Some actors are fated to appear in certain kinds of films. As such, it was virtually inevitable that Vin Diesel would eventually star in a movie about motor vehicles. Granted, it would have been better if he’d worked in something about trucks, but he’s still young, so I’ll keep hope alive. Until then, I’ll remain pleased that he worked on The Fast and the Furious, a flick about hot rod street racers.
Furious follows a subculture in which various young folk dress shabbily and spend thousands of dollars to give themselves the fastest ride. They then bet many more thousands on who will win their drags, which take place on public streets. For the most part, the film avoids the issue of how these people obtain their cash, but at the start, we do learn that some of it is definitely ill gotten. One crew hijacks trucks and fences the stolen goods, all of which seem to come from Panasonic. (Hello, product placement!)
Into this scene steps handsome but somewhat naïve Brian Spilner (Paul Walker). He awkwardly inserts himself into the world of street racing as he hits on sexy Mia (Jordana “Punky” Brewster), the sister of hotshot Dominic (Diesel). He quickly makes an enemy of Vince (Matt Schulze), who has the hots for Mia himself, but he seems to integrate fairly well into the crew after he boldly runs in one race.
From there we see events progress as Brian gets closer to both Mia and Dominic and also continues to annoy Vince. However, Brian has a secret: he’s really Brian O’Conner, a local cop on an undercover mission to find the crooks who did the hijacking we saw as well as other crimes. Unfortunately for him, Brian starts to lose sight of his mission as he becomes enraptured with a need for speed.
Anyway, the movie follows his dilemmas and examines his investigation. Brian desperately wants for anyone other than Dominic and his crew to be responsible for the theft, but he may not get his wish. This leads toward a dramatic confrontation as well as lots of cars that go really fast.
I guess somebody liked this claptrap, as Furious earned a surprising $144 million at the box office. That’s not a killer take, but it seemed very strong for a movie with no stars that slipped in under the radar against higher profile flicks like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Dr. Dolittle 2. In the end, Furious nabbed more money than either of those flicks, and it currently stands as the 11th top-grossing flick of 2001 with a few weeks left in the year; it sits a painfully-minor $400,000 behind the number 10 title, American Pie 2.
Actually, I think the gross of Furious is more impressive than that of Pie or a number of flicks above it on the list like Hannibal, Planet of the Apes and Jurassic Park III. Furious created its audience from the ground up, while the others all had ready-made crowds in tow. Of the films that have made more money in 2001, only Shrek and Monsters Inc. came without tie-ins to something else. As such, Furious seems all the more notable.
Nonetheless, it still isn’t much of a movie. Sometimes I wonder why movies like Furious even bother to feature a plot. Does anyone really care? This kind of flick is almost like a porno movie; the storyline and characters are just gravy, while all we need are the money shots. In that regard, Furious succeeds to a moderate degree. Yes, some of the racing scenes offer reasonably exciting stunts, but as a whole, they didn’t do much for me. After I watched the film, I read some other reviews, and many folks fell over themselves to praise the car shots. While they seem good, they really didn’t float my personal boat.
Perhaps that’s because I really didn’t care about the story or the characters. In regard to the actors, I like Diesel and think he has some talent. He was terrific as the titular voice of The Iron Giant, and he also made a strong impression as Private Caparzo in Saving Private Ryan. As for his work in Furious, however, he feels more like part of the wallpaper. Granted, he stands out better than most of the others, but he doesn’t make much of an impression.
At least he tops the rest, especially Walker, who comes precariously close to being a total non-entity. To be sure, Walker’s a good-looking guy, but he fails to deliver much personality. Actually, I’m not sure he has any personality beyond the fact he sounds a lot like obnoxious sports jock Jim Rome; I always expected Walker to refer to his clones in C-Town. In any case, he comes across largely as a cipher and he adds little spark to the part.
