Fast Five is a crashing success on Blu-ray – with a disc loaded with solid picture and sound transfers and a host of extras, as well as the DVD edition in the package. The movie itself is, impossibly, the best one to date in the series, which has transformed from high speed hot rod chases to ensemble heist thrillers. The movie assembles key cast members from each of the four prior films, leading with Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, and adds Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the Fed chasing them. Fans of the series should pick this up without waiting, and I’m happy to recommend the Blu-ray for purchase for casual viewers as well.
Length: 2 hrs 11 mins (Theatrical), 2 hrs 12 mins (Extended)
Genre: Action/Street Racing
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, AVC @ 20 mpbs
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 3.4 mbps, up to 4.5 mbps), Spanish DTS 5.1, French DTS 5.1, English DVS 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Film Rating: PG-13 (Language, Sexuality, Violence, Action), Unrated (Same, but with More Blood)
Release Date: October 4, 2011
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Matt Schulze, Sung Kang, Tego Calderon, Don Omar, Gal Gadot and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Screenplay by: Chris Morgan
Based on Characters Created by: Gary Scott Thompson
Directed by: Justin Lin
Film Rating: 4/5
I’ll cut right to the chase. Fast Five is the best movie to date in the ongoing series about career criminal Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his associates. Somehow, five movies into the series, the filmmakers have managed to reinvent the story and put a fresh spin on the material. The original movie, The Fast and the Furious, was a fun, if forgettable exercise pitting undercover cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) against Toretto’s gang from the inside – which allowed for plenty of scenes of high speed car chases with impossibly souped-up import models alongside Toretto’s signature Charger. That movie, and the next three that followed, strung together a sequence of chases and action vignettes, in between scenes that either glorified the cars and their engines or glorified hardbodies of a different kind. (It’s a trademark moment in every film that there will be a street race, and usually at least one scene of attractive young women draped over the cars and drivers before the race like a 21st century street prom.)
For Fast Five, the filmmakers have switched to a style similar to that of the Ocean’s Eleven movies, where the emphasis is on a heist scenario and an ensemble cast. The ensemble here is a kind of Greatest Hits of the prior four movies. Matt Schulze pops up from the first film. Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris return from the second film. Sung Kang returns again from the third film (which of course makes this film effectively a prequel to that one). Gal Gadot and crucially, Tego Calderon and Don Omar are back from the last film. The heist is an inventive one, built out of the film’s setting in Rio de Janeiro. The gang is tasked with stealing the wealth of the biggest gangster in Rio, while trying to evade a U.S. strike force headed up by Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, in muscled, shaved-head, goateed glory). With that as the basic plot, the movie happily runs from one major action setpiece to another, in a similar manner to the best James Cameron films. Things get underway with a 21st century great train robbery, continue with chases and gunplay across the favelas and culminate with a chase involving every police car in Rio and a massive vault being dragged down the highway. And somewhere in here, the movie finds time for the obligatory inset drag race, at least one solid “drifting” demonstration, and the expected (but still fun) brawl between Vin Diesel and The Rock. When the movie finally gets to its end, you still shouldn’t leave. As has become the pattern in all the Marvel movies, there’s a little bonus in the end credits that should leave no doubt as to how things will continue in Fast Six in 2013.
