Sunday, August 01, 2004

Car chases and a colossal miscalculation

One day in 2002, I saw the second episode of the dud series Fastlane on Fox, which used(according to the series plot) a green 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback, supposedly the same one driven by Steve McQueen (while playing SFPD lieutenant Frank Bullitt in the eponymous movie), as a major prop in its plot. I had read so much about McQueen, his patent and Frank Bullit's 10 minute car chase down the streets behind a Dodge Charger of similar vintage that I had to go to my univ library and borrow the tape. The car chase was captivating and the only note-worthy car chase (at least that was the way I remembered it) that I had seen before that, was the one from the climax of Vidudhalai, the mid 1980s Tamil re-make of Qurbani, starring Thalaivar and a surprisingly comical Sivaji (playing a middle aged cop) with a pot belly and accompanying loud laughter. Those of you who have seen both these movies would probably feel I am doing McQueen and the Highland green Mustang a grave injustice, should attribute this slight on the fact that suitable comparisons did not exist, until I saw French Connection and then Ronin, both rather belatedly last year.

Then I saw French Connection. If Bullit’s was carefully planned mayhem on cordoned off streets, French Connection’s was monster car madness on public roads with the public (and the people in high office?) completely unaware of what was on that day. Most of the near death experiences in Gene Hackman’s maniacal driving thorough are near death experiences really! Ranging from the wreck that ends the scene to Hackman’s cinematic avoiding of a lady with a cart crossing the road were real sequences that were not staged. FYI, this link mentions that the lady went into shock soon afterward, but survived, along with that particular scene that can be seen in all its glory.

I borrowed Ronin because I read somewhere that that the car chase in Ronin surpassed Bullit's and the French Connection’s. I was very impressed by the automobile carnage of symphony-esque proportions involving 80's vintage cars careening about the roads of Marseilles. Ronin’s chase became immediately enshrined with Bullitt’s.

These three movies are still etched in my mind (after beating Vidudhalai by miles). But I seem to have some competitors of recent vintage too – Gone in Sixty Seconds for one. But Nicholas Cage’s driving of a vintage 1967 Shelby GT500 Mustang does lose some sheen when you look closely and find that a lot of takes are (probably) staged as opposed to the previous mentioned three that are largely untouched by the brushes of editing software. I did think that chase in The Bourne Identity (Matt Damon, driving a Morris Mini) was closer to Ronin’s (and Bullit’s) in terms of intensity than Gone in Sixty Seconds, but I do think that is because of the similarity of the French locale – Paris and Marseilles and the wet cloudy feel of the scenes.

Then on Friday, I saw the Bourne Supremacy. There are two chase scenes – the first one set in Panaji of all places (yup, in hippie looking Goa, nonetheless). The vehicles are very much Indian – an army green Maruti Gypsy that Matt Damon drives through (and alternates between) the dusty back roads of rural Goa and the busy city center of Panaji and his pursuer driving a Hyundai Sonata (?). In fact the Hyundai sticks out sorely like a thumb, which David Webb a.k.a Jason Bourne notices immediately and realizes (he is really paranoid, not without reason) he has to skip town.

Then the second chase involves Bourne driving an old beat up Merc (another similarity with Ronin I guess) with his pursuer (the same killer) driving a Merc G-Class (Did the Tata's base the visual cues of the Sumo on those of the G-Class?). This chase seems to have been modeled on Ronin’s with wrong side driving, t-bone impacts, 360 degree skids, not to mention a frenetic drive through highway tunnels, all finding a place. In all this, combined with the fact that I think that the Bourne Supremacy is much better than the Bourne Identity, this chase has been inducted to my top 10 car chases.

Elsewhere in movie land, Roger Ebert writes off Night’s The Village with the same sort of resignation that I feel for one of Mahesh Bhatt’s recent Hollywood rip offs. I am not someone who reads movie reviews before watching them, unless these reviews (like the ones Taran Adarsh and Prem Panickar wrote for Yuva/AE) stick out like a sore thumb. But Roger the Simon and Garfunkel songs in "The Graduate" are instantly forgettable Ebert is someone who can be believed (to say the least). So if he uses phrases like “colossal miscalculation” and “an anti-climax” to describe a movie then it will more or less be one.

Anyways, I will be waiting to see in DVD or in video when it finally comes out in a couple of months. Maybe if a lot of lesser mortals (lesser than Ebert and so my equals) tell me otherwise, I will watch it maybe after a couple of weeks when I can finally breath a sigh of relief.

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