Released just in time to coincide with the theatrical release of 2009's Fast & Furious (which brings Vin Diesel back), Universal's The Fast And The Furious Trilogy Blu-ray boxed set presents the three films in fantastic quality with a nice array of supplements that vary quite a bit in quality. But before we get to that, the movies...
The Fast And The Furious (2001):
The first movie in the series follows a gang leader named Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) who the F.B.I. suspect of being the man behind a series of hijackings and a massive ring of stolen electronics. In order to bring Dominic in, they send a police officer named Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker) in to go undercover and infiltrate the gang, who are heavily involved in the underground street racing scene.
Initially, O'Connor is keen on getting his man but once he gets to know Dominic as a person, he starts to believe that maybe he's not the guy behind the crimes after all. When O'Connor finds himself falling in love with Dominic's foxy sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster), he figures he can't let an innocent man take the fall and so he decides to prove the gang leader's innocence.
Short on plot but making up for it with copious amounts of ridiculous male posturing and car chases galore, The Fast And The Furious is a popcorn movie boiled down to its essence. The acting is iffy, the dialogue is ridiculous, the action is nonsensical and everything is completely over the top and the film is all the better for it. This isn't a film you watch for enlightenment or artistic value, this is a film you watch to see Vin Diesel drive around in a bad ass car with a few fight scenes and some hot chicks thrown in for good measure. This is a major studio big budget exploitation movie like the kind that Roger Corman would have made (and it's no surprise that the movie cribbed its title from a low budget 1955 film that Corman produced so the resemblance is at least partially intentional), albeit with a whole lot more spit and polish evident up there on the screen.
Vin Diesel, fresh off his career making turn as Riddick in Pitch Black oozes tough guy/leading man machismo in this film and really, he's not so much 'good' in this movie as he is 'cool' but he's the perfect guy for the part. His developing relationship with Paul Walker works and serves the basic backbone of the film, allowing for some decent back and forth between the two men when they aren't ripping through the streets at 140mph. The rest of the cast are pretty disposable, though Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster make for ample eye candy.
Why you'll really want to check this one out, however, is for the stunt work. A couple of fight scenes are exciting and well choreographed but it's the race scenes and stunt driving that really impresses here. Yeah, some of the scene had some help from the CGI department and are a little too glossy for their own good but this movie has some killer car chases in it. The film is well edited and flashy as flashy can be, meaning that even during the slower parts it looks slick and tricks you into thinking that things are more exciting than they really are. It works - this is ridiculous entertainment, but a really fun ride regardless.
2 Fast 2 Furious (2003):
After the impressive box office success of the first film, it made sense that Universal would want to crank out a sequel, and thus was born 2 Fast, 2 Furious. Rob Cohen was replaced by John Singleton and Vin Diesel was nowhere to be seen.
Picking up somewhere after the first film left off, we once again join up with Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker) who has quit his position at the Los Angeles Police Department over his involvement in illegal activities. With his life as a cop behind him, Brian is hanging out making a decent enough living as a street racer, though this doesn't win him any favors with the local law enforcement types. A curvy customs agent named Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes) is keeping an eye on him and eventually he's picked up by the cops. The Feds decide to make Brian an offer. Two officers, Markham (James Remar) and Bilkins (Thom Barry) convince him to go undercover the way he did in the first film, this time to try and infiltrate a narcotics smuggling organization run by Carter Verone (Cole Hauser) - if he can do this, they'll make his criminal record magically disappear.
Brian agrees, but he has one condition - he wants his pal Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibbons) to back him on this mission, and he wants Roman to have his criminal past erased as well. With the deal in place, the two work with Monica to bring Verone down and win their freedom.
While this sequel manages to coast off of the recipe for the first picture's success (that being hot chicks, fast cars, and mindless action) it lacks the 'cool' that Vin Diesel brought to the first picture. Walker does a decent enough job carrying things on his own and the camaraderie between his character and the one played by Tyrese Gibbons is amiable enough, but it's an even emptier picture than the first one and without Diesel's charisma, the film falters. That said, there are plenty of hot chicks, fast cars and scenes of mindless action to be had, and a gratuitous appearance from hip hop artist Ludicris (who is actually pretty good here) as well, ensuring that the movie is at least slick looking, but it's not nearly as fun as the first movie.
