Need for Speed (US - BD RA)
Gabe thinks we need a good movie more than we need more speed at this point...
In a last attempt to save his struggling garage, blue-collar mechanic Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) – who, with his team, skillfully builds and races muscle cars on the side – reluctantly partners with wealthy, arrogant ex-NASCAR driver, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). Just as a major sale to car broker, Julia Bonet (Imogen Poots), looks like it will save the business, a disastrous, unsanctioned race results in Dino framing Tobey for manslaughter. (From Disney’s official synopsis)
It appears that videogame movies have such poisonous connotations that they no longer advertise their inspirations to the general public. Weirdly, this hasn’t stopped studios from taking on the challenge of adapting them. The producers of Need for Speed have the advantage of an incredibly generic title and basis in a game series not well-known for its characters or narrative through-lines (I’m going to be honest – I didn’t know that the Need for Speed games had plots to adapt). It’s actually more likely that the franchise-minded folks at Disney/Dreamworks are trying to develop something to compete with the increasing popularity of the long-running Fast & Furious series.
George and John Gatins apparently based their screenplay on three games in the series, which might account for it being so overstuffed with superfluous plot. Despite being a videogame-inspired B-movie, Need for Speed clocks in at a patience-stretching 132 minutes (about ten of which are credits and mid-credit gags). Granted, elaborate car chases take up quite a bit of screen time, just like the song & dance routines in musicals and the sex scenes in pornos, but anything more than 90 minutes seems, asinine given the film’s basic concept. Even the ensemble cast-heavy Fast & Furious sequels have managed to peak at 130 minutes. And it’s all so painfully unnecessary. It takes ten minutes of characters barfing the same old, cliché-heavy exposition before we get to the first driving scene, followed by another 30 minutes of additional back-story. The main character is living in the shadow of his dead father. His ex-girlfriend is dating his enemy. He’s behind on payments for his (fill in the blank) and needs to do some difficult, morally ambiguous thing to make some money. He’s also responsible for an impulsive little brother character that looks up to him. Then, in a moment of pride, the main character makes a stupid choice that ultimately leads to the death of his ‘little buddy,’ giving him a second dead family member and landing him jail. 40 minutes of the audience’s time is wasted on the same, trope-ridden motivational discourse that most movies dump during a pre-credit sequence.
Scott Waugh is a good choice for director, considering his pedigree with stunt coordination and second unit work. His previous film and feature directorial debut was Act of Valor (co-directed by Mike ‘Mouse’ McCoy) – a high-concept action movie based around the fictionalized actions of real-life Navy SEALs. It was an unmitigated bore anytime characters or plot were involved, but the battle scenes accurately captured the intensity of combat. Based on Need for Speed’s similarly awkward balance of outstanding action and stiff exposition dumps, it seems that Waugh is keen on recreating the erratic boredom of watching someone else play a videogame. Need for Speed’s dramatic moments aren’t technically inept by any means (Waugh has a good eye for composition, the basic rhythm of dialogue, and has an obvious affection for cars – he shoots them like most directors shoot half-naked women), but there’s absolutely zero weight to any of the characters or their problems. A great cast is wasted on unlikable, reckless jerks that wreak collateral damage wherever they go for laughs. We’re offered very little in terms of tonal variety, aside from a handful of incredibly goofy comedy scenes that belong to another movie altogether. Divorced from unnecessary plotting, the chase and race scenes really are incredibly dynamic, utilizing a number of in-camera tricks and practical effects work, not to mention fun, once roughneck bounty hunters and angry cops get involved. I suppose it could be an enjoyable film-viewing experience for those willing to implement the Blu-ray player’s ‘skip’ button.