Now, you may wonder why I’m throwing a higher rating to a movie that is certainly not going to be on a critic’s “Ten Best List” in terms of acting or deep storytelling. I’m doing this because the movie is wonderfully entertaining. Yes, it’s got plenty of the scenes of overloaded testosterone, and it goes for all the obvious moves. Yes, it’s deriving its material from other movies and styles. Yes, the dialogue borders on self-parody at times, particularly when Tyrese Gibson intones “This just went from Mission Impossible to Mission In-Freaking-Sanity!” or when The Rock tells a local policeman the “two things” he’ll need from the cops in Rio. And yet, it all works. The material, shot in various locations including California, Puerto Rico, Atlanta and yes, Rio, all goes together seamlessly. The action beats all work, especially the train robbery and the climactic vault chase. The character beats play better than you might think, as each member of the team is brought into play for their part of the heist. (I have to confess that I really enjoy all the scenes of Tego Calderon and Don Omar nagging each other – it’s the funniest married couple situation I’ve seen onscreen since the second Lethal Weapon movie.) As another point, the filmmakers have taken additional effort to do a fair amount of practical stuntwork rather than resorting to CGI for everything. That’s not to say that the movie doesn’t use a bit of greenscreen – just that there’s a healthy amount of practical work onscreen, which is always a pleasure to see. One other compliment that’s been paid to the film by multiple reviewers (and by friends of mine who saw it in the theaters this summer) is that even people who didn’t like the first movie, or even the last one, have found themselves enjoying this one in spite of themselves. You don’t really have to know the history of these characters to jump in, either. But watching this movie may cause you to want to see the other ones…
Fast Five is being released simultaneously on Blu-ray and standard definition on the 4th. The Blu-ray has everything from the standard DVD, and adds high definition picture and sound, along with some Blu-ray exclusive featurettes, some BD-Live bonuses (including a U-Control feature that goes farther than normal for the train robbery, and a new “Second Screen” feature that requires pocket BLU to activate). The Blu-ray also includes the DVD copy of the movie on a second disc. Both editions come with a scene-specific audio commentary by director Justin Lin, several featurettes, a pair of deleted scenes and a gag reel. (For the Blu-ray, those materials are presented in high definition video). Instructions for downloading a digital copy of the film are also included in the package. I should note that the 2009 Fast & Furious Blu-ray took things a step farther than the prior Universal Blus in its “Take Control” feature, where chapters were replaced by an inverted PIP scenario with Justin Lin or Paul Walker controlling the playback and commenting on the hijinks. For this year’s Fast Five, they’re taking things another step with the Second Screen idea. I’m very happy to recommend this Blu-ray for purchase both for fans of the film, and for more casual viewers.
I should note that two versions of the film are available on the Blu-ray. One is the theatrical version, rated PG-13, for which the U-Control features work. The other is an unrated extended version, running about a minute longer and containing one brief additional scene and many shots that have been enhanced with CGI blood. Justin Lin’s commentary is only available on the extended version.
VIDEO QUALITY 4 ½/5
Fast Five is presented in a 1080p AVC 2.35:1 transfer that brings in multiple environments and flesh tones in a vivid and satisfying manner. There are times when the greenscreen work shows, particularly if you’ve seen the featurettes and know where to look, but that’s an issue with the way the film was shot and not with the transfer.
AUDIO QUALITY 5/5
Fast Five is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English, as well as standard DTS mixes in Spanish and French, and an English DVS track. As with the last film, this is a fun, loud mix, with plenty of work for the subwoofer and the surrounds for the various gunplay sequences and chases. This is another mix where I’m throwing in the perfect score – because it earns it. Don’t listen late at night, since you’ll want to hear this in all its glory.
SPECIAL FEATURES 3 ½/5
The Blu-Ray presentation of Fast Five comes packed with materials. I have now been able to evaluate the Second Screen material and have chosen to keep the rating the same for the extra features, given that Second Screen doesn't add much in the way of content.
PIP – This is a collection of interviews and on-set video of the production, culled from the material used for the other featurettes, but including plenty of its own quotes and views. (ONLY AVAILABLE DURING THE THEATRICAL EDITION)
Scene Explorer – This is a new idea for Universal, and it’s a good one. During one scene – the train robbery – the viewer is presented with three inset screens. On the left is the previsualization computer graphic version of the sequence. In the middle is the dailies footage, cut together in the same order as the finished version, only here you can see the green screen outside the train windows and the safety wires, etc. On the right is a collection of the on-set video shot during the making of the sequence, so you can see the camera vehicle driving alongside the train, as well as the stationary location of the train car for the interior shoot. Any one of the three screens can be selected and enlarged, which makes for a thorough examination of the sequence. My only wish would have been for this to have been available for the other major sequences of the film. (This is without my having seen the “Second Screen” mode, which may in fact do that.) (ONLY AVAILABLE DURING THE THEATRICAL EDITION)
My Scenes – The usual Blu-ray bookmarking feature is available here, allowing the viewer to set their own bookmarks throughout the film.
