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Aesthetic Analysis of the first scene of the Fast and the Furious


Pointlessly in-depth

The film begins near dusk with a crane shot pulling off the southern California sky just above a coastal shipyard. The audience is peering through several unidentifiable, translucent objects with an orange tint that distort the sky behind them. The thumping, modern electronic score composed by BT begins to reverberate as the clear objects revolve back and forth in rhythm to the music. The camera continues lowering toward the ground as the sounds of a howling, elusive pipe sweeps across the airwaves and the audible but almost incomprehensible vocals begin.  

“We in the fast lane at high speeds. One, six, zeros, the reach your car never could achieve. We battle for position. Better watch your step. Because its one false move and its life or death. Accelerate. Life is gone in a flash. You’re up against a pro. Get blown right past. Coming out the night at the speed of light. Only the hard and the strong can achieve the height.”

The clear objects rotate into their final position as the camera lowers to a great enough distance to reveal all of them. They read “The Fast and the Furious.” A bright sheen flashes across the letters before the title breaks apart and the letters fly out toward the audience and out of frame. From above their previous location, a large cargo container, suspended by a crane, descends toward the ground. The camera follows it as it is lowered onto the trailer of a semi-truck. The camera continues its gradual drop downward until it reaches a dockworker next to the truck. The middle-aged white male is walking away from the camera as he pulls out his cell phone. He tells who ever is listening that the shipment is on its way.  He hangs up.

The shot ends and the electronic score momentarily shifting into a traditional, triumphant orchestra.  A sweeping crane shot begins from inside the cargo container and rapidly pulls back to reveal a large shipment of electronics. The camera continues moving backward until exiting the trailer. Other dockworkers close the trailer’s doors. The music begins to subside as the camera pans to the sky and fades to night.    

With creative control in the hands of a different group of filmmakers, this opening scene would have been as mundane as its content. But under the direction of Rob Cohen, this simple sequence of ordinary actions is engaging, if through nothing but the style in its presentation.

The long, elaborate crane shot, followed by the fast, backward tracking shot sets the pace for the visual virtuosity that is about to come. Swift, controlled and complex, the camerawork is designed to take the audience on its own ride through the story.

The lighting approach of cinematographer Ericson Core is stylized, but not to the point where it distorts the effective (if, perhaps, illusionary) perception of realism that seeks to ground the movie. His prevalent use of orange in this and upcoming day scenes highlight the bright setting of the southwest. Although this warm hue technique is part of a long tradition originally popularized by classic Fordian Westerns, in this film, the color scheme is atypically amplified. The resulting imagery creates an almost exotic atmosphere. And while this may be bright California, the simultaneous use of heavy, dark shadows affirms that we are probably watching a less cheerful side of the sunshine state.

The selection of a rusted, industrial work yard as the opening location of the film, whether conscious to the filmmakers or not, reiterates the same point. This movie doesn’t inhabit a world of privilege or high-key sanguinity. It is one of struggle.   

If the camera in motion stimulates mild physical excitement and the lighting implies a perilous, yet intriguing unknown, then the unique score in this scene, which fuses together overwhelming breakbeat baselines and threatening lyrical bravado, explicitly sets the stakes for the seductive, dangerous world the audience is about to enter. It’s as if the film itself is tempting, “Come and join us, if you dare.”  But the content of the scene is still only expositional. The real fun is about to begin. 

 

Review: Taylor, 9/27/2011

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