Ask any racer, any real racer. It doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile; winning’s winning.
I guess you could say I’m a connoisseur of cheesy action movies, of the glorious crap that exists for no other reason than to give an adrenaline rush. Real critics would probably pooh-pooh me for enjoying stuff like The Rock or Demolition Man or The Long Kiss Goodnight or (at the risk of listing too many Sylvester Stallone and/or Renny Harlin movies) Cliffhanger. These movies aren’t really that great, but they’re fun, and that’s what I love. The Fast and the Furious was one of the few flicks I saw during the summer of 2001, and it was one of my favorites because it was such a kick in the pants. Now it’s a kick in the pants DVD from Universal. Vrooooommmm…
Fast cars. Fast living. It’s the underground world of illegal street racing. Brian (Paul Walker, Joy Ride) is a wet behind the ears racer with a tricked-out ride but without the skills to drive it well. He gets in tight with Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel, Pitch Black), the champ of the street racing scene, and falls in love with his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster, The Faculty). However, not is all it seems with Brian. He’s really a cop going undercover to find the perpetrators of a series of daring semi hijackings. As he gets deeper into this world, the more he is conflicted. Who should he be loyal to: the law or his friends?
Plot and characterization may be integral to film, but with action movies, they’re all ancillary to the vicarious thrills delivered by the tension and excitement of the stunts and other action scenes. However, the action flicks that are a cut above are the ones that deliver the whole package — a story, people you believe in, and all the excitement a $38 million budget can buy. It may not be brilliant or thought provoking or even all that original, but The Fast and the Furious delivers on all those levels.
Rather than just giving us two hours of unconnected races, director Rob Cohen and the screenwriters tie it together by giving us a thorough look at the street racing culture and a lone cop drama. By all accounts, it’s the most complete and accurate look at the underground racing scene on film. Cohen and writers Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist, and David Ayer spent time with the racers, learning their lingo and observing their lives. Granted, I don’t know an intake manifold from a fuel injector, but I bought into their portrayal. The undercover cop angle is far from original. In fact, in his commentary track Cohen acknowledges the movie that I thought it most resembles. Walking out of the theater, charged and ready to see how my Ford Escort could accelerate, I thought, “That movie was just like Point Break, except with cars instead of surfing.” The plots are very nearly parallel. In Point Break, Johnny Utah (played by Keanu Reeves) goes undercover to find bank robbers; in The Fast and the Furious, Brian O’Connor goes undercover to stop truck hijackings. To fit in in Point Break, Johnny learns to surf and skydive; in The Fast and the Furious, Brian learns to drive. Both movies have their charismatic leader of the rebels: Point Break had Bodhi (played by Patrick Swayze in what I will argue was his only decent role), The Fast and the Furious has Dom (played by Vin Diesel, who is five times the bad-ass Swayze could ever be). Johnny fell in love with Lori Petty, Brian with Jordana Brewster. At the end of Point Break, Johnny lets Bodhi slip through his fingers. I’ll leave it to your imagination what happens at the end of The Fast and the Furious. I’m not complaining about the similarities, because I love Point Break and the common plot threads work well in The Fast and the Furious.
And what about the action? Something is always happening in The Fast and the Furious, but there’s really two action sequences that bookend the movie and deliver its punch. The first is an extended 15-minute sequence that introduces us to the dangers of the street racing world, as it follows Brian’s first race, his and Dominic’s attempts to elude the police, and their run-in with an Asian gang. The other stars at the 80 minute mark and doesn’t let up for the rest of the movie. It’s more like several mini-sequences: the botched hijacking, Brian and Dominic’s square-off with the Asian punks, and their final confrontation. The botched hijacking is one of the most visceral scenes I’ve seen in quite a while. Its potential is hinted at at the very beginning of the film as we see how the trucks are hijacked by a team of precision drivers who board the semis at high speeds on the highway. In the botched attempt, however, the trucker fights back and it’s all they can do to stay alive. Thanks to the crack stunt team and judicious use of modern CG effects, the actors were integrated into the scenes in ways that make you believe that the actor was hanging off the side of a truck going 60 MPH (and actually, he was) or that they were behind the wheels of the cars (they were, but stunt drivers were doing the actual driving).