BD-Live - This Blu-ray includes access to Universal’s BD-Live online site, allowing for the viewing of trailers online. BD-Live is also, I believe a part of the “Second Screen” function, as this should be the place where the material is posted.
D-Box Motion Code – An option is presented to use this motion code in sound systems that can handle it.
pocket BLU – This Blu-ray includes the usual pocket BLU functionality, enabling viewers with appropriate laptop, iPad or smart phone integration to remotely control their Blu-ray player and access some of the bonus content from the separate device. There's also a timeline chapter function that will allow you to forward your way through the movie. And there's a music function that will allow you to access specific score or song tracks, and buy them online from iTunes. As part of the pocket BLU application, the new “Second Screen” is adds further content.
Second Screen – In order to use this, you’ll need to have your separate device accessing the internet via wi fi on the same router your Blu-ray player uses. UPDATE AS OF 10/7/11: An updated pocket BLU download makes it possible for PC and MAC users to access part of the content of Second Screen. If you are using an iPad or other tablet, you should be able to access all of the content, but as I do not have one of these devices I cannot confirm this. I do know that Second Screen does not work on an iPhone or iPod as the screen is too small for the content. (Which begs the question why anyone would want to watch a movie or TV show on a screen that small, I know...) To activate Second Screen, you first activate the pocket BLU app, in which you'll see a box for Second Screen at the top of the Bonus Content Screen. Click or tap that, and a timeline window will open, showing you not only the movie chapters at the bottom of the screen, but also multiple inset chapters included in the list. The inset chapters have little icons at the top, indicating what they cover:
Take Control 2.0 – The icon for this is a stick figure man holding his arm up to point at the movie screen. This feature updates the idea from the last movie where director Justin Lin and actor Paul Walker would “take control” of the movie for various chapters to provide information and perspective about how scenes were created. In the first version, this meant that a chapter would be inserted so that you could see Lin or Walker talking about the movie with the footage running in a smaller window, which they could rewind or forward to show what they wanted. For Second Screen, the 2.0 version brings up a window on your laptop or tablet, in which Justin Lin talks about various scenes in the movie. While he does so, the movie on your Blu-ray player is paused. The content on the laptop screen is almost identical to what was done on the earlier movie, only now it only appears on the second screen. There are only four moments in the movie when this happens: There's an introduction at the very beginning, and then Lin pops up to discuss the train robbery sequence, the favelas chase and the vault heist. I'm honestly at a loss why this wasn't simply put on the disc without gettting fancy about it.
PIP Material - The icon for this is one screen inside another. Here you can individually access the PIP clips that are found on the Blu-ray, in the same order in which they appear in U-Control. The difference is that you can watch them separately on your laptop.
Scene Explorer - The icon for this is a magnifying glass. Here you can access the multi-screen function included in U Control, only now you can do so for three different scenes. The material for the train robbery is included again here, followed by options to do the same for the Million Dollar Quarter Mile race and for the Vault chase. There's really only two alternate screens available for the race or chase - the pre-viz material and the dailies construction. Given the sheer amount of behind the scenes footage available on everything throughout the Blu-ray, the lack of that screen is no loss. On the other hand, I found the Scene Explorer to be a really problematic function in use on my laptop. The instructions tell you that the appropriate movie chapter will play on your TV while the alternate screen plays on your laptop. That's not what happened with me. Instead, the movie randomly paused at its current chapter, and the playback on the laptop was a choppy stream that would only show a few seconds at a time before needing to buffer again. (And this is with a cable modem that normally functions at high speeds at all hours. And I tried the function at multiple times of the day and night with the same result, so this isn't a matter of trying this during a heavy traffic moment.) I finally gave up on the function after multiple attempts found me waiting at the laptop as if I was back to using a 28.8 modem...