Not that the plodding tale deserves much talent. Essentially Furious is little more than a remake of 1991’s Point Break. Since that flick wasn’t tremendously original, a rehash of its story doesn’t do much for me. A fair number of folks have compared Furious to 2000’s Gone In Sixty Seconds as well, and many of them felt the former topped the latter. I disagree, and I think the difference comes from the extra shine Bruckheimer productions net from their casts. Whereas Furious fills the screen with few talents, Sixty packs in actors like Nicolas Cage and Robert Duvall. This dimension does add a lot to the proceedings, and it helps make a lackluster film more palatable.
Unfortunately, The Fast and the Furious offers little to provoke much interest. While a moderately watchable film, it doesn’t give us compelling characters or much of a storyline, and the stunts are generally good but they can’t overcome the weaknesses. Ultimately Furious seems like a pretty bland and forgettable piece.
Note: fans will want to continue watching Furious after the credits start to roll. A brief coda appears at their conclusions.
The Fast and the Furious appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A few modest concerns kept this one from “A” level, but it seemed pretty solid overall.
Sharpness consistently looked good. The image remained crisp and detailed throughout the movie, and I detected no signs of softness. Actually, a couple of racing scenes used some stylized blurriness, but obviously I didn’t regard that as a flaw. However, some mild but noticeable edge enhancement did cause some concerns, along with slight shimmering on a few occasions. Print flaws seemed absent, though I detected some light artifacting on occasion.
Colors appeared very solid. Throughout the film they came across as vibrant and distinct, with no signs of bleeding, noise, or other defects. The bright neon paint of the many cars looked especially vivid, but all of the hues seemed accurate and lively. Black levels also were reasonably deep and dense, and shadow detail looked appropriately heavy but not excessively thick. I didn’t think the definition in low-light scenes seemed terrific, but it was more than acceptable. Many parts of The Fast and the Furious were absolutely stellar, but the moderate number of concerns dropped this one to a “B+”.
Sometimes soundtracks suffer from our own high expectations, and that occurred in regard to the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes for The Fast and the Furious. From what I knew of the film, I thought I’d get a truly killer, involving auditory experience. While Furious certainly had its moments, overall I found the soundtrack to be good but not exceptional.
The soundfield definitely seemed active, as all five channels received a pretty strong workout. Not surprisingly, they came to life most strongly during the film’s many action/driving sequences. On those occasions, cars whizzed past fairly effectively and the spectrum became pretty convincing and engrossing. For the most part, the elements blended together well and panned from side to side nicely, but some exceptions existed. For example, in one scene, some characters approach a house from which we hear loud music. As the perspective shifted, the music moved awkwardly from the center to the left. Yes, this was a minor issue, but others like it occurred, and they seemed out of place in a high-caliber mix.
Still, the track did work pretty well overall. Music received a good five-channel mix, as various song and score elements often emanated from all around the spectrum. Of course, the effects also came from many different areas, and they seemed to be well localized as a whole. At times I felt the mix sounded somewhat “speaker specific” and oddly sterile, however; some of the effects work just wasn’t as convincing as I’d like.
Audio quality appeared very good. Though some obvious looping occurred, dialogue remained natural and distinct throughout the film. I detected no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music seemed loud and vivid, as the rock/techno/rap score came across with clear and appropriately pounding tones. Bass response for the music was especially deep and heavy; these tunes really rocked the subwoofer and woke up all the neighbors - even those who weren’t asleep! The effects showed similar tones; the low-end for those elements wasn’t quite as dense, but it still roared at times, particularly when the film wanted to depict the sound of the engines. Effects also seemed clean and vibrant, and they lacked any distortion or other concerns.
As for the eternal battle between Dolby Digital and DTS, I heard virtually no differences between the two mixes. To these ears, they sounded identical. Overall, I can’t deny that The Fast and the Furious often offered a loud and involving piece of work, and I felt I had to give it an “A-“ for sound. However, that was a somewhat grudging “A-“, for I wasn’t as impressed with the results as the grade might indicate. The firepower was heavy enough to warrant the mark, but a certain smoothness that would have made the mix truly great failed to appear.
