|Fast and the Furious, The (Collector's Edition)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Wednesday, 02 January 2002|
Setting aside the sound quality for a moment (don’t worry, we’ll return to the subject), "The Fast and the Furious" is mainly a guilty pleasure kind of movie, with terrific car stunts coexisting with dialogue so unselfconsciously absurd that it might have come from "Airplane!" – except that it’s not trying to be funny.
Although there are plenty of subplots, the main story here is simple enough – young undercover cop Brian (Paul Walker) works his way into a street racing gang headed by the charismatic Dom (Vin Diesel), who may also be running a truck hijacking ring. Brian falls for Dom’s sister (Jordana Brewster) and starts to admire Dom, leading to divided loyalties.
The script by Gary Scott Thompson and Eric Bergquist and David Ayers seems to exist primarily to suppose the plentiful and ferocious automotive action. Director Rob Cohen makes varied kinds of competition and precision driving extremely exciting to watch, even if some of the plot points are questionable. On the upside, many issues have pleasantly surprising resolutions. On the downside, the near-demonization of a Vietnamese-American gang (who seem no worse than Dom’s crew until they go nuts near the finale) gives an unfortunate double meaning to a contest known in the movie as "Race Wars." The race gets a disproportionate build-up – all of the characters talk about it so much that we expect more out of the sequence. Other scenes have more fire and bite, such as a stunner in Chapter 16, when a team of small cars harass a huge track, like wolves attacking a moose.
The disc comes with a lot of extras. There’s an informative commentary by director Rob Cohen, six deleted scenes with optional director commentary and Cohen’s explanation over the deleted scenes mini-menu of why certain scenes are cut, one extended and one recut scene that theoretically have "optional" director commentary (the commentary played over both on my review disc, even when I tried to disable it), eight angles of an exciting car stunt and three angles (plus composite shot) of a race between two cars and a speeding train and a making-of featurette, among other goodies. Perhaps the most interesting supplemental feature is a short on editing the movie to avoid an R rating – we are shown actual frames that would have jeopardized the film’s PG-13 status (mainly on the basis of violence, rather than sex) had they remained in the release version.
The disc also includes three music videos. Two of these, Ja Rule’s "Furious" and Saliva’s "Click Click Boom," employ the standard movie/record promotional tie-in tactic of combining footage of the artists with footage from the film. The third, "Caddillac Tah’s "POV City Anthem," is notable mainly because some of its lyrics are too strong for the PG-13 rating. The DVD’s solution is to cut the audio over the objectionable phrases, so the song is peppered with total sound dropouts on the 2.0 mix.
The DVD also has a "Music Highlights" menu within the Special Features section. This takes you to whatever section of the film the specified song is in and plays the full mixed soundtrack for the entire scene – dialogue, sound effects, et al. The choices include the aforementioned "Furious" and "POV City Anthem," plus Live’s "Deep Enough," Benny Cassette’s "Watch Your Back," Shawna’s "Say Aah," Limp Bizkit’s "Rollin’," Digital Assassins’ "Lock It Down," Organic Audio’s "Nurega," Ludacris’ "Area Codes," Tank with Ja Rule on "Race Against Time Pt. 2," Ja Rule’s "Life Ain’t a Game," Santana’s "Evil Ways" (this one backing a relatively mellow outdoor barbeque sequence), Walston’s "Polka Palabras," Say Yes’ "Mercedes Benz," Oresha’s "Atrevido," Dope’s "Debonair," Silva’s "Superstar and BT’s "Nocturnal Transmission."
The music throbs along with the effects for most of the film. The directional effects are probably just great, but short of sprinting across your home theatre environment from speaker to speaker to try to outrace sounds running from rears to mains or vice-versa, it’s hard to determine. Most of the action sequences – and there are many – situate the viewer smack in the middle of massive, revving engines that sound as if they have enough power to launch a fleet of cruise missiles, never mind earthbound cars. Chapter 1 has huge, rumbling whooshes through the rears and mains, with engines roaring all round. Grappling hooks with ropes sound as though they’re shooting along the mains – it’s a miracle of mixing technology that this can be heard over the engines. Chapter 2, even though the action is less perilous, is almost as loud, with throbbing scratch music accompanying the enveloping engine sounds as our hero tries out a new car. We get a directional effect as an offscreen car drives by through the rears – it’s inconsequential to the plot, we never even see the vehicle and it’s still plowing along as massive volume.
In Chapter 3, when the characters have an extended dialogue scene, the sound levels are a bit wobbly, which isn’t too surprising under the circumstances. Actually, the center-channel dialogue holds up pretty well throughout the film, given the sonic competition. In Chapter 4, cars enter in the rear and screech to a stop in the mains, presaging a cacophonous race, with engines so loud that the floor vibrates. Speed-reducing parachutes made rather cool dimensional poofing sounds in the rears. In Chapter 14, the effects of a super-acceleration device within a vehicle again sounds like a rocket launch, with massive surround roars and vibrations. However, impacts from a fistfight are disproportionately loud – the effects are so much bigger than the onscreen blows (we know there are limits to the sounds flesh makes on flesh) that it detracts from the realism. In Chapter 16, a shotgun blast starts in the mains and travels into the rears, again impressing us with its ability to make itself heard over the surrounding engines. Chapter 17 has a nice directional effect as a car taking off on the right side of the screen departs sonically through the right main. The end titles music (Ja Rule’s "Furious") is distributed evenly throughout the sound system, with vocals in rears as well as mains and center.
Picture quality is faithful to the theatrical release, which is to say that the greens and reds of the cars stand out, but otherwise the L.A. atmosphere provides a slightly grainy, smoggy look. The DVD transfer is excellent.
It’s rare for me to recommend a movie as a reference disc when I’m not terribly enthusiastic about the overall film – normally it’s just as easy to find something great to test the system as it is to use something that’s being examined solely for sonic qualities. "The Fast and the Furious" is an exception to this rule. You may totally enjoy its familiar but earnest morality tale and get off on the multiple displays of speed and motor power, or you may yearn for something with more plot, more varied action and better dialogue, but either way, you’ll want to hear how your system stands up to "The Fast and the Furious."