The biggest problem with the picture is that the racing and driving scenes don't pack the same punch as the first (and third) movie and they're just flat out ridiculous in terms of asking us to suspend our disbelief. Anyone with even the most basic knowledge of physics and mechanics will clue in very quickly that the cars in this movie are doing things that are flat out impossible. The first film pushed it a bit, sure, but never so far that it took us out of the film - this one does. On top of that, a lot of the racing scenes are padded out by shot after shot of speedometer needles and gear shifters, to the point where you could probably make a really good drinking game out of it.
The plot is thin and far too similar to that in the first movie, and on top of that, the acting is hammy and feels forced. The dialogue is contrived and ridiculous to the point of surrealism and the soundtrack is a prime example of 'too much.' That said, fans probably would have overlooked this had it delivered enough in the action and racing departments respectively and while this film does have a couple of fun moments, they're too few and far between, making this the weakest of the trilogy by a very wide margin.
The Fast And The Furious - Tokyo Drift (2006):
When this third movie begins, a southern boy named Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) is racing against the token big dumb jock at his high school. The prize? The cute blonde who hangs off the dumb jock's arm. Sean beats him but not without trashing half of a construction yard and his own car in the process which lands him in some hot water with the cops. Rather than have him do hard time, his mother ships him off to Japan where he's to live with his father who has been stationed there for the last fifteen years or so. Sean's dad makes it perfectly clear - if he's going to stay under his roof he's going to live by his rules which means he won't be cutting class and he won't be going anywhere near a car.
Of course, Sean has a bit of culture shock to deal with as Japan is a very different place than the United States but on his first day at school he hooks up with a con named Twinkie (Bow Wow) who introduces him to the world of drift racing - a form of street racing where the participants are able to make hair pin turns but using the hand break. Sean's challenged to a race by D. K. (Brian Tee) and is promptly handed his ass on a platter. He looses big time and he trashes the car that was loaned to him by Han (Sung Kang). Han takes him under his wing and gives him a job all the while Neela (Nathalie Kelley), D.K.'s girlfriend, is making eyes at him. When D. K. finds out that they've been hanging out, all hell breaks loose and he makes it his mission to take Sean down no matter who gets in the way. He's even got an uncle in the Yakuza (the immortal Sonny Chiba) to help him out. When his uncle points out to D. K. that Han has been stealing from him, it really hits the fan and there will be only one way to settle things - with a race!
While there's very little in character development and the storyline is pretty much completely predictable this is never the less a fun movie. It's not a great movie or even a really good movie in the artistic sense but it's very entertaining with some genuinely exciting racing sequences and a likeable lead character. Lucas Black is actually quite good as Sean Boswell and while he isn't given a whole lot to do in terms of stretching as an actor he suits the material just fine and his on screen chemistry with Bow Wow, as hard as it is to admit this, is honestly kind of endearing. These aren't Oscar winning performances by any stretch but they certainly get the job done and Brian Tee and Sung Kang do quite well with their parts as well. Sonny Chiba nails his role as the wise and powerful Yakuza character though he's sorely underused here and having him in a larger role would have been a plus - regardless, it's nice to see him here in a major Hollywood movie.
The real reason to watch this movie, however, is the car racing scenes. There's refreshingly nice lack of CGI enhancement in this movie which makes these scenes more exciting as they feel more like the real thing and less like cartoons. It's also interesting to see the smaller and completely customized cars used for the races here as opposed to the more popular American muscle cars that we usually see. The last two major set pieces - one a race through the heart of Tokyo and the other a race down a steep and curvy mountain road - are shot really well and will keep you on the edge of your set.
In the end, the movie is completely and utterly predictable and the characters fairly one dimensional but the movie moves at a very fast pace and the good guys are likeable enough that The Fast And The Furious - Tokyo Drift is worth checking out. It's not a modern classic but it shows promise for its cast and director and as far as mainstream popcorn movies go, it makes for a good time even if you're probably not going to go back to it time and time again.