On this Collector’s Edition release, we find a mix of supplements. These start with an audio commentary from director Rob Cohen. A veteran of many other tracks such as Dragonheart, The Skulls, and Daylight, Cohen seemed comfortable with the format and appeared at home during this running, screen-specific track. He offered a chatty and reasonably engaging piece; it wasn’t a classic, but Cohen did well as a whole.
On the negative side, I thought Cohen spent too much time telling us how great the participants were; a little praise goes a long way, and he featured excessive amounts. In addition, he talked a lot about plot points and character issues, most of which seemed superfluous for this film. However, Cohen added some nice details about all aspects of the production. From changes made to the script to MPAA demands to stunts to effects to most other elements, Cohen covered a ream of matters. He did all this in a fairly compelling and entertaining manner, and as a whole, this was a pretty solid commentary.
Next up we get The Making of The Fast and the Furious, an 18-minute featurette. This one offers the usual mix of movie clips, shots from the set, and interview snippets. In the latter category, we hear from director Cohen, actors Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Rick Yune and Matt Schulze, producer Neal Moritz, technical consultants Craig Lieberman and RJ De Vera, executive producer Doug Clayborne, stunt coordinator Mic Rodgers, and stunt double Mike Justus.
Despite the length of that roster, we don’t learn many insights, as the program stays very light and fluffy as a whole. This is clearly promotional work, and it does a decent job of touting the film while it still gives us some reasonably interesting tidbits. The behind the scenes material probably is the most interesting, but even it remains glossy and insubstantial. This is a watchable piece but nothing special.
More raw footage appears in two stunt-oriented segments. Multiple Camera Angle Stunt Sequence lets you view a car flip from eight different sides. Each lasts about 22 seconds except for camera “G”, which only runs 15 seconds. These are interesting, but unfortunately the set-up won’t let you flip between them; you have to watch one at a time. In addition, you can check out the final scene from the film.
Movie Magic Interactive Special Effects works in a similar way. We get to examine various angles of the train stunt; these are broken down into “Train POV”, “Front Angle Cars” and “Side Angle Cars”, each of which has two or three sub-options. The different snippets run between 10 to 15 seconds. Both of these programs give us a decent look at the material, but they didn’t add a lot to the equation.
Somewhat more interesting are the Deleted Scenes. We discover eight of these. They run between 18 seconds and two minutes, 11 seconds for a total of six minutes, 22 seconds of footage. Mostly these are small character bits that don’t bring much to the table, though some will miss the shirtless beefcake shots. The “Deleted Scenes” can be viewed with or without commentary from director Cohen. He provides solid remarks about each of the segments and clearly explains why each “hit the bin”.
We hear more from Cohen in the Featurette On Editing for the Motion Picture Association of America. In this four minute, 35 second piece, Cohen and editor Peter Honess sit at the Avid and work on the truck chase sequence. We watch them clip tiny bits from the scene, and they remark on their decisions. It’s a short but valuable look at this aspect of filmmaking.
The Visual Effects Montage compiles a number of different materials. We get storyboards, crude computer animation, raw pre-effects footage and final shots mixed together in this running three-minute and 45-second piece. It follows Brian’s first race and offers a decent look at a variety of bits.
More storyboards appear in the Storyboard to Final Feature Comparison. This area examines two scenes: “The First Race” and “Final Crash”. Both can be watched in the traditional split-screen format; the boards appear on top with the movie on the bottom. “Race” runs four minutes, 10 seconds, while “Crash” goes for two minutes, 35 seconds.
In addition, the boards can be viewed individually in a stillframe presentation. “Race” includes 125 screens, while “Crash” offers 111 frames. These are quite interesting, mainly because the boards for Furious are quite elaborate. I also liked the text visible; for example, one shot in which bolts pop from a panel is referred to as the Das Boot image.
A collection of Music Videos appears. First up is “Furious” from Ja Rule featuring Vita and 01. The song stinks and the video’s no better; it combines basic and annoying lip-synching with shots form the movie. Ugh! “POV City Anthem” by Caddillac Tah doesn’t improve the standards. It consists almost entirely of lip-synching, as we see the usual obnoxious and boring posturing typical of the rap scene.
