Movies that are based on video games typically don’t get more than an eye-roll from critics and “Need for Speed” is no exception. But although this high-speed video game adaptation didn’t get positive recognition from critics, it could still be considered one of the greatest car films since the 70’s.
This is only the second full length film that Scott Waugh has directed other than “Act of Valor,” but he is not new to the film scene. His history in the industry primarily revolves around coordinating and performing stunts for the past 25 years. So it shouldn’t have been a huge surprise when Waugh requested to film “Need for Speed” completely old-school without the use of any CGI. Lucky for car fanatics the principle partner of DreamWorks Studios, Steven Spielberg, allowed Waugh to pursue this huge undertaking.
Waugh’s goal right from the beginning was to produce an authentic car movie. The actors were expected to learn stunt driving, the camera crew got strapped to the sides of vehicles, and replica cars were built from scratch to get shots never seen before. Add on the wide variety of filming locations across the entire United States and this production becomes one of a kind.
Warning: Spoilers will follow.
These are the five reasons “Need for Speed” won’t leave car enthusiasts disappointed.
It’s not just that a wide range of vehicles appear in the film, but they all have a notable amount of time on screen. Viewers aren’t teased with a split second look at a million dollar car only to be left yearning to see it again for the rest of the movie. Vintage and modern American muscle cars, European hypercars, and even trophy trucks get a satisfying moment in the spotlight. An effort was also put forth to diversify the types of aircrafts featured in the movie.
The modified Mustang is the center of attention through a majority of the story, but it didn’t overstay its welcome. There is a moment when viewers are lead to believe that after traveling cross country, driving off road, getting sprayed with bullets, jumping a highway, and being hoisted off a cliff by a helicopter, that this car will still be featured in final race sequence. But before viewers are required to completely suspend their disbelief, the car is appropriately smashed into pieces.
The decision to kill off the “hero car” set the stage for a great finale. Viewers weren’t scoffing during the last race watching a beat-up Mustang compete with a Bugatti Veyron. Reintroducing the Koenigsegg was the perfect touch. It gave viewers an exciting ride for last minutes of the movie instead of turning it into a ridiculously unrealistic underdog story.
The choices for race settings and action sequences are dynamic and keep viewers entertained throughout the entire film. For a movie that has a story heavily based on a cross country road trip, fans never really feel like the journey is stale or dragging on. Highway scenes are broken up by highly enjoyable hell rides throughout small towns and the downtown district of a major city.
Scott Waugh and the “Need for Speed” film crew put in a lot of travel time themselves to accomplish this; consisting of nine filming locations, in four states, spanning from San Francisco, California to Macon, Georgia. Although the settings change frequently, they never seem disjointed and the pacing is fantastic.
Along with the city, country, desert, and shore scenes, there is a brief, yet intoxicating, section of the movie that gives viewers a first person high-speed tour of Road Atlanta. For true car fanatics, this scene can be played over and over again with the speakers at max volume and it will always be spectacular.
It typically offers no value to audiences when characters try to illustrate how fast or important a car is by rattling off a list of components used to construct the vehicle. This “car talk” is lost on viewers who know nothing about cars and is laughable to people that do. There is nothing sillier than a character trying to prove their technical proficiency by acting like the stainless steel exhaust is one of the most notable features of the vehicle.
“Need for Speed” is guilty of this in the beginning of the film, but it only occurred once and the dialogue lasts just a few seconds. It’s what was done with the rest of the movie that pleased fans; they didn’t overdo it. There is a middle ground where the importance of the car can be communicated without spoon feeding the audience, and the film makers found this happy medium.
By just mentioning things like “these cars aren’t legal in the United States” or “ that car is one of three in the world” gives the typical movie-goer enough information to understand the value of the car without insulting the people that are already familiar. There were many opportunities where the screen writers could have cheesed things up throughout the movie, but they held back and created a better film because of it.
Receiving the clearance to shoot “Need for Speed” without any CGI gave Scott Waugh an opportunity to bring together all his past stunt colleagues to be part of the film crew. This massive combination of experience with stunt performance and coordination provided Waugh the resources needed to make a huge impact on screen.
In some sequences there were up to nine vehicles in a single shot that all had to be in the right place at an exact moment to get the desired result. This is particularly impressive in the final race when they have three racers avoid a crash between a couple police cruisers and a hypercar as two other racers continue speeding off into the distance; all while keeping a police helicopter in frame overhead.
The most elaborate stunt performed was the Koenigsegg crash on the bridge at the beginning of the movie. The vision for the scene became so complex that other crew members were pressuring Waugh to use CGI just to make it possible. But Waugh refused and the crew put their heads together to design nearly six custom rigs that would flip, burn, smash, and eventually throw the hypercar off the bridge. The stunt turned out to be a success and was actually the first of its kind.
And yes, they actually jumped a Mustang over three lanes of traffic.
This is where there is no debate that “Need for Speed” was developed to capture the feel and style associated with the benchmark car films from the 1970’s. The seemingly endless first person shots from inside the cars, the inward facing shots showing the actors actually driving the vehicles at speed, and the incredible side/chase cam footage gave fans a complete 360° experience. Roaring engines and screeching tires weren’t diluted by unnecessary dialogue or dramatic background music; all the attention was focused on the car.
Special camera cars were developed for filming to take place at upwards of 100mph and the movie cars were modified so cameras could be attached all around the exterior. At times, crew members were even harnessed to the side of the car and sent on a wild ride to capture the scene. The replica hypercars were not only built so that they could be destroyed without far exceeding the budget, but so they could also have camera mounts built into the body of the car; a modification that would likely never be allowed on the actual production model.
Although Waugh had access to more elaborate resources and technologically advanced equipment, the core concepts that make a great car film still remain. Other big budget franchises in the past decade show audiences that having the fanciest equipment and the biggest name actors doesn’t necessarily make a true car film. In one important scene Waugh pays tribute to his predecessors that set the bar so high.
In “Need for Speed” the Mustang was intentionally destroyed on Knob Hill in San Francisco to pay homage to probably the best car film ever made; “Bullitt.”