FAST & FURIOUS
Film Year: 2009
Film Length: 1 hour 47 mins
Genre: Action/Street Racing
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
BD Resolution: 1080p
BD Video Codec: VC-1 @ over 25 mpbs
English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 @ an average 4.5 mbps
Spanish DTS 5.1
French DTS 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Film Rating: PG-13 (Language, Sexuality, Violence, Action, Drugs)
Release Date: July 28, 2009
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, John Ortiz, Laz Alonso, Sung Kang, Tego Calderon, Don Omar
Screenplay by: Chris Morgan
Based on Characters Created by: Gary Scott Thompson
Directed by: Justin Lin
Film Rating: 3/5
Right off the bat, I should say that this movie is a lot of fun to watch – much more so than I would have thought from the prior two films in this series. Technically, Fast & Furious is the fourth film in the ongoing street racing franchise, but in reality it can safely be thought of as a direct sequel to the first film in the series. After the last film’s smaller box office performance, the producers wisely went back to their original cast, recruiting star Vin Diesel as a fellow producer and building a new installment around four of the characters from the first movie. The basic formula is unchanged, of course: The thinnest of plots is stretched around a series of stunt car chases, alternating with party scenes populated by a non-automotive type of hard body. In this case, we start with a car/truck heist sequence on a dangerous incline (with a clear nod to the heists from the first movie), and then move on to other kinds of mayhem, including a wild chase through Los Angeles streets and alleys, and two chases through an elaborate tunnel system between the US and Mexico. As in the first film, most of the events ride on the chemistry and rivalry between stars Paul Walker and Vin Diesel, who respectively embody the “Fast” and the “Furious” qualities of the title. And as I said, this adds up to a lot of fun for the viewer. There’s nothing particularly substantial here, but the adrenaline rush of the ride is worth the time.
Fast & Furious is being released simultaneously on Blu-ray and standard definition on the 28th. The Blu-ray has everything from the 2-Disc standard DVD, and adds high definition picture and sound, along with some Blu-ray exclusives, including a virtual car garage, some BD-Live bonuses (including a do-it-yourself video maker “Mash-Up” function), and a new “Take Control” video commentary feature that reverses the usual Picture-in-Picture conditions. The Blu-ray also comes with a Digital Copy of the movie on a second disc. Both editions come with a scene-specific audio commentary by director Justin Lin, and a collection of footage that totals about 90 minutes, including several featurettes, trailers, a gag reel, a music video and a short film written and directed by Vin Diesel called “Los Bandoleros” that leads directly into the film’s opening sequence. For the Blu-ray, all but two of those materials are presented in high definition video. I note that while there are some of the fluffier moments you would expect in the featurettes, there is a lot of substantial material to pore over. This is a special edition that really is pretty special when you add everything together. If you’re a fan of the first film in the series, or simply a fan of Vin Diesel, this will be an automatic purchase. If you’re on the fence, I suggest renting it – but this will likely become a purchase in short order. I am happy to recommend this Blu-ray for purchase by fans and non-fans alike.
I need to add one caveat to this review, based on a discussion I had just last night with a friend who has some serious issues with these films. There is a real problem of illegal street racing that the film could be perceived as encouraging in terms of how attractive and fun it makes these races seem onscreen. The reality of course is that these races are quite dangerous and can result in people being very seriously injured, at the very least of the scale of the problem. For myself, I see these films as completely escapist entertainment, along the same lines that The Matrix and Grand Theft Auto shouldn’t be seen as an incitement to clobber or shoot people. So, for the record, I do not encourage anyone reading this review to take the events of this film as something to try to emulate anywhere other than in a video game.
VIDEO QUALITY 3 ½/5
Fast & Furious is presented in a 1080p VC-1 2.40:1 transfer that presents a variety of environments, cars, wardrobes and flesh tones in fairly sharp detail. There is one night desert driving sequence that is a bit dim, but this is due to the way the film has been shot. Many driving sequences have been done with the actors on a greenscreen stage, and this occasionally becomes evident – most specifically in a shot of Jordana Brewster behind the wheel that screams it. Again, that is a result of the way in which the film was made and not a consequence of the high definition transfer, which looks very good indeed.