The only non-rap video, “Click Click Boom” comes from headbangers Saliva. It’s nothing good either, as it combines more lip-synching with shots of a fan as he goes through the show. Blah. This area ends with a “Soundtrack Spot” that’s nothing more than a very loud and grating ad for the album.
Another domain resurrects an old Universal DVD feature I’ve not seen for a while. The “Music Highlights” first appeared in 1999 with Fast Times At Ridgemont High and American Pie, but it hasn’t shown up much since then. Nonetheless, we get it here. Essentially a different form of chapter search, it allows you to jump to any of 19 songs in the movie. It doesn’t do much for me, but I like the additional flexibility it offers.
A bunch of small extras appear on the disc. We find the film’s theatrical trailer - presented non-anamorphic 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound - plus some text materials. “Racer X” is the original Vibe magazine article by Kenneth Li that sparked interest in the story. It’s a good piece that sheds light on the real drivers used as background for the flick. “Production Notes” adds some basic but decent comments about the flick; additional information also appears in the DVD’s booklet. “Cast and Filmmakers” provides basic biographies for director Cohen as well as actors Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Rick Yune, Chad Lindberg, Johnny Strong, Matt Schulze, Ja Rule and Ted Levine.
As with similar features found on The Mummy Returns and Jurassic Park III, “The Fast and the Furious Special Offers” provides nothing more than some ads. We find a promo for Universal Theme Parks as well as a preview of a game called “Supercar Street Challenge”. The fact the DVD makes these ads look like something “special” seems awfully cheesy.
Lastly, Furious includes some DVD-ROM content. Click on “The Movie” and you’ll see a synopsis of the plot. It also provides “Cast” and “Filmmakers” biographies; we learn about eight actors - Walker, Diesel, Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Rick Yune, Ja Rule, Chad Lindberg and Matt Schulze) - and six members of the crew. The latter features director Cohen, producer Neal Moritz, executive producers Doug Clayborne and John Pogue, editor Peter Honess and director of photography Ericson Core. Also in “The Movie”, “Making the Movie” adds some decent production notes, while “Keeping It Real” tells us about car consultant Craig Lieberman.
“The Music” lets you listen to snippets of 15 songs from the soundtrack. Bizarrely, one of these remakes Madonna’s “Justify My Love” in such a way that sounds almost identical to the original. What’s the point? The new track literally adds nothing new to the tune - only the vocals demonstrated someone other than Maddy performed the song. I never heard of “Vita”, but I hope her other music shows greater creativity.
In “The Culture”, we learn a little about the street racing subculture. “Fast Living” relates details about the races and their participants, while “Fast Talking” gives us a glossary of terms used by those involved.
“The Downloads” gives us a few more bits. “Photos” provides 20 publicity stills, while we also find a “Screensaver” and “Wallpaper”. “SSC Demo” lets you install a sample version of the “Supercar Street Challenge”. The latter looks like another Need For Speed style computer game, though I can’t really comment on how well it plays. The first time I ran it, the program operated but the frame rate was pathetically slow. I turned off all the other programs running and lowered the detail, but this made things worse; despite a few more attempts, I couldn’t get the game to run at all!
“Play Street Racer” let you participate in a very simple and crude racing game. This sucker kept me going for about 20 second before I quit. Well, at least it worked, unlike “Supercar”.
Finally, Furious includes the usual complement of Weblinks. We get connections to: Universal Theme Parks; Universal Home Video; Universal Pictures; Universal Studios; and Universal DVD Newsletter. Overall, the DVD-ROM content didn’t add a lot to the package.
I guess a lot of people liked The Fast and the Furious, but I thought it was a pretty bland film. It offered a few good racing/action sequences, but its bland characters and rehashed plot meant that it never became anything more than decent at best. The DVD provided very positive picture and sound, however, and it also included a lengthy roster of generally superficial but usually interesting extras. Fans of this kind of flick may want to give The Fast and the Furious a look, but others should probably skip it.