing the big 7-0, Burt has a bad ticker. The condition is so bad he’s instructed to take pills with trace amounts of nitroglycerine to keep it pumping. When 1967 rolls around, he thinks his Indian motorcycle – which he has had since the 1940s – is ready to travel to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah and participate in the annual Speed Week. He and his trusty stead, er, bike board a ship headed for California. Journeying from Los Angeles to Utah, Burt encounters an odd assortment of characters, much like himself. Out of his league, no one at Bonneville has ever seen a guy quite like him or anything like his old-fashioned machine he calls a “motor-sickle” in his thick New Zealander drawl.

But there’s a problem. He should have registered weeks ago. Burt had no idea. Years of preparation, months of traveling, just to find out that paperwork is keeping him from reaching his goal. Burt’s just as upset as anyone. He admonishes an official named Mike McFarland. “I knew McFarland. Used to sell milking machines. You must be related to him, because he was a total prick.”

The officials could have easily prevented Munro from running at Speed Week. Except Burt’s persistence got him noticed by many in attendance. Throwing the rulebook out, Burt is given the go-ahead. The inspection process: what an ordeal. Flabbergast to put it more succinctly. No brakes? A Brandy cork acting as a gas cap? Not sure, but I don’t think the hinge of a kitchen door is standard equipment for a 1920 Indian.

Burt is such a loveable guy; it’s hard not to root for him. Clearly this is a man who loves his motorcycle. He doesn’t have brakes or safety equipment because he knows his baby would never harm him. His assumptions on the art of riding are theories he shares with newfound friends in America. “The center of pressure is behind the center of gravity,” he explains adroitly as he pokes a toothpick through a cigar to demonstrate.

Sir Anthony Hopkins is engaging as the man from down under. The actor who created one of the greatest villains in cinema’s history, Hannibal Lecter, is a meticulous, introverted man with an obsession for speed. His hearing isn’t so good, as he frequently says “What?” when asked a question. Undeniably a fish out of water, the world of America seems brand-new to Burt: He’s not taken aback by the transvestite who rents him a room for the night, but he is amazed by the price.

While part of the enjoyment is seeing Burt make his trek to the Salt Flats, it’s Bonneville where some of the best photography takes place. Speed Week is intended for men to calculate the top speeds of their respective machines. In the case of Burt Munro, what was a heap of metal and a kitchen hinge has been customized into a red, streamlined beauty. So aerodynamic the Indian is Burt must ride flat on his stomach. His only protection is a helmet and a pair of goggles.

The success one can obtain as a director can push dream projects to the backburner. Roger Donaldson, who wrote and directed the picture, grew up in New Zealand, so he knew all about Burt Munro. Much like Burt’s dream for speed, Donaldson has wanted to do a movie about the folk hero since 1979, when he wrote the first draft of this script. This was eight years after his first film, a documentary about the Invercargill native.

Twenty-plus years after leaving New Zealand for Hollywood – where he made such films as No Way Out and Thirteen Days – Donaldson returns home to tell one hell of a tale. The title, The World’s Fastest Indian, practically gives away the ending, but you’ll indeed be impressed with Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal as the old coot. You may even forget you’re watching Hopkins on screen. He’s that good.

Score: 8/10

The DVD:

(Presented in 1.78:1 widescreen)

Roger Donaldson and his cinematographer David Gribble give The World’s Fastest Indian a nice balance of color. New Zealand is mostly about earth tones. In America, the colors are loud. The officials with their blue shirts, the racers with their red pinstripes and Hawaiian garb. The set dressing is also a prominent feature in the film. As for the video quality itself, there are minimal artifact issues. Pretty clean transfer, overall. Shot in parts of New Zealand, California, and Utah, the images are things of beauty.

Score: 8/10

(English 5.1 Dolby Digital, 2.0 Dolby Digital)

The 5.1 track is a decent mix. Nat sound and dialogue are clearly distinguishable, though sometimes Munro’s drawl can be hard to make out. At times you wish an English subtitle option was available. (For this release it only comes with Spanish subtitles.) The track really kicks into high gear when engines are revving and the Indian is darting across the screen.

Score: 8/10

SPECIAL FEATURES: Two documentaries and other stuff!!

For a film that had a limited release in February of this year, the home release has a nice selection of bells and whistles.

The first extra is a commentary track by Roger Donaldson. The commentary is rather dry, but film students will likely be interested in his comments on the direction of the Indian time trials. Since it is hard to capture the experience of speed on film, different camera angles, special effects and two stunt drivers were used to create such an incredible sequence.

The meat of the supplemental material is two documentaries. The Making of The World’s Fastest Indian is a behind-the-scenes feature about the film. What could have been a fascinating extra, the making-of lacks footage taken from the production. So, essentially for 45 minutes the viewer watches a procession of sound bites taken from cast and crew that have been edited together. Subjects include the director and the script; Anthony Hopkins the actor; Anthony Hopkins as Burt Munro; and odds and ends about some of the supporting cast. When an interviewee addresses a particular scene from The World’s Fastest Indian, it would have been interesting to see footage from the film with the sound bite acting the voice over.

Still, there are some few revelations to be found. Roger Donaldson is a perfectionist when it comes to his craft. He’s a director that likes to do multiple takes and even shoots rehearsals on the set. Bruce Greenwood, who worked with Donaldson on Thirteen Days, was so interested in the picture, he would play a pizza delivery guy if the script called for one. Multi-millionaire racer Jim Moffat was not a real guy, but rather an amalgamation of a bunch of guys who raced on the Bonneville circuit. Hopkins freely admits this is the best thing he’s ever done.

Also included is the inspiration for the film, Donaldson’s documentary Burt Munro: Offerings to the God of Speed. This 27-minute piece is an introspective look at Burt Munro. With vintage footage of the folk hero in his shed, taking a ride, and racing on the Salt Flats, the viewer gets a greater appreciation of this old coot. Most of the comments are from Munro himself as he shares anecdotes about his 1920 Indian speedster.

One of the last yarns told in the documentary ended up as a deleted scene for the feature film. “Grantsville Country Clinic” has Munro seeing a doctor about his heart condition. This is after another doctor gave him some nitro pills to take. When told how much a hospital stay would cost per day, Munro gets up and says, “I’d rather die in my car.”

Three other deleted scenes are also available on the DVD.

Rounding out the extras is Southland: Burt’s Hometown of Invercargill – a promotional look at the town many tourists miss on their way to Queenstown – a soundtrack promo page, and a trailer for The Lost City directed by Andy Garcia.

Score: 7/10

InsidePulse’s Ratings for The World’s Fastest Indian
(OUT OF 10)