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The Impact and Merit of the Original Fast and the Furious


Another boring, pretentious essay on something that is neither boring nor pretentious

In June of 2001, a movie called The Fast and the Furious opened in theaters. Focused on the street racing subculture in southern California, the film featured a starless cast and a moderate Hollywood budget of $38 million. Upon its release, it received a mostly mixed response from professional critics. Few would have guessed what would happen next.

Doubling Universal Studio’s own projections, it took an unexpected lead during its opening weekend, grossing over $40 million. Fueled by popular word of mouth, it went on to become the surprise hit of the summer, earning over $144 million in the United States. But the film’s influence would reach far beyond this single blockbuster season.

In 1953, a film titled The Wild One was released. It stared a rising young star named Marlon Brando. It was the first film to focus on the outlaw motorcycle culture, which had begun to grow on the West Coast after World War II. Youthful, stylish and propelled by Marlon Brando’s charismatic anti-hero performance, it became a box office success. Motorcycle sales soared while leather jackets became fashionable even for those who never touched a Harley Davidson. The imagery and attitude set the template for the iconic “greaser” culture that followed.

Nearly fifty years later, The Fast and the Furious was the catalyst for a similar cultural phenomenon. In the 1990s, an underground racing scene, which focused on customizing inexpensive compact cars imported from Japan, began to emerge on the West Coast. By 2001, it had spread to the Northeast as well, but was still unknown to the vast majority of the American public. At least not until the release of The Fast and the Furious. After this, the import scene exploded. Suddenly, everyone in the country knew some guy with a spoiler on his ‘92 Toyota. Although this may not have been a positive social impact (anecdotally, I know many find the amateurism and obnoxiousness of these enthusiasts annoying), it is, nonetheless, impressive.

The film also showcases the breakout performances for many of its young cast members. The scene-stealing second lead, Vin Diesel (appropriately named), became a household name almost overnight and went on to spend a short time on the Hollywood A-list. Michelle Rodriguez began a prolific career as a character actress and Paul Walker became a leading man in several minor successes. 

The film was the beginning of one of the decade’s biggest action franchises. A franchise that spawned many imitators (Redline, Torque, Biker Boyz) that were never able to replicate its astonishing success. But what is the root of that success? What quality has made this film so influential? The answer is obvious. It is really fucking cool. Its conceptual setting is novel. Its aesthetics are stylish, dynamic and innovative. Its plot is well-structured. Its acting, at worst, is serviceable and, at best, is awesome. Its characterization, although not complex throughout, is still heartfelt, engaging and, above all else, entertaining. Oh, and, of coarse, the movie fully utilizes the eternal appeal of cool cars driving really fast. And with this film, our cinematic need for speed, as old as the days when silent film audiences would flee their seats to avoid the steaming locomotives projected on the screen, was given a brand new upgrade for the digital age.         

Example: Rob Cohen's visuals during much of the movie definitely follow David Fincher's lead, but then Cohen hits the nitrous oxide and... well, it doesn't matter if you win by inch or a mile, right?                               

Review: Taylor, 9/27/2011  

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