Virtual Car Garage – I was not able to see this function on either my iPod or laptop. I understand it to only work with iPads or other tablets, as it relies on the viewer's ability to touch the screen to turn the vehicles around. This feature updates the identical one from the last movie’s Blu-ray, in that you will be able to check out the various cars on display in the movie, in detail as to their specs and looks. You’ll also be able to turn the cars around on your separate device and get a full view of them. In the last movie’s Blu-ray, this was a simple PIP function. Now the content has been exported to Second Screen where it can only be accessed via tablet.
Overall, regarding the Second Screen content, I can only say that this is an idea that doesn't seem to have been completely thought through yet. It's still too sticky of an interface, and there isn't enough additional content to make this more than a curiosity. Someone had a good idea in here, but it's just not working at a level that makes the pain of dealing with the choppy streaming worth the viewer's time. In my opinion, this content could and should have simply been put on the Blu-ray without trying to add more bells and whistles. There's also the added issue that this content was not available to anyone but tablet owners until after the street date, and the only way we knew about it was when we took the time to investigate. Viewers should not have to chase this material down, nor should they need to buy new equipment (tablets and such) to view what is essentially a small amount of bonus content. It is my hope that this idea will be rethought a bit before the next Second Screen title, Cowboys & Aliens, hits the store shelves in December.
Commentary by Director Justin Lin – (AVAILABLE BOTH ON DVD AND BLU-RAY) (ONLY ON EXTENDED VERSION) Justin Lin provides a scene-specific commentary running through the whole film. As with his last commentary, there are pauses, but he does provide some interesting thoughts about the sequences. He acknowledges that this film must take place before the third film due to what happens to one character there. At the close of the movie, he takes a moment to talk about his intentions for the next film, although he expresses some doubt about whether he will be involved. (Since the recording of the commentary, it’s been confirmed that Lin will be directing it, particularly after bowing out of the next Terminator movie to do so.)
The following materials are presented in high definition on the Blu-ray. If they are also available on the DVD, they would obviously be presented in standard definition there:
Deleted Scenes (1:40, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON DVD AND BLU-RAY) – Two very quick deleted scenes are presented here in high definition. One introduces Vince’s family and the other is an early example of Luke Hobbs taking matters into his own hands. Neither scene is particularly crucial to the movie.
Gag Reel (4:17, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON DVD AND BLU-RAY) – Just about four minutes of blown takes are included here, usually centered around someone forgetting their dialogue. There’s one classic moment where Vin Diesel throws a lighter to start a bonfire and misses the rim, the net and even the backboard.
The Big Train Heist (7:37, 1080p) (BLU-RAY EXCLUSIVE) – This featurette covers the making of the great train robbery sequence that happens early in the movie. Much of the footage overlaps with the U-Control Scene Explorer, and with the PIP material, but there’s still good stuff here.
Reuniting The Team (4:59, 1080p) (BLU-RAY EXCLUSIVE) – This featurette covers the ensemble gathered for the movie, particularly Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris, who previously had not appeared in one of these movies with Vin Diesel.
A New Set of Wheels (10:09, 1080p) (BLU-RAY EXCLUSIVE) – This featurette focuses on the cars, including a good interview with picture car coordinator Dennis McCarthy. Some time is spent talking about Hobbs’ massive Gurkha, which The Rock admits isn’t as fast as the other cars, “but if it catches you, you’re toast…”
Dom’s Journey (4:55, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON DVD AND BLU-RAY) – This featurette discusses the evolution of Vin Diesel’s character from the first film to the latest story. There’s nothing particularly deep here, just a restatement of things we already know about the character from the earlier installments.