Need for Speed was shot using a series of digital HD cameras, including Arri Alexa and Canon EOS for basic set-ups and the more disposable GoPros and Black Magics for action scenes. The multiple rig shooting makes this 2.40:1, 1080p transfer appear a bit uneven, though Waugh and cinematographer Shane Hurlbut do what they can to maintain a consistent palette and overall detail. The film has an unusual glowing look that embraces the format’s smooth gradations and hyper-vivid qualities. Fine texture are sometimes smoothed over a bit, but the complex patterns rarely feature any muddy or overly sharpened edges. On average, this transfer is super clean with only minor punch-ups in digital noise during a handful of close-ups (I’m guessing these are digital zooms) and GoPro action shots (some shots around the hospital feature ghosting effects as well). Nighttime scenes and darker interiors feature entirely unnatural, neon-baked colours and blown-out highlights that rarely bleed. Black levels are strong and soupy, but do take on some of the hue qualities of the blues and reds around them. The daylight sequences are still a bit creamy and supernaturally vivid, but the added punch doesn’t overwhelm the natural, sunlit look.
You can always depend on a car chase movie for a lively soundtrack and, even though it’s not one of the better car chase movies I’ve ever seen, Need for Speed is no different in terms of audio overdrive. This DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track isn’t particularly lively during dialogue-heavy sequences, which are sort of uncanny in their emptiness; but the vocals are clean and even and the shallow depth (there’s basically zero incidental effects work during these scenes) makes a nice contrast to the punchy race sequences. The roaring, deafening sounds of super-car engines are the track’s defining element, which sort of sets it apart from the crunchier Fast & Furious movies. Car nuts should adore the subtle and not so subtle differentiations between the various makes and models as they zip and buzz throughout the channels. The sound designers also distinguish themselves by purposefully underplaying sounds of vehicular destruction during the more ‘dramatic’ crashes. Instead of the channels being filled with crumbling metal, they’re softly teased with the sounds of stylistically muffled damage. Composer Nathan Furst, who worked with Waugh on Act of Valor, plays it safe with oodles of feel-good, symphonic cheese between action scenes and a handful of relatively rousing cues, though his music is often lost behind a wall of blasting car motors.
- Commentary with director Scott Waugh and star Aaron Paul – This is a pleasant and charming chat with director and star that alternates between hard technical facts and fun anecdotes from the set. Both commentators seem to be having fun and Waugh does a great job filling the space with information (Paul ends up acting as more of a moderator).
- Capturing Speed: Making An Authentic Car Movie (9:50, HD) – A quick, EPK-style look behind the scenes.
- Ties That Bind (12:00, HD) – A sweet little exploration of the Gilbert and Waugh stunt families and their long history working in film.
- The Circus Is In Town (10:50, HD) – A behind-the-scenes slideshow hosted by Waugh.
- Monarch & Maverick outtakes with Waugh introduction (1:40, HD) – A collection of Scott Mescudi and Michael Keaton’s ad-libs.
- Four deleted scenes with Waugh introductions (5:10, HD)
- The Sound Of Need For Speed (9:30, HD) – Concerning the film’s outrageously good sound design.
- Need For Speed: Rivals videogame trailer
- Trailers for other Disney releases
Need for Speed could’ve been a great car movie if it wasn’t such a terrible dramatic movie. Viewers that can tolerate the hours of predictability and boredom between cool car chases and races should find something to like. The rest of us should stick to the Fast & Furious sequels or any number of classic car movies, like The Driver, The Road Warrior, or Bullitt. I also found myself longing for the similarly (and purposefully) trope-driven Speed Racer – a movie that covers its excessive runtime and clichés with subversive comedy and a potent silly streak. Disney’s Blu-ray looks and sounds remarkable and includes a decent collection of charming little supplemental features.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 5th August 2014
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French and Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Director and Actor Commentary, Capturing Speed: Making An Authentic Car Movie, Ties That Bind, The Circus Is In Town, Monarch & Maverick Outtakes, The Sound Of Need For Speed, Deleted Scenes, Game Trailer, Trailers, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Scott Waugh
Cast: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Scott Mescudi, Imogen Poots, Ramón Rodríguez, Michael Keaton
Length: 130 minutes
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