The Blu-ray Discs:
Each of the three movies in this collection is presented in 1080p encoded 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen and in short, they look fantastic. The first film is a VC-1 encode, the two sequels are AVC. The colors are incredibly vivid, popping off the screen without ever looking overcooked or bleeding, though you do have to keep in mind that each of these films had some post production tweaking and filtering done to them to create a certain effect - and that effect is carried over to home video. Black levels are nice and strong throughout and shadow detail is impressive on each of the three films in the collection. Skin tones look nice and lifelike and the detail levels are fantastic throughout each movie not only in the close up shots but in the medium and far away shots as well. These films have a lot of fast movement but even during those scenes, the picture remains stable, never breaking up or showing any evidence of mpeg compression or macro blocking. Edge enhancement is never an issue and the three films are almost entirely free of any print damage. Some mild grain is present here and there, but that's not a bad thing at all, as it's never distracting or irritating. Even scenes such as the construction site race at the beginning of the third movie, where there is a lot of dust and dirt in the air, look really good. This is a well encoded set authored from what was obviously some very strong source material. The movies look great.
Universal has gone for English language 24-bit 48 kHz DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks across the board for this set, with optional standard definition DTS 5.1 Surround Sound tracks provided in French and Spanish and removable subtitles available in English SDH, French and Spanish.
As good as the movies look, they sound even better. The surrounds are used very effectively, from the ambient background noise of the more dramatic scenes to the energetic score used for dramatic effect to the revving engines and squealing breaks of the street racing scenes. There are directional effects galore used throughout each movie and you'll be able to pick out each one. The levels are properly balanced and the incredibly tight and bouncy bass response provides a very welcome and appropriate lower end that can really envelope your sound system during certain key scenes. Dialogue stays clean and clear and easy enough to follow, it's never overshadowed by the effects, and really, this is reference quality material - the three films in this set films sound insanely good.
It makes sense that the extras are spread across the three Blu-ray discs in this set. Here's a look at what you'll find and where you'll find it.
The Fast And The Furious:
The extras for the first movie in the set kick off with a commentary track from director Rob Cohen. This is a rock solid scene specific examination of the movie from the director's point of view and it provides a really good 'top down' look at what went into making this picture. You can watch this as a standard audio commentary or as a picture-in-picture track that, when an icon appears on the screen, allows you access footage further detailing whatever it is that Rob happens to be talking about at any given time. At any rate, Rob covers what it was like bringing this project in from start to finish, makes some interesting comparisons to other movies, and talks about casting, shooting stunts, and about the film's unique look. It's a very in-depth track, with not a minute or wasted time.
The featurettes start with the all new Dom's Charger (HD), which is a neat four minute look under the hood of the car the Vin Diesel drives in the film. There's some great vintage footage of the car in here as well as some fairly fluffy and brief cast and crew interviews. Also new to this release is Quarter Mile At A Time (HD), a ten minute examination of real world street racing, looking at where and why people get involved in this pretty dangerous sport. Experts and drivers are interviewed here and it's actually pretty interesting stuff.
The Fast And The Furious Video Mash Up (HD) is a strange interactive feature that allows you to monkey around with a few clips from the film, change the music, alter the timing, and more or less make your own alternate (and abbreviated) cut of the movie. It's probably not something that you'll spend a lot of time with but it's interesting to play with the technology.
Also found on this disc are a selection of eight Deleted Scenes (SD) that total about six minutes in length. Cohen provides an optional introduction and commentary that explains why this material was taken out of the finished version of the film. This is worth going through to check out some of the excised race bits.
The Making Of The Fast And The Furious (SD) is an eighteen minute behind the scenes/interview montage that features most of the core cast and crew members on set and sitting in front of the camera to talk about their experiences on the film. It's pretty flat, very promotional feeling and without a whole lot of substance to it, but some of the interviews are amusing enough, particularly those that lean towards the technical side of things and that discuss the stunt work.
Tricking Out A Hot Import Car is a twenty minute featurette hosted by comely Playboy Playmate Dalene Kurtis and movie stunt guru Craig Lieberman. Kurtis is more fun to look at but Lieberman has more to offer from a technical perspective as the pair (well, Lieberman, really) explain how various cars were altered and changed for use in the film.