AUDIO QUALITY 4/5
Fast & Furious is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English, as well as standard DTS mixes in Spanish and French. This is a full-throttle mix, particularly when the movie is running a car chase or a party environment, which is to say, a good deal of the time. The subwoofer comes to life in a big way as the heavier engine sounds come through. The land train that is the subject of the opening heist literally thunders through the sound system. When things get quieter, the mix reverts to the more typical dialogue-in-front, music-in-the-surrounds manner, but these respites don’t last for long. I had a great time listening to this film. I fear that my neighbors did too, since I broke my rule about not watching these titles after a certain hour at night…
SPECIAL FEATURES 3 ½/5
The Blu-Ray presentation of Fast & Furious comes packed with materials. It will take a little while to go through all this stuff, so find a chair:
First, let’s go through the Blu-ray exclusives:
U-Control – The usual picture-in picture feature from Universal is available here, allowing the viewer to see technical materials while the film is playing, mostly concerning the various cars on display. This feature takes on several forms. One of which is a simple access point that comes up in selected chapters of the film, where the viewer can click on the screen to activate the technical data, or press a colored button on the PS3 remote to do the same thing. But that’s only one part of the equation here.
Virtual Car Garage – This aspect of the U-Control system jumps the viewer to a separate screen away from the film, in which various cars used in the film are available for closer examination. With the remote, the viewer can rotate the cars, and apparently even make use of BD-Live connectivity to put their own car together and inflict on other people online. This feature is also available outside of the U-Control system within the “Extras” menu.
Take Control – This is the feature where things really start to become interesting. If you activate this option, which can be done through a master menu, or specifically toggled at individual scenes where available, you are transferred to an alternate version of the chapter at hand. In the alternate chapter, either Justin Lin or Paul Walker will completely take over the presentation of the scene. They make a point of freezing the image at certain points, as well as fast-forwarding through the scene to get to a specific moment they want to discuss. (The effect here is something like watching a weatherman on a newscast, and has clearly been made with the same process of greenscreen and on-set video assist.) The presentation may include behind the scenes video alongside the film footage as Lin or Walker talks about what was happening on set. Another key here is that some information here is not present in the audio commentary or the other featurettes. (One such moment is Paul Walker’s description of his acting choice at the film’s conclusion, which doesn’t get a mention anywhere else.) I suppose this could be seen as a kind of seamless branching option which could probably be made available for SD DVD, since the chapters where it works are completely separate from the feature film. But the HD helps here – increasing the clarity of what can be up to 3 different images on the screen at the same time. (Again, this could be done in SD as older Criterion lasers have taught us – but it looks a lot nicer in 1080p.)
My Scenes – The usual Blu-ray bookmarking feature is available here, allowing the viewer to set their own bookmarks throughout the film.
Video Mash-Up – This is a fun idea, although it really feels like an HD extension of the kind of CD-ROM material that I recall Peter Gabriel doing in the 90s. Basically, after clicking an approval of the software restrictions, the viewer is given an option to create a video mashup using about 70 seconds of one of the songs featured in the movie. You get your choice of about five songs, and then you marry that to clips of varying length from the film that feature cars, chases, stunts, girls, fights, etc, followed by your selection of a title tag clip. Once you’re done, the mashup is saved to your hard drive and you can either play it back for yourself or inflict it on other people online via BD-Live. The mechanics are little clumsy here, and the edited images freeze at the connection points, but it’s still fun as an onscreen toy.
BD-Live - This Blu-ray includes access to Universal’s BD-Live online site, allowing for the viewing of trailers online. At the time I went through the features (between 7-10 and 7-13), there was nothing available, but this will certainly change by the time the street date arrives. If you’re registered with Universal BD-Live, signing in makes it possible to activate various online functions including sharing of “My Scenes”, sharing of your mash-ups, chatting with other people, or generating your own commentary for the film. A “How-To” guide is also included for anyone that needs it.
Digital Copy – A second disc is included in the package, holding a digital copy of the movie that you can download to your PC or portable device.
Now we can move on to the features available to both editions. A couple of these are presented in standard definition – the music video for Pitbull’s “Blanco” and the trailer for the first film in the series. Everything else comes in HD. I’ll specify as we go through each feature.
Commentary by Director Justin Lin – Justin Lin provides a scene-specific commentary running through the whole film. There are some pauses where he’s clearly watching the movie with the viewer, but there’s also a lot of production information coming through.
Gag Reel (5:00, 1080i) – Five minutes of blown takes are presented in 1080i high definition. A lot of this footage consists of people cracking up on the greenscreen stage, but there’s plenty of location material. Anyone expecting Vin Diesel or Paul Walker to be stone faces throughout will get a surprise here.
