Note: For whatever reason, Universal Pictures decided to release Fast & Furious 6 on home video everywhere in the world in September...except the United States. This is a review of the UK's disc, which is completely region free and will play without any problems in a US Blu-Ray player. The US and UK editions should end up being identical (the press releases list the exact same extras), but the US edition will not hit stores until December 10th, 2013.
In 2009, after the box office fizzle of Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious made a surprise bid to bring the series back from the edge of DTV by reassembling the original crew. My excitement for this entry was high, but the movie fell flat, bogged down in overly-serious theatrics and a lack of practical car stunts. Predictably, this led me to miss Fast Five, an Ocean's-style action heist that corrected all of the previous chapter's mistakes. That film was a box office smash, and it quickly led to Furious 6, which jumps from Rio to Europe for the biggest film in the franchise.
Having successfully made off with $160m in cash, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew are lying low when Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), the DSS agent who was previously hired to arrest them, shows up and offers them a gig. Ruthless ex-British Special Forces soldier Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) has gone rogue. He and his team are making their way around the world, assembling a "nightshade" device, which would knockout a military communications grid for 24 hours. Hobbs needs drivers as good as Dom's to track and stop Shaw...not to mention the fact that one of Shaw's drivers is Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), last believed to be killed while working undercover for Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) in Braga's cartel (Fast & Furious).
Much like its predecessor, the pleasure of this Fast film is the way it manages to juggle the series' web of characters, most of which were introduced independently and without any plans to bring them together. The cast, which also includes Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster), Dom's sister and Brian's wife; tech-man Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges); loud-mouth driver Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson); Dom's Japanese friend Han (Sung Kang), currently smitten with Gisele (Gal Gadot), Braga's former operations manager; and Hobbs' new military partner Riley (Gina Carano), has a chemistry that helps every scene run smoothly. Exposition is elevated by comedy and charisma, and each member gets their own arc and chance to shine, a juggling act by screenwriter Chris Morgan that gets more impressive with each chapter. Sure, the movie harps on "family" a little too often, but even without the car chases, it's a fun team to spend time with, and Morgan consistently strikes a balance between serious and silly, such as in the film's big reunion between Letty and Dom in an empty parking lot, and the confrontation that follows.
Of course, this movie does have car chases, and oh, what chases they are. This movie has car chases on a scale that Fast Five's swinging bank vault heist doesn't even begin to hint at. Nearly an hour at the end of the film is made up of non-stop action, involving a tank going the wrong way down a crowded freeway, and the need for people in regular old Army jeeps to stop a two-ton plane from taking off. Sure, these scenes often bend credibility and realism for the sake of spectacle, but returning director Justin Lin bends over backward to use practical effects, and has an excellent sense of timing and build. Even watching the scenes for the fourth time, I found myself sucked into the build of the action yet again, which is fine-tuned for maximum crowd-pleasing ability (I actually forgot I wrote a review of the movie for DVDTalk already -- since then, my opinion of its re-watchability has significantly improved). Lin also throws in a number of fistfights, which move fast but offer more clarity and coherence than 90% of modern action sequences.
The Fast / Furious series has had its ups and downs. The original is a cheesy Point Break rip-off with CG-enhanced race sequences that bear more resemblance to Star Wars' hyperdrive sequences than actual street racing. What Justin Lin and Chris Morgan have done in tying the characters and universe together into a cohesive story while also setting the perfect tone is nothing short of a miracle, and the last two entries in the series are about as good as over-the-top action gets. For the next chapter, Lin is stepping aside for director James Wan, tackling his first major action movie, but Lin completes his trick by bringing the series full circle in a way that actually manages to elicit a bit of wistfulness at the progression of the series, before dropping an atom bomb of a cliffhanger during the credits. For pure fun and adrenaline, the picture can't be beat: Fast & Furious 6 is the movie of the summer.
The Extended Cut
As with Fast Five, it seems pretty clear that Justin Lin submitted his director's cut to the MPAA, made the requested changes for a PG-13, and this "extended cut" just restores the extremely minor differences between the two. There's definitely an extra bit with a shop worker who is interrogated by Gisele and Riley, an additional beat in the Letty / Riley subway fight, and possibly in the chaos that takes place in the airplane's cargo hold, but it only totals to about a minute of added material. (On the commentary, Lin notes that many of the changes involve sound design; the intensity of Brian's fistfight was muted in the theatrical version.) The mid-credits tag is also shifted in the long version, appearing after the cast credits instead of directly following the disclaimer. Both cuts of the film are included.
This UK edition of Fast & Furious 6 doesn't utilize the template that Universal has been using on the US artwork for the series so far, with the colored "car finish" borders. Instead, the UK edition gets a matte slipcover with one of the movie's posters on it, featuring a hole cut in the right spine for the Red Tab locking mechanism used on the extra-thick Blu-Ray case inside. The art looks nice, although it's a little distracting that the giant UltraViolet banner is not just on the slip but on the art itself, space that could've been used to more clearly detail the extra features. Oh, well. Those who use their digital copy codes and plan to import this title like I did should be aware that the UV code inside this package is only meant to be redeemed in the United Kingdom. There is also a steelbook version available as well, although the price difference may prove too much, considering the US edition will arrive in December with its own set of domestic steelbook opportunities.