Universal’s DVD of The Fast and the Furious shows the faith they have in the movie. The film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the transfer is very close to perfection. The film’s processed color palette is reproduced faithfully, with excellent shadow detail and no pixelization or smearing of the vibrant colors during the racing sequences. I noticed no source artifacts, and maybe an instance or two of edge enhancement. Audio is available in DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1. I don’t have a DTS equipped receiver, but the Dolby Digital track impressed the heck out of me. There is nary a moment in the movie where all six channels are not active. The subwoofer is used judiciously to provide an aggressive but not overly boomy experience. Panning is done between the sides and the front and back to bring you into the racing experience.
There’s also plenty of extras to add to the DVD experience. Director Rob Cohen provides a commentary track. Obviously, capturing the street racing world was a passion for Cohen, and that’s what he focused on with the film. It’s a little dry and fact-based, but on the other hand that gives you a very informed look at the movie. (As an aside, who knew that the director of Dragonheart, Daylight, and The Skulls could direct such a cool movie?) An 18-minute featurette, “The Making of The Fast And The Furious,” leans toward the promotional side, but it does give you a glimpse of the real street racing world. “Racer X” is the article that inspired the movie. Eight deleted scenes are presented in rough, pixely non-anamorphic widescreen. About half of them are extensions or reedits of scenes already in the film, trimmed to avoid excessive talking. There’s a few nice touches to this section. When you first enter the menu, the audio switches to Rob Cohen explaining why scenes are cut from films. You can opt to watch the scenes with or without commentary, and individually or in sequence. “Multiple Camera Angle Stunt Sequence” is just that — you can watch a race car get hit by a semi truck from eight different cameras’ points of view. “Movie Magic Interactive Special Effects” isn’t really all that interactive, but it is kind of cool. Right before the semi/racer collision I just mentioned, two cars outrace an oncoming train. You get to see that stunt filmed and see how it was composited together to make the illusion. A four-minute featurette gives you an idea of what work was necessary to jigger the film down to a PG-13 rating. “Visual Effects Montage” looks at the first race, switching back and forth between storyboards, blue screen shots, animatics, and the finished product. It’s a testament to how convincing modern CG effects can be when they are used properly; unless you’re really thinking about it, nothing in the scene looks fake, though at some level we know that many of the shots would have been impossible to do otherwise. “Storyboards to Final Feature Comparison” does exactly that — it lets you see either the storyboards or a split screen comparison to the film for two scenes. The extras are rounded out by three music videos, highlights of the film featuring certain songs, the theatrical trailer, production notes, cast and crew bios, and a couple promotional bits. DVD-ROM features give you the film’s official website (including a screensaver, promotional photos, and a cool little Flash-based racing game), plus a demo of Supercar Street Challenge (a nice little inclusion, since it would take modem users several hours to download its 96MB). It’s a fun little game, though I’m not any good at racing games. I don’t know what sort of system they used for the demo reel that’s on the DVD, but I have a Pentium 4 and a GeForce 2 graphics card, and the graphics didn’t even come close.
In a way, I think the film is above reproach. Certainly it’s not the epitome of artistic filmmaking, but that’s not what it’s trying to be — all it wants to do is be exciting, and it delivers on its promise. I’d complain that it was intentionally edited to be PG-13, but what would more profanity, more gore, or more explicit sex scenes have added to the excitement of the movie? Okay, maybe the sex scenes, but what about the profanity and gore?
I do have a few quibbles with Universal’s DVD though. I really hate it when you can’t select between audio tracks during the film. Other studios manage to allow this, even when they do include DTS. Before the film starts, you’re forced to watch a 30-second “public service announcement.” Okay, so you don’t want the kids at home to try the stunts pictured in the film. That I can dig. What I can’t dig is that 20 seconds of the spot are taken up saying that it was sponsored by some oil company. Was that really necessary?
Action film fans will definitely want to add this to their collection, for it’s one of the most exciting movies of 2001, and it’s destined to be one of the coolest single-disc DVDs of 2002.
I wouldn’t normally add commercial links to the Accomplices section, but RaceSearch appears to have parts to trick out just about any car. Hey, I could even make my ’99 Escort a street-worthy machine!
I was going to say that the film and disc weren’t guilty, but they raced away too quickly. Oh well. Case closed.