After Paul Walker’s Death, How Should Universal Handle the ‘Fast and Furious’ Franchise?
As movie fans worldwide continue to try and cope with the tragic lost of actor Paul Walker, executives at Universal Pictures returned to work over the Thanksgiving weekend to try and figure out how exactly they should move forward with ‘Fast and Furious 7,’ the latest installment in the massively successful franchise that hasn’t finished shooting yet. The film was on hiatus for the holiday, but was expected to resume filming today in Atlanta, with additional filming still to take place in Abu Dhabi.
There is no obvious answer on how the film should deal with Walker’s death, but there are three main options.
1. Scrap the Film Entirely. Sources told The Hollywood Reporter yesterday that the movie “will not be abandoned entirely” so don’t expect this option to pan out. As they say, the show must go on. The ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise is the biggest in Universal Pictures history (the last film alone grossed over $775 million) and is one of the few bright spots at an otherwise struggling studio. So, while it might be a noble gesture, don’t think for a second that Universal (who has already spent untold millions on the ‘Fast and Furious 7′ production) would just call it quits.
2. Write Paul Walker’s Death Into the Film. While the majority of the film has been shot, there are still key sequences that Walker hadn’t yet completed. Director James Wan met with Universal executives on Sunday to discuss potential rewrites to the existing script. One option is that they write Walker’s death into the movie. The ‘Fast’ franchise was never scared to kill off fan favorites (see: ‘Fast and Furious 6′) but the death of Brian O’Connor was never a part of their plan. Giving O’Connor an on-screen death may allow audiences some closure and addressing the elephant in the room, could allow the films to continue without him. But, how do the filmmakers delicately handle the fact that Walker died in a fiery, high-speed car crash? And how do you pay appropriate respect to both the actor and character, when you can’t actually film their death scene?
3. Write Around Unfinished Scenes, But Let the Character Live. While some rewrites would be necessary to manage the scenes left that Walker hadn’t yet shot, producers could opt to write around Walker’s death and try to piece the picture together with the footage that currently exists. It’s unclear whether Walker had shot the film’s finale, but if so, they could re-structure earlier parts of the movie without having to kill off the character. It’s possible they could also make use of any deleted footage from ‘Fast and Furious 6′ or digital face replacement (a la the Winklevoss twins in ‘Social Network’) to cobble together an ending with Walker still included. It would make the planned ‘Fast and Furious 8′ difficult, but with the Brian O’Connor character already a father with Mia (Jordana Brewster), the filmmakers could note that O’Connor simply “retired” and the films could continue without him.
No matter what, ‘Fast and Furious 7′ – already moving at an accelerated schedule – seems unlikely to make its July 11, 2014 release date as rewrites and reshoots will cause production delays. Additional time may well be a blessing for the marketing department, which now has to figure out how to promote the film, while acknowledging the death of Walker in a tragic situation similar to scenes in the film. (They’ll likely look to ‘The Dark Knight,’ a film successfully marketed by Warner Bros. in the wake of star Heath Ledger’s death.)
There sadly is no great option, nor any real precedent for how to proceed. While actors have died before while filming a movie, none were a part of a franchise so big and with the sweeping continuity of the ‘Fast and Furious’ films. While Ledger did die before he could complete filming on ‘The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus,’ director Terry Gilliam was able to replace the late actor with Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell as “transformed” versions of Ledger’s character. Such a trick would never work with these films.
Walker was incredibly proud of the films and surely would have wanted them to continue in his absence. Emotionally, that seems to be the best option. Ignoring Walker’s death might be the easy way out, but it also feels crass to just briskly move on without any acknowledgement other than a “Dedicated to Paul Walker” in the credits. A large part of the success of the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise was what Walker brought to the film. He had an effortless charisma and served as the perfect foil to Diesel’s grumbly Dom Toretto. Without him, the franchise wouldn’t be where it is today, if it even was a franchise. The filmmakers owe the legacy of Paul Walker more than that and while it may be difficult to see Paul Walker as Brian O’Connor die on screen, it’s the right move.
What do you think? What should Universal do with the ‘Fast and Furious’ films going forward?