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More than anyone else, it was the late Paul Walker — the handsome, blue-eyed star of Universal’s $2 billion Fast & Furious mega-franchise — whose presence was most felt at that film’s world premiere at South by Southwest late Sunday, early Monday local time.
Walker, who plays FBI agent Brian O’Conner in all but one of the films, was killed in a car accident on Nov. 30, 2013, along with friend and financial adviser Roger Rodas, who was driving the vehicle. Walker was 40.
Furious 7 was midproduction at the time of Walker’s death. After a hiatus, Universal and director James Wan, a newcomer to the franchise, decided to complete the film using Walker’s brothers, Caleb and Cody Walker, as body doubles and employing CGI to superimpose Walker’s face onto theirs.
The result, it turns out, is fairly seamless, though there are moments, particularly during an extended (and spectacular) sequence in Abu Dhabi, where the digital trickery can only go so far. The film also contains a touching montage tribute to Walker, revisiting scenes from previous Fast & Furious movies.
The film was introduced by producer Neal Moritz, who said the premiere had come together in less than 24 hours. “Literally yesterday morning I woke up and was reading all these articles about South by Southwest, and I was like, ‘What the f—k! Why is Fast & Furious not here?’ ” Moritz told the crowd. “So I called my good friends at Universal and said, ‘Is there any chance we can play South by Southwest?’ And they said, ‘Are you kidding me? These things are planned months and years in advance.’ “
He continued: “I said, ‘What the hell, I tried.’ And this morning I woke up and there was a text that said, ‘We’re on. It’s happening.’ ” The audience responded with a chorus of deafening cheers. Moritz then turned contemplative as he paid homage to his late star.
“We obviously lost a dear friend, brother, comrade while we were making this movie. He was the best guy I met in my world, in my life. We were determined to honor his legacy and our love for him forever,” he said, then asked that the audience not reveal what happens to Walker’s character in the film.
“I’m so proud of what we’ve done, and I know Paul Walker would be smiling down on us,” Moritz concluded, before introducing the film’s director, Wan, whom he said “took over under really difficult circumstances,” and his “brother from another planet,” franchise star Tyrese Gibson.
Vin Diesel was not able to make the premiere, but Moritz held a video camera at the crowd, instructing them to “on three, say, ‘F—k you, Vin!'” They were more than happy to oblige.
Wan, a Malaysian-Australian filmmaker who cut his teeth on the Saw franchise, appeared exhausted but relieved to have finally reached the finish line with what had to be the most challenging project of his career: 140 minutes of head-spinning action set pieces, muscle flexing, machine gun fire and, oh yeah, a quintet of cars flying out of an airplane.
“We’ve all worked so hard on this movie to finish it,” he said. “I just literally finished it last week. It’s hot off the press, and I’m so excited to be unveiling it to you guys, the public, for the first time. So enjoy the film!”
Gibson captured the raucous audience response with a digital video recorder, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. “All right, you crazy motherf—ers,” he said. “We don’t look at you all as fans of a movie. A lot of you grew up with us. … Some of you had peach fuzz on your damn face when we started this shit.”
He added: “The reason we kept this thing going became on behalf of our brother Paul Walker.”
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