The Fast And The Furious

The Fast And The Furious (2001)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Music Videos, Editing Demo, Theatrical Trailer, Production Notes, Cast & Crew, Storyboards

Writing a review for a new DVD is usually divided into three components; A) What is the film about?, B) Is the film any good?, and C) Is the DVD itself worth checking out? Typically, the A) What is the film about? section is the easiest part of the review to write, as it is objective (unless we’re talking about a David Lynch film) and the other two portions are subjective. But, there can be a challenged involved if the film in question doesn’t know what it wants to be about. Then the description can get tricky. Such is the case with "The Fast and the Furious", which races onto DVD from Universal Home Video.

"The Fast and the Furious" opens with a daring heist, as an 18-wheeler is robbed, in transit, by a group of thieves driving three small cars. The scene then changes to a more tranquil setting, as we are introduced to Brian (Paul Walker), a young man who is interested in entering the world of illegal street racing. As a newcomer, he is rebuffed by the veteran racers, but when he helps expert driver Dominic (Vin Diesel) elude the police, he is taken into the fold. Brian, who is already employed at a racing supply store, begins to learn the ins-and-outs of street racing, but also becomes very interested in Dominic’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster). It is also made clear to Brian that the races are taken very seriously, and there is always the possibility of a turf war.

(SPOILER WARNING!: The information about to be revealed is actually mentioned on the back of the DVD box, but it could ruin one of the film’s plot twists.) To his new friends, Brian is simply a nice guy who wants to race cars. But, he is actually an undercover police officer, whose job is to discover the culprits behind the rash of truck robberies. The police and the FBI are convinced that the criminals are connected to street racing, and Brian must sniff out the bandits. Now, Brian must protect his secret identity and determine which of his new compatriots he can truly trust. (END SPOILER WARNING!)

If "The Fast and The Furious" has been solely about street racing (as was the Vibe Magazine article which inspired the film — more on that later), it could have been a good movie. What we have instead is a film which is all over the place, trying to tackle too many subjects at once. The movie isn’t really about racing, nor a criminal investigation, nor romance, nor friendship. It simply checks in on each of these topics from time-to-time to insure that the audience is following along. What this does is create an apathy towards each of the plotlines. A film about street racing, with a little "West Side Story"-esque forbidden romance thrown in may have been very interesting. The racing angle and its competitive nature is very intriguing, but we learn little about it. Instead, we get Vin Diesel spouting bumper-stick wisdom with hilarious lines like "I live life a quarter-mile at a time." To this lack of story, add the pedestrian directing abilities of Rob Cohen (who appears to be channeling David Fincher quite a bit in the film) and the result is a huge missed opportunity.

To it’s credit, "The Fast and the Furious" does feature some spectacular driving scenes, and this is most likely what drew so many to the theatre to view this film. There are several race scenes featuring these "rice rocket" cars (as they are referred to in the production notes) and each is very well shot. Even more impressive are the precision stunt driving skills on display on the truck-heist scenes. These scenes, in which the Honda Civics swoop back-and-forth underneath the big rig, are exciting and represent the high-point of this otherwise lackluster film.

"The Fast and the Furious" DVD from Universal Home Video offers a carload of quality features. The film has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 2.35:1 and the transfer is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TVs. This represents another near-pristine transfer from Universal, as the image here shows few flaws. In the daytime scenes, there is very little grain and the image is quite sharp and clear. At night, a slight edge enhancement halo can be seen at the bottom of the screen, but this is nearly negligible. There once incident of the image shimmering, but it is very brief. Otherwise, the picture is free from distortion, noise, or any artifacting. The colors are vibrant and true, with the fleshtones looking especially good. This transfer is a clear winner.

The audio department scores big as well on this DVD. This disc offers both a <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 track and a <$DTS,DTS> 5.1 track. Both offer clear and audible dialogue, with no hissing, which is to be expected. But, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The consistency of the surround sound effects and the power of the bass response on both tracks is quite impressive. This audio power certainly lends an air of realism to the racing scenes. The DTS track shows a slighter wider sound field, but otherwise the tracks are very similar in quality. And that quality shows through in most every scene of the film.

The first special feature on "The Fast and the Furious" DVD is an <$commentary,audio commentary> with director Rob Cohen. This is a fairly good commentary, and nearly as self-congratulatory as Cohen’s talk on "The Skulls" DVD. The director speaks consistently throughout the film, giving a great deal of information about the on-screen action. Still, one can’t help but feel that Cohen is taking the film a bit too seriously. There are several points on the commentary where Cohen references the "Racer X" article from Vibe Magazine which inspired the film. Universal has been good enough to include this article on the DVD, and it does give a great deal of background info on street racing, and the racing lifestyle.

There are several extras on this disc dedicated to the making of "The Fast and the Furious". An 18-minute "making-of" featurette is offered, which includes the standard behind-the-scenes clips and cast & crew interviews. Two separate special features deal with the spectacular stunts at the film’s climax. First, we have a simulated "multi-angle" feature. This shot was filmed with eight different camera. The viewer can watch any of the eight angles, and then view the finished product. Next, we have "Movie Magic Interactive Special Effects". This feature demonstrates how plates were shot for the final stunt and then composited with other live action elements. You can watch each element separately and then view the finished product. Storyboards from two scenes can be compared to the final film version. Finally, there is a 3:44 montage of film clips, storyboards, animatics, and concept drawings.

A disappointing extra focuses on editing for the Motion Picture Association of America. Here, director Cohen and editor Peter Honess attempt to cut the film to avoid an R-rating. However, they are too engrossed with their work to give much information to the viewer. Speaking of editing, there are eight deleted scenes, which can be viewed with or without commentary by Cohen. This section features an audio introduction by the director as he explains why certain scenes are cut. This DVD offers three music videos, from Ja Rule, Cadillac Tah, and Saliva. Also, there is a music highlights menu taking the viewer to the specific scene in the film where a desired song is playing. Rounding out the extras are the theatrical trailer (<$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1), production notes, and cast & crew info.

Despite the flaws with the film itself, "The Fast and the Furious" DVD is a solid offering, as it contains a great transfer and several interesting extras.