Brian O’Conner: From Fed to Con (5:55, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON DVD AND BLU-RAY) – Similar to the last featurette, this one covers the evolution of Paul Walker’s character. Again, there’s nothing really deep here.
Enter Federal Agent Hobbs (5:50, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON DVD AND BLU-RAY) – This featurette mostly consists of interviews with Vin Diesel and The Rock about the new major character, and how these guys interact.
Dom vs. Hobbs (7:31, 1080p) (BLU-RAY EXCLUSIVE) – This featurette covers the brawl between Vin Diesel and The Rock, and the weeklong shoot it took to film it. There’s plenty of onset video of the shoot, and some discussion with all the principals. Justin Lin discusses how they actually shut down filming for an afternoon to do more rehearsal and conferencing about how a specific fight move would play out.
On The Set With Director Justin Lin (8:36, 1080p) (BLU-RAY EXCLUSIVE) – This is actually the most informative video in terms of showing the viewer what was actually happening on the set during the day when the “drifting” Porsche maneuvers were filmed in Atlanta. (This day appears to have been when many of the on-set footage for the other featurettes was shot, as well as some of the interviews.) What makes this interesting is the interaction between Lin and his actors (Walker openly states that the Porsche will not behave Lin thinks it will; there’s some uneasiness about asking Diesel to be present essentially as background in the shot of the Porsche, etc) and the interaction between Lin and his 1st AD, Vincent Lascoumes (they clash when Lin insists on doing repeated rehearsals that Lascoumes worries could damage the Porsche without it getting on film). Lin, of course, is upset that the car isn’t moving fast enough through the maneuvers, which only makes the situation more tense. And on film, the sequence itself only lasts about 30 seconds or less…
Inside the Vault Chase (9:20, 1080p) (BLU-RAY EXCLUSIVE) – This featurette is another good one, showing the work done to film the climactic chase across Rio (as filmed in Puerto Rico) with the vault being dragged down the highway. There’s some discussion about the permits required to do such a thing, and the assurances needed from the production that the vault wouldn’t go through any vital property. There’s a thorough examination of how the vault was actually presented, including one version that was a chopped pickup truck inside a vault shell. Some time is spent with the stunt driver, Henry Kingi Sr., who spent days in what was essentially a moving oven. (The vault was a metal shell with no A/C, filmed while they were in San Juan in hot weather. So Kingi was outfitted with a cold water suit, and the pickup cab was loaded with dry ice and even a portable bathroom unit so Kingi wouldn’t have to spend the time being de-rigged to get out.)
Tyrese TV (6:35, 1080p) (BLU-RAY EXCLUSIVE) – This is really just Tyrese Gibson clowning between takes on the day of the drifting Porsche, a day in which he was there to be in the background of some shots. There’s some strange stuff here, like the idea that Sung Kang doesn’t speak English, but also a fun moment with Ludacris training his dog on camera. I don’t know that nearly seven minutes of my life needed to be occupied with it, but others may differ with me on that…
DVD Copy – A second disc is included in the package, holding the standard DVD of the theatrical cut of the movie. It contains the movie presented in standard definition in an anamorphic 2.35:1 picture with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound in English, Spanish and French (448 kbps) as well as the English DVS track. The commentary and the appropriate featurettes are also included.
Digital Copy – Instructions are included in the packaging for downloading a digital copy of the movie to your laptop or portable device. The instructions include a deadline of March 13, 2012 for activation. I note that the pocket BLU online menu now also includes an option for downloading this copy.
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 Five, like the last film in the series is a thoroughly entertaining film, only this time it will appeal to people that have never been fans of the franchise. (And like the last film, its massive success in the theaters guarantees more adventures, starting with Fast Six in 2013.) Fans of the series or of Vin Diesel and The Rock will have a great time with this, and the new heist format will make the movie appealing to a whole lot of other people as well. This is a handsome Blu-ray package and I’m happy to recommend it for purchase.
October 2, 2011. (Revised on October 8 to add the Second Screen evaluation)