Summer movies, what a zone to enter! What a collection of thrills, disappointments and adventures of different kinds! Sometimes for me they take me to a sublime place: “King Kong”, “Van Helsing”. Most times it is just noise.
If it is cinematic, I’ll credit it with space in my life. Yes, I know the first two F&F were considered dumb, not worthy. Some of that I think is a residual class bias in the US. Muscle cars and racing has always been a trailer park thing. True enough and the stories, all three of them are cluttered with cultural touchstones: dumb, honest, sublegal. And the trailer park notion of girls as prizes.
Well, if you are serious about movies, you pretty much ignore the stories. And in summer movies you know the icons transcend their cultural places and move to a grander cinematic place. So a hillbilly isn’t a hillbilly, more of a hillbillybillboard.
The real appeal is in whether it is cinematic or not.
Now this is a tricky issue, and a matter of taste. Tarantino, for example, obnoxiously advertises the cinematic overloading of “Bill”, but that’s just inventory, right? The Coens seem more genuine and satisfying.
But with the “Fast and Furious” projects, the idea was a nostalgic one, to recall an obsolete cinematic value: the car chase. More, to do it without computer graphics, but with camera angles now common from the CGI era. In movie-language, this is doing it “practically”, meaning with real cars, mountains, cameras.
Computer graphics is still enough artificial that we know the difference. That matrix highway fight or any one of the mission impossible deals might be exciting, but there’s an extra edge to knowing that something is real. Like a Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd stunt.
The first F&F simply mined this. I liked it enough to consider my cinematic mind massaged. The second one obviously responded to market research that showed huge ticket sales in Asia. So they retooled the whole thing, both in the story (Asian girls, Asian cars), in the style (neon) and in the filmmaking itself.
A huge hit in Asia. US viewers were almost disposable.
Now this third one: actually set in Tokyo though filmed in LA. It is a step down in style: the production design is not nearly as polished and cool, instead it is more industrial, cheaper to do. The F&F production sponsors clearly are settling in for the long haul where they can make one of these every year or so indefinitely. Oddly, the sexy bodies — traditionally the cheapest thing you can get — are played down in this one.
Anyway, the real value in this is the camera rush. There’s some cool folding at the race at the end where phonecams merge with the cameras we see through. We become the spectators on the side of the road.
Posted in 2006
Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.