‘Fast and Furious 7’, which was shown to UK press this week, has a melancholic feel due to the death of star Paul Walker.
The actor was in the middle of the shoot when he was killed in a car accident in November 2013.
The tragedy left the producers of the film with two problems: would the death of its star - from a real life car crash - overshadow a film that is all about, well, cars crashing?
Second, could they actually finish the production?
Plot spoilers below.
How the film pays tribute to Walker
The first dilemma was how to pay tribute to such a vital member of the ‘Fast’ cast (he’s appeared in six instalments) without the shift in tone feeling jarring. Would they tackle his death head on?
‘Furious 7’ has just as much “vehicular warfare” as the previous films, but changes tack at the end, concluding with Walker’s character Brian O’Conner choosing to leave his life as a drag-racing FBI officer behind.
A scene right at the end shows Brian on the beach with his wife Mia (played by Jordana Brewster) and kids. While he’s playing with his son the rest of the gang decide to leave him be.
The final shot sees him racing with Dominic Torreto (Vin Diesel) one more time, before driving down a different road to be with his family.
What follows is then a very touching montage of Walker’s scenes from the previous ‘Furious’ films, which started way back in 2001.
The film then ends with the words ‘For Paul’. By this point many in the audience were wiping away a tear or two.
The sequence wasn’t mawkish, and because his character leaving the gang was part of the plot it also didn’t feel tacked on at the last minute. It was a touching send off.
How they finished the film without him
The logistics of finishing the film without him were also handled well by the director and his team.
According to reports, Walker had shot only half of his role before his death. The story had to be substantially re-written as a result, with clever editing, CGI and the use of Walker’s brothers Cody and Caleb plugging the gaps in the story.
The brothers’ likeness to their deceased brother can be uncanny at times. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Caleb was used for his similar body size and mannerisms to Paul, while Cody for closer shots due to the similarities between his and Paul’s eyes. See the duo below.
A source told the New York Daily News that director James Wan also “hired four actors with bodies very similar to Paul’s physique and they will be used for movement and as a base. Paul’s face and voice will be used on top using CGI”.
This technique is used very effectively in the finished film, and it’s never that obvious when Walker isn’t physically on-set. Nonetheless, there are several scenes we spotted that may not feature the star.
- In an attack on Dominic Toretto’s house, Brian has his back to camera fitting his son into his car seat, while Dom and Mia talk about Brian leaving the world behind.
- During the Abu Dhabi sequence, while Dom and Brian are escaping in the supercar, you never really see Brian’s face and when he gets out, it may be facial mapping again.
- A fight scene with Tony Jaa is very dark, with Brian’s face concealed throughout.
- When the gang is surveying LA together towards the end, Walker may’ve been added in digitally.
As we mentioned, the finale also sees Brian playing with his family on the beach after quitting the gang. We know Cody and Caleb Walker stood in for the actor in this scene because Vin Diesel posted a picture of the duo on set last year (see below).
Walker’s tragic death creating a horrible set of challenges for the filmmakers, but ‘Fast & Furious 7′ is a fitting tribute to a star that was by all accounts humble, easygoing and grateful for his Hollywood success.
Image credits: Rex Features, Universal, Facebook/Vin Diesel