Multiple Camera Angle Stunt Sequence (SD) is a quick, one minute that, as the title explains, shows us two different camera angles for some of the film's impressive stunt work. This gives us an alternate perspective on how these stunts played out and is actually fairly interesting and worth checking out. Similar is the four minute Movie Magic Interactive Special Effects (SD) bit which includes dissections of three different key scenes in the film, showing how they look with and without post production effects work applied to them. One of the most interesting extras on this release is the Featurette On Editing For The Motion Picture Association Of America (SD) which is a five minute piece in which Rob Cohen and editor Peter Honess explain what had to be changed and edited to get the film a PG-13 rating for when it played in theaters. Getting a director's input on how the MPAA's standards can effect his vision and learning what has to be done sometimes to secure that rating makes for interesting viewing.
The Visual Effects Montage (SD) is pretty useless - it's really simply a few minutes of bad techno music over top of some footage showing us what things looked like with and without added CGI tweaking.
Rounding out the extras are a brief Paul Walker Public Service Announcement (SD) encouraging us to drive safely, three Music Videos (all in SD), a Sneak Peak At 2 Fast 2 Furious (SD, basically a commercial), a five minute Turbo-Charged Prelude To 2 Fast 2 Furious (SD) and the original Theatrical Trailers (HD). The U-Control functionality allows access to vehicle specs and a picture-in-picture track during playback.
2 Fast 2 Furious:
The extras start off with a feature length commentary from director John Singleton. This is a surprisingly good track that features a pretty animated talk from the man who made the movie, as he discusses what he likes about the movie and what he does feel worked so well. He talks about casting the film, following up the original, working with the actors and actresses in the picture and about some of the specific difficulties he encountered while shooting some of the race scenes. Singleton gets pretty detailed and does a good job explaining his side of the story, even if there are a few dreaded moments of awkward silence where maybe the addition of a moderator would have helped a bit.
Fast Females (HD) is a new eight minute featurette that gives us the low down on each one of the female characters in each one of the movies in the series, including the new film. It's pretty promotional in nature but it's funny to watch in a roundabout sort of way as the participants discuss how important these characters are to the films, when in reality, let's face it, they're eye candy.
Hollywood Impact (HD) is another new featurette that examines just where these movies fight in amongst the countless other action movies that hit the screens every year. Leonard Martin and Joel Stein show up to talk about how much they like these films and why as do a few of the people who worked on the pictures. Watching some of the film critics talk with great serious intent about these movies is rather amusing and makes this otherwise fairly promotional thirteen minutes of back-patting quite watchable.
The Prelude To 2 Fast 2 Furious (HD) is basically a three minute bit where Paul Walker drives around in his car that supposedly serves as a link between this film and its predecessor. It's not particularly interesting but it's nice to see it included here in high definition. Also found on the disc are three minutes worth of Deleted Scenes (SD) and a couple of minutes of Outtakes (SD). Director John Singleton and editor Bruce Cannon explain why the deleted scenes were taken out of the movie in an introduction and the material is in rough shape with time code on top of it. None of this material is all that interesting, most of it is just longer versions of scenes that were used in the final cut of the film.
Up next are some brief featurettes starting with Inside 2 Fast 2 Furious (SD) is nine minutes of behind the scenes footage and interviews that does manage to offer up some interesting footage shot on set while the film was in production. It's too short to offer a whole lot of substance but if you dug the movie, this is worth a watch. Actors Driving School (SD) is a look at how the three core actors trained to be able to handle the cars in a realistic manner for their roles in the films while Tricking Out A Hot Import Car (SD), which was on the first disc, is repeated here again for some reason. The Supercharged Stunts (SD) section gives us five minutes or so worth of 'how'd they do that?' footage showing off what went in to creating the impressive stunt scenes that we see in the finished movie. Making Music With Ludacris (SD) is just what it sounds like, a quick peak at the man's contribution to the soundtrack and how he created it, and the Actor Spotlights (SD) section contains quick interviews with Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibbons and Devon Aoki, all of whom seem to have enjoyed working on the picture. The Car Spotlights (SD) section gives us some information on three vehicles used in the film while the Furious Afterburners (SD) includes two segments: The Derby Scene Extension and Verone, Whitworth And Monica At The House, neither of which add much of anything to the finished movie.
Rounding out the extras are some animated menus and chapter stops. The Blu-ray exclusive U-Control functionality on this release allows you to access storyboards or access technical specs about each of the vehicles seen in the movie as well as an Animated Anecdotes P-I-P track that, in a scene specific style, shares a few amusing stories about the making of the movie as it plays out. The trailer for the film is not included on the Blu-ray disc for some reason.
