Director Rob Cohen has always ended up on my list of favorite directors. I wouldn't call really any of his movies outstanding, but he simply knows how to make strong popcorn movies - to make something out of material that might otherwise be mediocre on the page. Ok, so he wasn't able to make anything out of his last picture ("The Skulls"), but in all honesty, nobody could have done anything with that. His two before ("Daylight" and "Dragonheart") both ended up being fun, entertaining adventures. "Daylight" even provided Stallone with one of his better recent characters.
"Fast and the Furious" is another example of Cohen's talent of taking slight material and making something more out of it - another good "B" movie. Unfortunately, Cohen is reunited with "Skulls" star Paul Walker here, who looks like a Backstreet Boy reject and talks like Keanu Reeves in the "Bill and Ted" era, but the rest of the movie thankfully makes up for this inclusion. Walker plays Brian, who visits a run-down dinner every day to visit with Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster). Usually only her car mechanic brother Dominic (Vin Diesel) and his crew Vince (Matt Schulze), Leon (Johnny Strong), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and the dyslexic Jesse (Chad Lindberg) eat there. Dominic is also buying car parts under the counter from Brian's boss to outfit his cars with, including NOS (in other words, Nitro - a dangerous and potentially explosive element used to give the car an added boost of speed at the right time.).
Brian doesn't simply have an interest in fast cars, though. He's more interested in finding the car group that's been responsible for hijacking trucks (they steal Panasonic DVD players). Brian thinks that it's either Dominic's group or a rival gang. Which is the real culprit is up in the air till towards the end of the picture.
"Fast and the Furious" delivers exactly what I would expect from a "Summer" popcorn movie. There's plenty of action, especially during both the opening and closing sequences - when there isn't action, there's certainly intensity and tension, especially provided by Diesel, who brings the same threatening presence that he brought to "Pitch Black". Brewster is also enjoyable as Dominic's sister, but the little romance that she has with Walker's character is obviously edited down to the bare essentials due to the PG-13 rating - there's so little to this element that it really could have been taken out of the picture. Michelle Rodriguez, who was so fantastic in "Girlfight", isn't really used much here, but she does get to knock out a bad guy with one punch, which caused the audience to errupt in cheers.
Technically, Cohen has also delivered a terrific experience. Supervising sound editor Jay Nierenberg, sound designer Tim Watson and crew were given the direction to really provide the audio experience of what it would be like to be in these cars going 150 mph plus. This generally seemed to be accomplished, but I think this would be even more effective in a near-field environment - in other words, in a home theater watching the film on DVD. The sound also uses the film's soundtrack to maximum effect, as the rap and metal provides some seat-shaking bass and generally helps to keep the film's energy going.
The movie flys over the cracks in plot so quickly that we're onwards to the next race or event before we're even allowed to ponder the questionable actions of the characters. It's certainly nothing outstanding, but it's at least highly entertaining and well-crafted, and that's more than a lot of "Summer" movies have provided this season. And, after the movie, as Bill Murray said in "Groundhog Day", "don't drive angry." (note: there is also a PSA about the film's driving sequences before the picture on this DVD, discussing how professionals (and only professionals) should perform these kinds of stunts.
VIDEO: "Fast and the Furious" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Ericson Core's steely, slick and gorgeous cinematography is presented to absolute perfection on this transfer. In fact, I'd certainly say that this is one of the best presentations I've seen in a while, in terms of image quality. Sharpness and detail are superb, as the picture presents superior detail and remains exceptionally well-defined throughout, appearing "film-like" and boasting strong depth to the image. This is simply a reference quality picture.
I looked for flaws and found a very hard time finding any whatsoever. The film is without print flaws - I didn't see any specks or light grit, even. No pixelation was noticed, but I did see some very tiny instances of edge enhancement once or twice. Still, what few extremely minimal concerns I had here were hardly an issue. Colors looked spectacular, appearing deep, rich and vibrant, with no smearing or other flaws at all. Black level remained strong and flesh tones natural. This is really Universal's best effort in quite some time.
SOUND: "Fast and the Furious" is presented in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. The more the years pass, the more and more exceptional sound presentations become. We have been presented with several outstanding releases in the past few years, including the king-of-all, in my opinion ("U-571"). Sound designers are attempting to take the level of excitement up a notch and "Fast and the Furious" is a prime example of a truly state-of-the-art sound experience.
Almost remarkably agressive, the film's soundtrack is fiercely dynamic and powerful; the room nearly shakes throughout - when there isn't action on-screen, the film's score/music is presented as an absolute wall-to-wall assault, with elements of the score often directed to the rear speakers. The presence of the music in the room is often nothing short of electrifying, really pushing the film's energy even further. Amazingly, the score/music maintains such an exceptionally major presence in the listening space while still keeping nicely balanced with everything else.
