The Fast & Furious franchise may have started its life as a small-budget ripoff of Point Break but with cars, but thanks to the efforts of longtime helmer Justin Lin (he directed films three to six) these films are now global blockbuster spectacles crammed with more physics-defying superheroics than most Marvel movies. But here’s a thing many people don’t realize about all that crazy escalating action: A lot of it is done for real.
No, I don’t mean that it’s really possible to have an airport runway of infinite length or have Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson essentially arm-wrestle an attack chopper with a chain. But a surprising amount of the stunts in these films are achieved using practical effects instead of CGI. In the climax of Fast Five (still the franchise’s high point, by the way) when a bunch of cars to tow an entire 9000-pound armoured bank vault through the streets of Rio de Janeiro during a high-speed car chase and use it as a massive pendulum weapon, they really had people do that.
Even with all of that in mind though, there’s a scene in the latest Super Bowl teaser trailer for the upcoming Fast 9 that you look at and immediately think: CGI. Has to be. And you would be wrong. Mostly.
While we don’t quite have the context due to its brevity in the teaser, the scene in question appears to have Michelle Rodriguez’s Letty activate a powerful electromagnet housed in the back of a truck which then proceeds to straight-up suck a car, engaged in a high-speed pursuit two streets away, threw two whole buildings. Sideways! And while the whole electromagnet thing is pure digital fantasy, how Lin – returning to the franchise for the first time in eight years – pulled off the shot is not as he explained in a glimpse behind the scenes.
Now before somebody points out the obvious: Yes, there’s some CGI employed here. There appears to be two stages to this stunt – flipping the car into the first building, then another car being yanked sideways through another building – and there’s obvious digital trickery being used to stitch those scenes together. There’s also CGI being used to create additional debris and carnage to enhance the scene. But the actual car is real as well as the buildings its being flung through.
This is an incredibly neat little peek behind the curtain of the Fast & Furious films that I wish we got more of. There are so many cool tidbits like these. For example, I only learned much later that in the Fast Five vault scene mentioned above, while the vault we mostly see is real and being towed by real stunt drivers (who caused some unscripted damage to buildings that made it into the movie), they also created additional fake vaults that were drivable. One had a pickup truck (aka bakkie for us locals) welded into the inside with a driver who had his own oxygen supply, surrounded by dry ice to help him cool down since the vault got boiling hot inside. He would then “drive” the vault, guided by cameras, into specific crashes for precision close-up shots. As a film geek, crazy genius ideas like those are my drugs.
And I’m pretty sure there will be a lot more craziness when Fast 9 (or F9: The Fast Saga, if you really insist) releases on 1 April 2021.
Last Updated: February 9, 2021