Action Adaptation

A Road Warrior's Blu-ray Review: Need for Speed

August 5, 2014Ben Mk


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Streets of fire...

Videogame-to-film adaptations have a spotty track record, ranging from the abysmal (Double Dragon) to the acclaimed (Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within). Of course, in between there are the guilty pleasures, like Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil, which is where you’ll find director Scott Waugh’s Need for Speed. Based on Electronic Arts' long-running racing franchise — which is all about hot pursuits, spectacular takedowns and being the first to the finish line — the film transforms Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul into a born-and-bred street racer with a chip on his shoulder and a score to settle.

   

The Film The film revolves around Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul), a mechanic/street racer from Mt. Kisco, New York, and his rival, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). Once childhood competitors, Dino has graduated to the professional racing circuit, leaving Tobey in the dust to run his late father's auto shop, Marshall Performance Motors. But times are tough for Tobey, and he has to resort to competing in illegal street races just to earn enough cash to pay off the shop's loan payments. On the night of one such race, Dino returns to Mt. Kisco with an offer that could alleviate Tobey's money problems — upwards of a quarter of two million dollars, in exchange for some help in restoring a very special Shelby Mustang. But it ends up being a deal with the Devil, when Dino leaves Tobey to take the fall for a street race turned deadly, resulting in his incarceration.

When he's finally released on parole two long years later, Tobey has but two things on his mind: revenge and redemption. And the only way to achieve both is by winning an exclusive, invitation-only street race called the DeLeon, run by the Monarch (Michael Keaton). The only thing standing in Tobey's way is the reality of his situation: that neither has he secured a spot in the race, nor does he have a car to race with — he only knows that the DeLeon is being held somewhere in San Francisco, on the other side of the country, and that he has forty-five hours to get there. So he'll need the help of car afficionado Julia (Imogen Poots), his friends, Benny (Scott Mescudi, aka Kid Cudi), Finn (Rami Malek) and Joe (Ramon Rodriguez), and a very special Shelby Mustang. But the race to get to the race is just the beginning. Tobey will also have to contend with Dino, who's already claimed his position at the starting line and who'll go to any lengths to stop his rival, including putting a bounty on his head.

All told, the film doesn't quite carry the dramatic heft that some of the performances are meant to convey, but it's far from being another Super Mario Bros. Even though the script has its cookie-cutter moments, the cast does an admirable job of selling the story with both emotion and humor, thanks to the charming back-and-forth dynamic between leads Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots and the comic relief provided by pals Mescudi, Malek and Rodriguez. But ultimately, these are all merely diversions from the film's real focus, which is firmly on the driving. And in this respect, Need for Speed delivers on its promise of authenticity in spades.

With the variety of exotic(ally named) supercars that turn up from scene to scene — such as the Bugatti Veyron, GTA Spano, Koenigsegg Agera R, Lamborghini Sesto Elemento and McLaren P1 — car enthusiasts won't be left wanting for eye candy to drool over. But it's how these cars — most of which are also featured in the latest instalment of the game franchise — are put to use in the film that truly attests to the filmmakers' dedication to authenticity.

Keeping with the tradition of classic car-culture films, as well as more recent films like Ronin and Jack Reacher, Need for Speed boasts genuine racing and genuine stunts — a welcome departure from the current trend in modern filmmaking, to augment everything with computer graphics. And although this approach translates to keeping the insanity quotient of the stunts to a (practical) minimum (meaning that the vehicular antics are nowhere near as spectacular as some of the set pieces in the Fast and the Furious films), it only makes the driving that we see on-screen all the more impressive.

Audio/Visual Fidelity Need for Speed drifts onto Blu-ray with a supercharged A/V presentation, putting viewers directly in the driver’s seat for all the high-octane racing action. From the small town streets of Mt. Kisco, New York to the coastal cliff lines of Mendocino, California, this is one pedal-to-the-metal hi-def transfer that never lets up, making every mile of Tobey’s journey look even better than the last. Whether cinematographer Shane Hurlbut has us speeding down a sun-drenched highway or cruising through at intersection bathed in the orange glow of street lamps, the most stunning aspect of the image is the vibrant and richly-saturated color. It may not be 3D, but (in conjunction with inky blacks and strong contrast) it makes visual elements like the blue racing stripes on the Shelby Mustang, the canary yellow paint job on a GTA Spano and the cherry red paint job on a Koenigsegg Agera R pop right off the screen. And it's accentuated by the sharp-as-a-tack fine details, which reveal such nuances as the grain of the Mustang’s black leather interior and every nick and scratch on a character’s face in the aftermath of a car crash.

Matching the intensity of the slick visuals is the disc’s aggressive DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack, which renders the film’s arresting sound design — in particular, the powerful roars of the different car engines — with verve. From the screeching of tires to the wail of police sirens and the whir of helicopter blades, there’s no shortage of sonic action to keep the ears entertained; and all of it comes through loud and clear, along with the dialog — most notably, Paul’s low growl of a voice — and composer Nathan Furst’s orchestral score.

Special Features Disney’s Blu-ray release includes an iTunes digital copy of the film and a feature-length audio commentary with director Scott Waugh and actor Aaron Paul, plus 51 minutes of HD special features (all of which are available with the iTunes copy as well).

Kicking things off is Capturing Speed: Making an Authentic Car Movie, a 10-minute featurette which takes a look at how the film’s action was all created in-camera, using replica supercars both driven by stunt drivers and by members of the cast. This is followed by the 12-minute Ties That Bind, which focuses on the Gilbert clan, a family of stuntmen (some of whom worked on the film) who also happen to be family friends of Waugh’s and his father, legendary stunt performer Fred Waugh. The Circus is in Town is an 11-minute montage of still photos chronicling the film’s production, with narration by Waugh, who relays tidbits of knowledge about the shoot, the locations and the cast and crew. And The Sound of Need for Speed is a 9-minute peek into the recording of the film’s vehicular sound effects and its orchestral score. All of these featurettes are comprised of behind-the-scenes footage, filmmaker interviews and film clips.

There’s also a 2-minute collection of outtakes, titled Monarch & Maverick Outtakes (in which Waugh introduces ad-libs from Mescudi and Keaton), and 5-minutes-worth of Deleted Scenes (totalling four in total, each accompanied by a brief introduction by Waugh). The special features conclude with a 1-minute trailer for Electronic Arts' latest installment in the videogame franchise, Need for Speed Rivals.


The Bottom Line Is Need for Speed the perfect videogame movie? Not quite, although it's definitely an above-average adaptation, bolstered by a talented cast that helps it drift to the finish line with ease. But its strong suit is really its portrayal of the adrenaline-fueled world of supercharged street racing. And with its emphasis on practical stunt work, there's really nothing else out there like it at the moment. Fans of car culture films or of the videogame franchise will be thrilled with Disney's Blu-ray release, which races to the finish line with a blistering A/V presentation and a generous assortment of bonus features in tow. And that makes Need for Speed a real winner on Blu-ray.  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  





* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on March 14th, 2014.




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