Los Bandoleros (20:23, 1080p VC-1 at 20 mbps, Dolby Digital 5.1 Sound at 640 kpbs) – As a special addition for the DVD release, the producers have included this 20 minute short film written and directed by Vin Diesel as a setup for the opening heist of the film. There are no chases here, nor are there any of the high octane party scenes shown in the feature. Instead, we are given a lot of quietly atmospheric character material about Dominic Toretto and his gang down in the Dominican Republic, with a lot of the dialogue presented in Spanish with subtitles. Judging from the picture quality, I strongly believe this was shot with HD video cameras with a very short shooting schedule. A 5.1 sound mix is presented in English only (while most of the dialogue is in Spanish) with subtitles available in English, Spanish and French.
Under the Hood – Muscle Cars (6:55, 1080i) – This short featurette focuses on the muscle cars used in the film, particularly the souped-up Charger driven by Vin Diesel. Picture car coordinator Dennis McCarthy has a great time discussing the Charger and the green Gran Torino on display, as well as the difficulty of getting a muscle car to pop a wheelie on a dirt surface. This is ostensibly pretty fluffy material, but car enthusiasts will have a lot of fun with this.
Under the Hood – Imports (4:59, 1080i) – This short featurette focuses on the key import compacts on display in the film, particularly the tricked-out Subaru used for the climax and an intense blue Nissan Skyline used for a street race. McCarthy, Lin and Walker go into detail about the Skyline, with McCarthy pointing out that the model used in the film is actually not the expensive one the viewer may think is onscreen. (McCarthy notes that it makes more sense to run a car worth less than $20,000 down a steep dirt incline than to use one worth more than $75,000.) Again, car enthusiasts will have a lot of fun with this.
Getting the Gang Back Together (9:50, 1080i) – This is the fluffiest of the featurettes, combining the usual film footage with on-set video and interview snippets to tell the story of how the producers brought Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez back in for another film eight years after the first one. There’s nothing particularly deep here, but fans of the actors may enjoy it.
Driving School with Vin Diesel (3:50, 1080i) – This short featurette covers Vin Diesel’s visit to a stunt driving track to practice the various braking and spinning maneuvers required in the film.
Shooting the Big Rig Heist (9:47, 1080i) – This featurette focuses on the land train heist shown in the film’s opening minutes. A lot of on-set footage is incorporated here, including one telling shot that reveals that the actors in one of the pickup trucks had no idea that their vehicle was about to go into an intense spin.
Races and Chases (11:01, 1080i) – This featurette covers the various chase sequences in the film, including the Skyline street race across Los Angeles and the tunnel chases. One bit of information revealed here is that the filmmakers apparently ran out of cars to crash in the tunnels and had to put pieces of some of them back together again before they were done.
High Octane Action: The Stunts (11:22, 1080i) – This featurette focuses on the stunt team and the set effects crew that pulled off the sequences in the film. Some time is spent going over a multi-car explosion, and another section deals with a three-car-roll on the Dry Lake near Lancaster, California. The sequence is shown as it appears in the film, and as it was shot on the day, with the stunt drivers recovering their composure after the staged accident. (Two notes here: 1 – the actual stunt is obscured by the dust clouds kicked up by the cars so only two of the three vehicles can clearly be seen to flip; 2 – the PG-13 rating on the disc also means that a lot of saltier language gets bleeped out in featurettes like this one.)
South of the Border (2:55, 1080i) – This is a very quick featurette that shows a bit of the filming in a Mexican town where there are apparently a lot of Vin Diesel fans.
“Blanco” Music Video by Pitbull featuring Pharrell (4:11, 480p, Non-Anamorphic) – This is an SD video of the song for the film’s title sequence.
Trailers for all four “Fast and Furious Films”:
The Fast and The Furious (1:49, 480p, Non-Anamorphic)
2 Fast 2 Furious (1:31, 1080p)
The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift (2:19, 1080p)
Fast & Furious (2:13, 1080p)
D-Box Motion Code – An option is presented to use this motion code in sound systems that can handle it.
Subtitles are available for the film and the special features, in English, Spanish and French. A full chapter menu is available for the film, with markers to note which chapters have applicable U-Control features.
IN THE END...
Fast & Furious is a thoroughly entertaining film, particularly if the viewer is a fan of the first film in the series. (And judging from the ending and Universal’s quick greenlight, it won’t be the last film in the series by a long shot.) Fans of the series or of Vin Diesel will have a great time with this, while the special features should get the attention of more casual viewers. I admit the film is a guilty pleasure for me, but I really did enjoy it, in spite of everything that could dissuade me. Given that, plus the plentiful special features, I am pleased to recommend it for purchase.
July 14, 2009.
Edited by Kevin EK - 7/15/2009 at 08:36 am GMT
Edited by Kevin EK - 7/15/2009 at 08:37 am GMT
Edited by Kevin EK - 7/17/2009 at 02:47 am GMT