They threw cars into the sky from behind. They jumped cars through buildings in Abu Dhabi, they drove cars on ice sheets and put them against submarines. What’s next for the filmmakers of the series “Fast and Furious,” a franchise that has been a magnet for audiences for 20 years?
How about magnets?
For “F9” (in theaters June 25), the latest sequel, the filmmakers consulted with scientists to devise their latest outrageous stunts, despite not strictly following the laws of physics.
The hero of the film, Dominic “Dom” Toretto (Vin Diesel), has settled into a quiet life with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and his son. But he becomes active again when the planet is threatened by a man with whom he has a certain history: his estranged brother Jakob (John Cena), who happens to have an electromagnet.
It consists of magnetic disks that can be wired together or used separately. A control disc (with a handy 11-style dial) can increase or decrease the polarity of the magnets. The same disc can create a lower intensity magnetic field that can pull a fork away. However, when the solenoid is set to the highest settings, it can be placed on the floor of an airplane, for example, and catch a car in mid-air if it drives off a cliff. And so the fun begins.
The director Justin Lin, who returned to the franchise after the third to sixth episode, said he was fascinated by the magnet concept while on a trip to Germany with a producer in order to find inspiration for the films.
“We landed in Hamburg and at that time I was interested in particle accelerators,” he said in a video interview. “It was something I was thinking about, but I didn’t know where it was going.”
There they visited the DESY research center, which housed a particle accelerator that was used to study the structure of matter. Lin said that one of the scientists, Christian Mrotzek, mentioned the idea that magnet technology could create different degrees of polarity using electrical currents. This concept formed the basis for the weapon that Lin developed with fellow writer Daniel Casey.
But it’s not like they’re closely related to science. This type of film ultimately attaches a rocket engine to a Pontiac Fiero. Instead, the crew came up with the idea of magnets that can be turned on and off to create some wow-factor stunts.
In a sequence that takes place on the streets of Edinburgh, the electromagnet pulls an entire car on its side, then through a store and into the back of a delivery truck. No, none of this was done with real magnets. But yeah, Lin’s crew actually put that shot up on a stage and achieved a practical effect by putting a car on a roller and sending it through a window into the side of a truck.
Some of the most impressive stunt work is the final act chases in Tbilisi, Georgia. Dom’s team toggles the electromagnets on and off to send cars into the middle of the street to act as roadblocks, or to turn over a 14-foot-tall, 26-ton armored vehicle (which was actually built for the movie).
As part of the sequence, Dom, who drives a Dodge Charger equipped with electromagnets, is caught between two trucks. He turns up the dial and forces the trucks to “stick” to the side of his car. Then he turns the dial down and lets the trucks race across rows of parked cars.
Lin said that for this and other scenes he planned all shots in a pre-visualization, with the locations being scanned into the computer so that he could determine the angles and lenses. Then he shot reference images of the trucks on set to understand their insides. “So I could really see how a truck moves when you pull it and it has problems,” he said.
Eventually the scene was filmed in Tbilisi with stunt drivers driving the trucks in Dom’s car to make them appear magnetized and then driving away. But the result is a bit chaotic on purpose: Lin likes to stage his scenes, thinking about the characters’ mental states and frustrations as they perform vehicle movements.
“While I have the opportunity to do it perfectly, I actually don’t like it,” he said. “I want the fight to be part of the editing so the audience can participate with us.”