The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift
First up, in terms of supplements, is a feature length commentary track with the director of the film, Justin Lin. The director comes across as a genuinely nice guy who was very appreciative of the chance he was given to work on the film and for the cast and crew who he had alongside with him the entire time. Throughout the talk he covers quite a bit of detail regarding the stunt driving, the casting decisions that he had to make, and a lot of the location shooting. He covers what was shot overseas and what was shot in L.A., and talks about how some of the more impressive shots were coordinated.
The Making Of The Fast Franchise (HD) is a seventeen minute featurette that is basically a bunch of EPK clips and movie clips put together to form a new documentary that isn't really all that interesting. That said, there are some interview bits in here that do shed some light on the history of the movies in the series - but there's not much here that isn't covered in the other supplements or the commentary tracks.
Drift: A Sideways Craze (HD) is an hour long featurette that explores the real life science behind the drifting seen in the movie, and you know what? It's awesome. This is really interesting stuff and it's pretty cool to get to see how certain Japanese racers have gone to school to learn how to master this form of racing and actually see it in action outside the context of a very fictional movie. We learn how and where this trend started and talk to some of the pioneers of the fad and we see how it's taken off in California and in Tokyo. This is presented with a nice standard definition DTS 5.1 track and it's quite literally the best extra in the entire set.
Up next are a series of Deleted Scenes (SD) that for once probably could have been left in the movie as they provide some nice moments of character development which would have helped out the weakest part of the movie. Justin Lin provides optional commentary for each of these scenes which explains why they were taken out of the finished version of the movie.
From there we move on to a series of featurettes starting with Drifting School (SD) which is an amusing look at the key cast members trying to master the drifting technique that is used throughout the movie. Throughout this training we see them take a few different lessons but none of them really excel at it. Regardless, at least through this featurette we can gain an appreciation of how difficult drifting probably is.
Up next is Cast Cam (HD) which is little more than some random behind the scenes shot by various cast and crew members while the film was in production. There's really no narrative here which makes it little more than random images and it doesn't add a whole lot to the package. The next featurette is The Big Breakdown: Han's Last Ride (HD) which is a break down of how the chase through the middle of downtown Tokyo was put together using CGI and real stunt driving. This is a pretty interesting piece and if you're at all interested in racing or in special effects and stunt work it's worth watching. Tricked Out To Drift (HD) is another interesting segment that gives us some information on each of the main cars that was used in the film and how the director and the designers of the film tried to match the cars to the characters (for example, Bow Wow drives a Hulk car which is flashy and loud much like his character whereas Han has a slick, subtle car that is plenty fast and very efficient).
Welcome To Drifting (SD) is a six minute featurette that regurgitates a lot of what we learned in the more comprehensive documentary already covered. It does feature some cool behind the scenes footage and a couple of cast interviews, but it's pretty superficial. It's presented in SD. The next featurette, The Real Drift King (HD), is a look at the life of Keiichi Tsuchiya who is, as the title infers, the real drift king. We get a chance to see some footage of him in action and it's interesting to see who the culture of street racing has been affected by his style.
The few less substantial extras which round out the package include Custom-Made Drifter (which allows you to use an interactive program to design you own car), animated menus and chapter stops. The last featurette is The Japanese Way (HD) and it covers what it was like for a primarily American crew to shoot outside the Hollywood system for the scenes that were done in Japan and some of the issues that they ran into while doing this. Also included is a music video by Don Omar for the song Conteo (SD), as well as animated menus and chapter stops. The Blu-ray exclusive U-Control functionality on this release allows you to access storyboards, turn on a GPS and follow the action around the city, or access technical specs about each of the vehicles seen in the movie.
The three Blu-ray discs are all Blu-ray Live 2.0 compatible and D-Box Motion Code enabled. Universal's My Scenes functionality, which is a fancy bookmarking system, is also built into each disc. Each movie also includes a second disc which contains a digital copy.
Turn off your brain, turn out the lights and turn up the volume - these three films aren't exactly 'smart cinema' but they are big dumb fun and Universal has done an exceptional job on the audio and the video in addition to porting over most of the extra features from the HD-DVD/standard definition releases that these films have seen over the years. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.