How 'Furious 7' said goodbye to Paul Walker: Brought tears to my eyes

"Cars don't fly!"

It is a blink-and-you'd-miss it moment from the early goings of Furious 7: Paul Walker's character Brian O'Conner is strapping his young son Jack into the growing family's minivan, when the boy hurls his toy vehicle out onto the pavement. He tells the boy that cars don't fly, and the boy repeats the line back with a giggle.

Moments later there's a big (unrelated) explosion — and it would be easy to dismiss this minor emotional beat. But if you caught it, the moment is truly haunting.

Jack's toy is a red sports car, a two-seat coupe with a rear spoiler that closely resembles the crimson Porsche Carrera GT that Walker was riding in when the $350,000 supercar crashed in November 2013, killing the actor and driver Roger Rodas. Whether the filmmakers intended this, or it was a mere coincidence that they decided to leave in, is hard to say.

Walker had shot about half of his scenes when he died, forcing Universal to delay Furious 7's release so they could re-build the story around what they had. Very much to the credit of director James Wan, not to mention the producers, editors, writers and hundreds upon hundreds of visual effects and sound editors, they pulled it off — because if you weren't looking closely for seams, you'd never notice them.

After his death, Walker's brothers were used as stand-ins for several shots, to which his face and voice were added later. In some cases, he was edited into the scene from b-roll footage. And in others, his face is obscured or he's off to the side.

But re-inserting him wasn't their only challenge: The filmmakers also had to find room in the story to let Walker go — and in a way that would allow the franchise to carry on. Most assumed Brian O'Conner would be killed off, or at least indisposed in some plausibly permanent way.

After a pair of opening set-pieces that don't involve Walker, we finally see him for the first time: It's a close-up of his face. He's behind the wheel, his high-top Vans skate shoes on the gas, revving the engine — and it cuts away to show he's driving the minivan, dropping off Jack at preschool.

It's our first glimpse of Brian's adjustment to his new life with Mia. "You'll get used to this," says the teacher taking Jack from the vehicle, to which he responds, "That's what I'm afraid of."

It's another day, and Brian is strapping in Jack to take him to school. "What do you say, parking-brake slide right up to the school?" he playfully asks Jack — the kind of reckless driving maneuver that Walker loved to pull in real life, where he was every bit the gear-headed speed freak that Brian O'Conner is onscreen (and the reason he got the part in the first place).

Brian's new role as father and husband is obviously pulling him away from the thrills he loves most, a major theme of his turn in Furious 7. That was almost certainly part of the plan before he was killed; his scenes with Mia are clearly him, including when he tells her: "I've screwed up many things. I couldn't live with myself if I screwed this up, too."

The mountainside chase — esily the high point of the movie — is punctuated by Brian's daring escape from a bus that is teetering over the edge of a cliff. In trademark hoodie and skate shoes he runs up the side and is saved when Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) drifts in just long enough for him to grab the spoiler of her hot rod.

Furious 7 didn't shoot any of its Abu Dhabi sequences in the Middle East until the year after Walker's death, which can only mean one of two things:

They had already shot much of the dialogue on a soundstage beforehand, as Walker is seen fully talking and interacting with Diesel throughout the sequence, or;

The digital artists who put Walker's face onto his brother's body are freakin' WIZARDS. Maybe a little bit of both.

There are moments when Walker looks ropey, even spectral; there are other moments when he's delivering lines while his face is front-and-center, looking perfectly natural. The dicey stuff is mostly when they're outside, at the beach and later standing at the precipice of a hole they just smashed in the side of a skyscraper.

There are just two noteworthy connections in the final boss-battle scene: In one, Brian dives from his car as it explodes in flames. Moments later, he pulls Dominic from his car just before flames begin to flicker inside of it, and starts administering CPR.

Spooky stuff.

A montage of moments from previous films begins, again with Dominic's voice: "No matter where you are, whether it's a quarter-mile away or halfway around the world, you'll always be with me and you'll always be my brother."

Then an overhead shot of the two cars, driving together, and they come upon a gentle fork in the road, Walker's white exotic drifting to the left, Diesel's silver Dodge staying on the main route. The camera pans up to the sun, and the screen goes blindingly white, with two words flashing onscreen:


No comments:

Post a Comment