Oh, but when the action starts... Director Rob Cohen really wanted the sound designers to put the audience in the middle of the action and you certainly feel as if you're directly in the middle during the racing sequences, which are simply thunderous and use the surrounds to absolute perfection. Even in the film's few quiet, subtle moments, there's some nice, light ambience in the surrounds, as well.
Audio quality is breathtaking, as the film's score/music, effects and dialogue all came through with superior clarity and warmth. Bass is also quite extraordinary at times, as the soundtrack provides some astonishing rumbles throughout. This is definitely one of those audio presentations that will wake the neighbors - it seemed particularly loud even at low volume.
As I'd predicted in the film review, I felt this soundtrack was a bit more enjoyable on the DVD than I did in the theater. The DTS soundtrack provided stronger clarity and detail as well as deeper, richer bass. The film's audio won't unseat "U-571" as my favorite, but it's really an incredible effort that's highly entertaining.
MENUS: Beautifully animated main menu, with flashy photography of streets at night in the background. Cool animated transitions, as well.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Rob Cohen, who is certainly no stranger to providing discussions for his films; I believe he has now provided one for nearly every one of his pictures. As per usual, Cohen is an energetic speaker who provides an enjoyable balance between low-key discussion of the story, characters and working with the actors and discussion of the film's production obstacles, technical details and style/atmosphere. Cohen occasionally slips into simple background discussion and story details and pauses for a bit of silence here and there, but overall, I found this to be an enjoyable track. Also, look for the Cohen cameo in the picture before the race.
Multi-Angle Stunt Sequence: The film's final stunt sequence was captured with eight different cameras. In this section, you can watch the viewpoint from any one of those eight cameras by choosing which camera from the menu. It would have been nice if there was the ability to flip between the different shots instead of waiting till one is over (or have four up on-screen, then the other four, etc.) before seeing the other one, but this is still a very neat feature. Note: interestingly enough, after I discuss about how it would have been nice if these angles were combined somehow, I find an easter egg on the first special features menu that seems to combine at least most of them into a montage.
Featurette On Editing for the MPAA: As we all know, films often have to go through more than one cut for the MPAA to either attain their PG-13 or R rating. Often, these are absurd (one too many seconds of this, one too many uses of that). This featurette shows director Rob Cohen and the editor going through a sequence in the picture and removing very slight instances here and there, then seeing how it looks. It's a very interesting feature and well-worth viewing to understand what directors really have to go through to get the rating that they or, more often the studio, desire.
"Making Of": Usually, Universal Studios provides "Spotlight On Location" featurettes that either can take a somewhat superficial look at the production of a film or provide an informative look at the production. Interestingly enough, this isn't indicated as a "Spotlight" presentation. It's definitely above-average in comparison to most of the usual "production documentaries" that end up on DVD, able to nicely integrate some of the film's story and promotional elements with some interesting and informative production information - we do get to see a lot of nice behind-the-scenes footage and find out more about the stunts and other elements. Well-worth a view and about 18 minutes.
Deleted Scenes: There are 8 deleted scenes included, with optional director's commentary from Rob Cohen. Pleasantly, a voice-over from Cohen plays behind the "deleted scenes" menu, as he explains his thoughts about taking scenes out of his films and watching them take shape. The scenes themselves are okay on their own here, but not really needed in the picture itself; they would have simply slowed the pace.
Movie Magic: This section offers three sequences and their visual effects elements; it's always nice to see the "before and after" of these kind of things.
Visual Effects Montage: Running under the same catagory, this is a 3 minute and 45 second montage of various effects footage, before and after shots, storyboards, blue-screen and several other elements.
Storyboard-to-Final Comparison: There are separate storyboards and storyboard-to-scene comparisons for "the First Race" and "the Final Stunt".
Music Videos: "Furious", by Ja Rule; "POV City Anthem" by Caddillac Tah and "Click Click Boom" by Saliva. A soundtrack promo can also be found in this section.
Music Highlights: Jump to a clip of music from the movie.
Theatrical Trailer: The film's trailer, in 1.85:1 and Dolby Digital 5.1.
Also: Production notes, cast/crew bios, recommendations, DVD newsletter, promotional offers, DVD-ROM material including interactive game demo, web-links and more. Also included on the DVD-Video portion is "Racer X", the original article that inspired the movie.
Final Thoughts: I actually liked "Fast and the Furious" even more the second time around; it's not a particularly substancial picture, but it's got fairly strong characters, (mostly) good acting and is particularly well-crafted, with some superb action. Universal's DVD edition provides fantastic, reference-quality audio and video, along with some fine supplemental material. This is a must-see disc - a really outstanding DVD presentation and a fun, entertaining film.