The Video and Audio
Not surprisingly, Universal's 2.35:1 AVC 1080p video and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio are absolutely reference quality. Depth and fine detail are top-notch. Contrast is excellent, with rich black shadow detail. No banding or artifacting as far as I can tell. The only moment the transfer looks less than perfect is near the end, when heavy oranges appear a little unstable. The audio, meanwhile, captures every thunderous roar of car engines, every last tinkling piece of broken glass, and all the bassy rumbles of Lucas Vidal's score. Dialogue can occasionally feel a touch low in the mix among the sound effects and music (which are wonderfully immersive), but that could easily be my imagination. Surprisingly, the only other language options on this disc are an English Descriptive 2.0 track and English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing.
All of the extras on this disc are presented in HD.
An excellent package of extras kicks off with three very short deleted scenes (1:40). An extra character beat between Han and Gisele is nice, but none of these are of any serious consequence.
"Take Control" (19:18) is next, which appears to be an abandoned attempt at a Picture-in-Picture track, or at least the footage that was recorded exclusively for it (perhaps the finished product would've integrated the other extras). It's pretty awkward, with Lin, Diesel, Walker, and Rodriguez delivering unrehearsed reflections on the shoot. The most interesting bits include Rodriguez talking about her fight sequence with Carano, a shot of Vin Diesel's hilarious pre-viz CGI dummy, and a smidgen of behind-the-scenes footage of the movie's mid-credits tag. Car fans might also enjoy Walker geeking out over the film's vehicles.
The next few menu selections group together multiple featurettes under subject headings. The first is "The Making of Fast and Furious 6", which contains "The Fastest of Them All" (10:06), "Reuniting the Team" (7:34), "Letty's Return" (4:42), and "The Mastermind [redacted for spoilers]" (4:21). These bite-sized making-of documentaries are actually pleasingly comprehensive, taking a non-specific overview of the production from the perspective of Lin and his cast. Not only do these pack a decent amount of behind-the-scenes information in their short running times, but they also offer copious on-set footage of the cast and crew goofing around.
"Planes, Tanks, and Automobiles" is next, which includes "The London Chase" (7:56), "Highway Heist: Convoy Attack" (6:28), "The Antonov Takedown" (6:18), and "Dom and Letty Race Again" (3:35). These four pieces are really a love letter to the stuntmen and engineers who worked to bring the movie's mind-blowing action sequences to life. It also provides ample proof of Lin's commitment to practical effects, illustrating that a number of short moments that look a little "enhanced" in the actual movie were done for real, as well as showing off some angles (admittedly, mostly DV cameras for behind-the-scenes footage) that should've made the final cut, especially in the convoy attack sequence (why don't we actually get to see the tank flip over?). The "Antonov" featurette additionally touches on fistfight and green screen aspects of the sequence, and it's fun to hear the spectators cheering at Piccadilly Circus as the drivers blaze through.
"It's All About the Cars" includes "On the Set With Vin" (3:16), "Gearhead's Delight" (6:27), and "The Flip Car" (5:23). I'm not a car person, so I expected these to be less interesting than the other extras, but they're just as good. The first is a nervous look at Vin psyching himself up and performing a crucial car stunt involving explosions -- the only moment on the disc where he's less than goofy. The second considers the cars from a character perspective, explaining why each vehicle was selected for each character. It also provides another opportunity to see Paul Walker geeking out, just listening to a Mustang engine. Finally, there's a piece on the ramp car Shaw uses, and its ability to "crab" thanks to independent front and rear wheel control, as well as the glee the filmmakers shared upon learning the flip car actually works. Very cool.
The final video extra on the disc is "Hand to Hand Fury" (9:44), which is just a single featurette, covering all the martial arts. As with all of the stunt and car material, this again illustrates that Lin's focus is on character and how the fights help tell the story. It's chock-full of B-roll of the stuntmen working on their makeshift sets, and it's impressive to see Walker, Rodriguez, Gibson, Kang, and Evans rising to the challenge of their scenes.
The disc closes out with an audio commentary by director Justin Lin (only available on the Extended Version, which he refers to on the track as his "director's cut"). Amazingly, despite the wealth of behind-the-scenes footage on the disc, Lin does a really good job of covering topics not already detailed in the video extras, diving into his personal perspective on developing his last F&F movie, the challenges of juggling the extensive cast of characters, reducing the project from two movies to one, and general day-to-day anecdotes about his cast and crew (Tyrese is never awake in the morning; get his close-ups later). There is some overlap, but Lin always expands further than the short video pieces allow. Further bonus points for not packing the track with empty compliments for his cast and crew (not just a common commentary trope, but something he did throughout Fast Five's commentary). He's even candid in picking out a couple scenes that he feels are, to quote him, "bullshit." I think it would be nice if producer Vin Diesel joined in on one of these commentaries to add some banter (gaps in the conversation open up as the film draws to a close), but this is a very good track that highlights once again how committed Lin is to the characters and story, and making sure the films satisfy the series' most loyal fans.
A friend of mine on facebook suggested maybe Universal was delaying the release of this disc in the US so they can include a sneak peek at Fast & Furious 7. As of late November, it seems he was right, but other than that, the two discs are identical. For those who enjoyed the film, there's no real reason to wait until Christmastime: he best of the Fast / Furious series to date is accompanied by demo-worthy A/V and an even better selection of extras than Fast Five. Not everyone loves the series like I do, but as a fan, this Blu-Ray doesn't leave anything to be desired: it's an easy DVDTalk Collector's Series title.
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