x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 September 2017

The truth behind Furious 7’s death-defying stunts

To celebrate the forthcoming home video release of F7, we look at how some of the movie's most impressive stunts were realised.

Vin Diesel, left, as Dominic Toretto and Kurt Russell as Mr Nobody in Furious 7. Courtesy Universal Pictures
Vin Diesel, left, as Dominic Toretto and Kurt Russell as Mr Nobody in Furious 7. Courtesy Universal Pictures

With Furious 7 set for release today on DVD and Blu-ray, movie geeks finally have a chance to watch the movie’s outrageous stunts in slow motion and play the “how did they do that?” game.

The film, part of which was filmed in Abu Dhabi, is full of impressive action sequences that wowed cinema audiences and helped propel it to No 5 on the list all-time ­highest-grossing movies, with global box-office takings of US$1.5bn (Dh5.5bn).

But a passing observation by a colleague set me thinking about some of the movie’s bigger tricks and led me to scrutinise them a bit more closely.

In the movie, Kurt Russell’s Mr Nobody is rescued from the Abu Dhabi desert by helicopter after an encounter with Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) and his band of mercenaries. Yet my colleague pointed out that as far as we know, Russell did not set foot in Abu Dhabi during the shoot. A quick check with local producers twofour54 revealed that, indeed, Russell was never on the set in the capital.

It’s fair to say that pretending Russell was in Abu Dhabi by finding some sand in Los Angeles to strand him in and then picking him up in a helicopter wasn’t the most impressive of the movie’s many stunts and visual tricks, so here is a look at a few of the more spectacular stunts. You might be surprised at how much of what you see on screen was done for real.

The cars are dropped out of a plane flying over Azerbaijan

The fiction: the movie has barely even started when the first of many incredible stunts take place. Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his team are dropped, in their cars, from a cargo plane high in the sky above an Azeiri mountain road and parachute down to Earth where they hit the ground running and set about racing along the twisted mountain path.

The Reality: the first trick here is that this is not Azerbaijan. The road is in the Colorado mountains, while the parachute drop took place over the vast expanse of the Colorado Desert. As this implies, however, the drop really did happen. The makers of the Fast and Furious movies pride themselves on avoiding green screen and CGI as much as possible and staging real stunts whenever they can, and this was no exception.

In fact, the drop took place seven times, including six test runs using cars of the same size and shape to iron out any problems before the stunt was filmed. The cars were fitted with BRS military parachutes, complete with GPS, and dropped from 12,000 feet out of a C-130 cargo plane. The chutes opened at 5,000 feet.

For the landing sequence, which was filmed separately, the stunt team rigged up a pulley system that suspended the cars about eight feet above the road. When the cameras were rolling, the revving cars were lowered to the ground and sped off along the “Azeiri” road.

Paul Walker’s bus jump

If, like me, you are scared of heights, then this is one of the most stomach-churning moments in any film you’ve seen (for the same reason I hope to avoid reviewing upcoming film The Walk, about the guy who walked a tightrope between New York’s Twin Towers in 1974).

Walker’s character, Brian, has to get out of a bus that is on its side and slipping over the edge of a cliff, run the length of the bus and jump off to catch hold of the spoiler of Michelle Rodriguez’s car as it spins into position on the cliff edge. The scene is only a few minutes long, but is a terrifyingly impressive stunt.

Amazingly, no green-screen trickery was used for the stunt, although safety harnesses were worn and digitally removed in post-production. The bus was bolted to the side of the cliff, with steel girders keeping it secure as Walker’s stunt double ran the length of it. Rodriguez’s car was secured by a cable to prevent the stunt driver from accidentally spinning out over the edge of the cliff.

For the climax of the sequence, as the car approached, the bus was released and pushed off the cliff as the stuntman, suspended by wires over a 160ft drop, made his desperate dive for the back of the incoming vehicle.

The end of the stunt had to be filmed in one take – once you’ve pushed a bus off a cliff, it’s not much use for reshoots.

“Timing is very important,” stunt co-ordinator Jack Gill told USA Today. “You can’t rehearse it.”

Etihad Towers car jump

The favourite stunt of most of us who live here was the car jump from one of the Etihad Towers to another – and then a third – after our heroes have liberated a Lykan supercar from its Jordanian owner’s penthouse.

If you were working or living near Etihad Towers when filming took place, you may have noticed that at no time did a $3.4 million supercar crash out of an upper floor window. Although exterior shots of the towers were filmed, the stunt was actually filmed in a studio in Atlanta, Georgia.

Since it was too dangerous to try to jump a car between the tower blocks for real, the team recreated them as 40-foot-tall glass and steel enclosures inside a giant sound stage. A stunt driver then drove at high speed through the windows of each “tower”.

Not surprisingly, to keep the film’s budget under control the multimillion-dollar car was not used to smash through the fake buildings. Instead, Lebanese manufacturer W Motors built six replicas using fibreglass instead of carbon fibre and using a 300bhp Porsche Boxster engine instead of the Lykan’s 750bhp beast. The jumps really happened, though – just not in Abu Dhabi, and not more than 50 storeys in the air.

cnewbould@thenational.ae