The Need for Speed movie is oddly authentic and packed with real world racing

George Gatins’ screenplay for Need for Speed’s movie adaptation is scornful. Preying on underdog sports cliches, displaying shock over women who understand cars, and sopping up pitiful emotional highs only spin out the dialog. Then automotive mayhem happens and no one cares anymore.

This is real, or at least the action is. Need for Speed evokes nostalgia in its reality. Without beckoning for computer generated vehicles when stunts appear difficult, stuntman-turned-director Scott Waugh contributes an alarmingly high level of in-camera damage to cinemas, rising this unlikely success into its competitive spirit.

Trepidation toward this EA video game turned loosely threaded feature film is understood. But, Need for Speed is ferociously brave, innovative, and sharply edited to maintain an improbable level of thick excitement through to its finale.

Of course, the feature does drag. A runtime of 131 minutes is eye rolling, and locker room-esque blabber between the thinly veiled mechanical crew is obnoxious. Aaron Paul has a gravely mumble as placid street racer Tobey Marshall, soon to be enveloped in a relationship with plucky Brit Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots), all with a side of dulled villainy from the rich sniveling of Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper).

Whatever. Need for Speed is cars first. Classics, muscle, racing, illegal. The swatch of six and seven digit price tags is immense, catapulted onto the screen with a focus on planting audience members (tightly) in the driver’s seat. Marketing or not, “driver’s seat” is literally manifested. With speedomters tipping 100-150+, cameras pack in behind the wheel down roadways in San Francisco and Detroit, with a cut of southern beauty – no green screen here.

Million dollar European speedsters are flipped over bridges. Burly SUVs are squashed. Police vehicles are eaten by freshly laid asphalt. This feature becomes a hacked up graveyard of highway strewn parts.

More importantly, this is above the idea of flash. Need for Speed has a penchant for this self-indulgent and dangerous culture, but with brief lurid looks at these genuine dream machines, there is room to appreciate them further in motion. Drifts, spins, flips – it’s magic in the lens and wholly grounded to authentic gravity. CG cannot replicate this with such realism.

While material surrounding the action strays from high art, Michael Keaton’s small role (bellowing about racing as an art) becomes justified. Maybe it’s not the racing so much as the race construction, like flawlessly molded Lego pieces, one shot at a time. It’s believable and fluid. While competitive theatrical rivals in Fast & Furious jump on bold implausibility, their fun is usurped by this unexpected gem of revved engines and narrative gibberish.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

Paul detailed @ 52:55

Mostly captured by the Arri Alexa, Need for Speed fumbles visually with rampant inconsistencies and bothersome ringing. Never does this feature convincingly pull away from the idea of being wholly digital. This is not in sole reference to the action which applied more of an anything goes process (including GoPros), but those narrative scenes as well.

There is certainly fidelity present. Close-ups are tense and reach peaks of admirable definition. However, resolution is strained when the camera pulls back, revealing an unnatural density. Trees are coarsely resolved and mountains in the background (during what should be gorgeous shots) are roughed up by what appears to be post-processing. There is no indication of manipulation by Disney/Dreamworks in the transition to Blu-ray.

Credit goes to black levels and staunch contrast for giving the disc a boost. Shadow details may be eaten at times, but the resulting effect is a constant series of deep images. Depth is frequently the highlight.

Keeping with the tone of reality, Need for Speed avoids color timing quirks, allowing the vividness of the paint to shine on each car. Their colors are striking. Certain night sequences may lose out to warmer palettes, but races are generally set during the day where environments, flesh tones, and racing stripes can work over the screen in full intensity. Shame then some errant processing lessens the beauty.

Video ★★★★☆ 

Shocking no one, this mix is ALL about cars. Audio design is genuinely thrilling, with powerful engines and satisfying pops as gears are shifted. The spread between is alluring, capturing precise positioning as vehicles draw close to one another. Interiors extract a low-end hum replicating horsepower.

With the space of a 7.1 mix to work with, the tracking, passes, and overhead shots are enhanced by the fullness of the soundfield. Those two added rears do not go unnoticed or separated. Motion is carefully considered to be in tandem, and little fear is exhibited when moving things far to the sides – rear or fronts.

Other audio doses bring about a heartbeat effect which is vicious when it comes to the LFE. The throbbing effect is excellent. Other effects from planes, helicopters, and trains are all worthy elements which combine to create this hectic mix.

Audio ★★★★★ 

Director Scott Waugh and Aaron Paul do their behind-the-scenes duty with a commentary mix, opening a positive slate of bonus features. Capturing Speed may be slender at 10-minutes, but the footage is exceptional, displaying stunt work, jumps, and the planning phases. Ties That Bind focuses on a deep family connection on set which goes back generations. The Circus is in Town brings back Waugh to chat over still photos taken on the set. It’s a bit “inside” per se, but the reminiscing is nothing but honest.

The final featurette is The Sound of Need for Speed, over nine minutes with a focus on capturing engines, the complexity of doing so, and a strive for accuracy. Thumbs for this one purely for its uniqueness. Most bonuses ignore the audio design. Short deleted scenes, even shorter outtakes, and some trailers are left.

Extras ★★★☆☆ 

[display_rating_form]
[display_rating_result]

Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.