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They shot cars into the sky from the back of airplanes. They jumped cars through buildings in Abu Dhabi, they drove cars on ice rinks and let them compete against submarines. What’s next for the filmmakers on the Fast and Furious series, a franchise that has been a crowd puller for 20 years?
How about magnets?
For “F9” (in theaters June 25), the latest sequel, the filmmakers consulted with scientists to devise their latest egregious stunts, even though they didn’t exactly obey the laws of physics.
The hero of the film, Dominic “Dom” Toretto (Vin Diesel), has lived a quiet life with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and his son. But he’s pulled back into action when the planet is threatened by a man he has a long history with: his estranged brother Jacob (John Cena), who happens to own 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 could pull a fork away. But when the electromagnet is set to the highest settings, it can, for example, be attached to the floor of an airplane and catch a car in mid-air if it drives off a cliff. And so the fun begins.
Director Justin Lin, who returned to the franchise after the third to sixth editions, said he was intrigued by the magnet concept when looking for inspiration for the films with a producer in Germany.
“We landed in Hamburg, and that’s when I was interested in particle accelerators,” he said in a video interview. “I thought about it, but I didn’t know where it was going.”
There they visited the DESY research center, which has a particle accelerator that is used to study the structure of matter. Lin said that one of the scientists, Christian Mrotzek, mentioned the idea that magnet technology using electrical currents could create different polarities. This concept formed the basis for the weapon that Lin conceived with his screenwriter Daniel Casey.
But it’s not as if they were clinging closely to science. This is the kind of film that eventually attaches a rocket motor to a Pontiac Fiero. Instead, the crew took on 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 shop and into the back of a delivery truck. No, none of this was done with real magnets. But yeah, Lin’s crew actually set up this take on a stage and achieved a practical effect by putting a car on a pulley and sending it through a window in the side of a truck.
Some of the most impressive stunt work is the final act chases in Tbilisi, Georgia. Dom’s team turns the electromagnets on and off to send cars out in the middle of the road to act as roadblocks, or to turn over a 4-foot-tall, 26-ton armored vehicle (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 had 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 took reference shots of the trucks on a set to understand their insides, “so I could really see how a truck would move if you pull a truck and it struggles,” he said.
Eventually the scene was filmed in Tbilisi with stunt drivers driving the trucks into Dom’s car to make them magnetic and then driving them away. But the result is a little messy on purpose: Lin likes to stage his scenes by thinking about the characters’ mental states and frustrations as they perform driving motions.
“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 edit so the audience can partake with us.”