The Fast and the Furious (Collector's Edition) Review
The Fast and the Furious was a substantial hit on its release in America last year, easily recouping several times its comparatively low budget ($38 million). This led to it being heralded as a sleeper of sorts, with its success contrasted against the comparative failure of far bigger-budgeted films such as Tomb Raider and Pearl Harbor; however, its success is also down to its cynical and simplistic pandering to its audience, which has the unfortunate attempt of draining any artistic merit from it. Of course, there are certain compensating factors, such as the exhilarating action scenes.
The plot is essentially Point Break transplanted to the world of racing. Brian O'Connor (Walker) is an undercover detective (this might be a twist, were it not for the fact that the DVD box gives it away) who infiltrates a gang of possible thieves-cum- race addicts, as led by Dominic (Diesel) and his girlfriend Letty (Rodriguez). There are car races, a romantic subplot between O'Connor and Diesel's sister (Brewster), the occasional spot of gunplay, courtesy of a gang of sinister Asian villains, and little else.
There are two ways to look at a film like this. The first, and most charitable, is that it's never pretending to be great art of any sort, and that it works very well as a summer blockbuster. The various action scenes are breathtakingly good, conveying a real sense of speed and danger; it helps that CGI use is kept to a minimum, with the occasional touches neither too gimmicky or especially intrusive. Certainly, the film is about as blatant an advert for the glories of driving fast cars at ludicrously breakneck speeds as has ever been made (despite the po-faced public service announcement that precedes the film), and is something of a guilty pleasure as a result.
The other way of looking at the film is that it is almost a Zen experience; it flashes past in a riot of sound and fury, all of which signifies nothing ultimately. The characters are not unsympathetic, but merely uninteresting; we know little about them at the start of the film, and know little more by the end of the film. For some strange reason, the major action scenes occur in the first and last 20 minutes of the film, leaving a void in the middle where remarkably little really happens. Cohen has the unenviable reputation of having directed turkey after turkey before this, with the Stallone failure Daylight and the absurd The Skulls two of the worst, and, although his direction is far more assured here, he still doesn't appear to understand the mechanics of a storyline.
However, the film is rescued by the superb performance of Vin Diesel. Effortlessly stealing the film with assured grace, he combines charisma, intelligence and, ultimately, dignity in a role that is lifted above the potentially cliched by his ability. He has been tipped as 'the next big thing' in countless reviews, based mainly on his work in this and the rather tedious Pitch Black; on this evidence, those predicting great things for him might well be right. Certainly well worth a look as a brainless Saturday night rental, although its real strengths are...
Universal have provided the film with a beautiful anamorphic transfer, which genuinely is a wonder to behold. There is no evidence of grain, edge enhancement or any print damage, and colours are vivid, bold and bright, perfectly suiting the frequently garish look of the film. A flawless transfer, and one to show off as a test disc.
A superbly dynamic soundtrack is on the disc, whether the DTS or Dolby track; both manage to make the action scenes seem far more exciting than they would otherwise, by constant and aggressive use of the surround effects, combining to a genuinely you-are-there feeling, which is remarkably rare on DVD soundtracks, despite how brilliantly clear many are. Again, this will be a magnificent test disc.
Universal can always be relied upon to have a set of extras which, although plentiful, will never be genuinely innovative, consisting of the same old mix of commentaries by B-list directors, tiresome deleted scenes, and back-slapping featurettes. The special features here are no exception. The commentary is more amusing than you would imagine- Cohen has a surprisingly dry sense of humour- but it's an ultimately redundant experience to watch it over such a dynamic soundtrack. The making-of featurette is the usual 'I play...' rubbish, and the deleted scenes are too short to be of any real interest.
Things pick up somewhat with the more original extras. There's a text article on street racers, which inspired the film, which is a brief but interesting read, and there are some good features on the special effects (where it's interesting to see how much was actually done for real.) There's a short but diverting feature showing how part of the film was edited to avoid an R rating, in particular removing an especially vile shot, and then the usual round of music videos, storyboards, trailers and cast notes round out a set which is, ultimately, a triumph of quantity over quality.
A fun but empty film is presented on a technically flawless disc, with a large assortment of fairly vapid extras. It may well become many people's next test disc, and it's probably a better bet to buy or rent than some of the worse discs out there; all the same, it's not the action classic that Cohen or its admirers would probably describe it as.