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Fast and the Furious, The Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 November 2006

Image In Los Angeles, trucks are being hijacked and their contents stolen by a gang of street-racers, all driving turbo-charged cars. Brian Spilner (Paul Walker), an undercover cop who drives a tricked out car, attempts to break into the inner circle of highly regarded street racer, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel). After Brian loses a race and saves Toretto, he ends up on his good side and becomes part of his extended racing family. Brian becomes more involved with the world of street racing (his racing obsession is sincere) and is caught up in a relationship with Toretto’s sister. When Brian’s superior officers push him for results, it puts him on a risky journey to find out who the mysterious hijackers are and puts him at odds with his new friends.

This is a 1960’s drive-in movie realized on a gigantic scale. Its story is moderately involving, and its characters likable but the focus here is on thrills and excitement. Its race scenes and action set pieces are slick and glossy, the frame jammed from sprocket to sprocket with production values and impressive stunt work. Its loving exploration of the street-racing scene borders on the fetishistic. It’s a film made by people obviously in love with turbo-powered cars, and the moviemakers clearly love the technical details—like the near-masturbatory love of Nitrous Oxide (or as its called here “NOS”) and all the roto-mo-techno-whazits the make these cars do what they do. The cars themselves couldn’t be made to look more delicious if they were in an automobile commercial—all gleaming chrome, polished innards and glistening, near-fluorescent colored car designs, lit beneath by neon. It’s as if “Hot Rod Magazine” made a movie. Photographically, the film has a dense, rich tonality, the kind that usually turns up in music videos—skin tones tend toward the orange, giving the Los Angeles location photography a feeling of palpable heat during the sunbaked daytime scenes. The bright colors of the cars (bright green, candy apple red, yellow, white) really pop during the night scenes. The film itself is pure pop junk, but it’s entertaining junk and done with appreciable sincerity. Elements of the story may be calculated to appeal to its young male target audience (fast cars, fist fights, sexy women, loud music, motorcycle gangs with automatic weapons etc.), but it capably fastenes the elements to a fairly functional story. Paul Walker is an appealing and attractive lead, but his relationship with Toretto’s sister really isn’t developed enough to be convincing. Conversely, the levels of male bonding are so intense and competitive at times it may indicate more going on amongst the group than car love, but it’s subtextual and most would miss it.

Director Rob Cohen clearly wanted to make the best and most exciting film he could out of this subject matter and while it may not be art, it’s definitely craft of a very high caliber. Action and race scenes are approached with such a hyperbolic level of intensity it almost slides into over-the-top levels of silliness. There’s a bit in Paul Walker’s first race where he’s driving so fast, that his point of view through the windshield shows the world whipping by so swiftly that everything distorts and bends, as if he’s about to launch into hyperspace. It’s such an oddly loopy thing that you can almost imagine the film ending with one of the characters pushing the car faster and faster until time and space bend to the point that he disappears through it, like Buckaroo Banzai going on “The Incredible Shrinking Man”’s journey into infinity…The film really doesn’t come close to that, ultimately. Its last section is a bit cluttered with subplots coming to a head, and a there’s a big non-twist, but it’s impossible to have any bad will for a film that’s so much fun.

Technically, the HD DVD release is perfect in all areas. The film is a glossy, sleek and expensive production and its imagery is brightly colored and razor sharp. The DVD is a stunning, impressive achievement. Almost every shot is full of pin-sharp detail and the colors are intense, bright, vivid and free of encoding noise. The Dolby Digital Plus sound is the most aggressive sound effects mix I’ve reviewed thus far. This is an incredibly loud movie and is edited and mixed to saturate the viewer in vivid, pounding race car noise and thumping hip-hop and r & b songs. Its near-constant use of the rear channels is intense and the design of the entire sound fields pulls you into the film, making you feel as if you are traveling along at 170 miles an hour on a city street. The HD DVD release is demo quality on both sound and image fronts. Your neighbors will hate you.

There are two commentaries included, both featuring director Rob Cohen. One has been ported over from the standard DVD release and has an enhanced-viewing option. Essentially, while listening to the commentary, if you click on an icon of a tire, pop-up windows of before/after effects comparisons and behind-the-scenes footage play while the commentary continues. Unfortunately, it’s designed in a very clumsy way, as once the little pop-up segment is over, the disc returns to the film just before the pop-up started, replaying the same commentary segment. This happens each time, which is a bit tiresome.

The Picture-in-Picture commentary is more of akin to Warners’ “In-Vision” commentaries, and it was assembled exclusively for the HD DVD release. Director Rob Cohen narrates a new commentary track and while he does, pop-up windows appear showing talking heads or behind-the-scenes clips that illustrate his points. Cohen is an intelligent speaker and seems like a very shrewd and thoughtful director. He hits all the salient points from the film’s origin to its production stories and actively discusses the on-screen action. Unfortunately the commentary volume is set too low and the film’s audio track frequently overpowers it. Both commentaries cover the same ground and are fairly repetitive.

The rest of the bonus features pretty much cover all the bases. The multi-angle car stunt footage is a worthwhile addition, giving you the opportunity to see all the angles filmed for one of the car stunts in the film. The “Trickin’ Out a Hot Import Car” featurette follows the film’s technical advisor as he takes a car provided by a Playboy model and completely overhauls it, turning it into a turbo racer. If you’re not a car nut, it’s worth watching before the feature as a primer on what the all the techno-blabber means. The HD DVD omits a reprint of the original magazine article (included on the standard DVD) which inspired the film. The “2 Fast 2 Furious” prelude is a 5 minute dialogue-free short, that plays like a music video without a song, taking Paul Walker’s character from the end of the film and follows him on a fugitive journey til he ends up in Florida, where presumably the sequel begins.

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