DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: IN PRAISE OF THE CAR CHASE

Thursday, 17 January 2008


There are few things more thrilling on film than a good old fashioned car chase. It never tires and will likely never be played out. Since 1968's "Bullitt" the car chase has evolved to become a competitive one-up-manship between filmmakers. The 70's were rife with b-movie genre films entirely devoted to car chases - the grandaddy of these being the original "Gone in 60 Seconds". And now with advanced camera rigging devices, and hydraulic car-lifters directors can craft intense scenes unimaginable in those early days.

There are even many sub-genres of the car chase: there's the simple one-on-one single road chase (usually in a rural setting). There's the freeway chase highlighted by immense speed and multicar crashups. There's the urban chase, which uses pedestrians, streetpoles and parked cars as obstacles to create suspense. There's the Euro-chase made distinct with small cars in small streets and tight maneuvering. And then there's those which take cars where cars weren't meant to go. There's a bit of everything in this compilation.

Note: I have listed the directors of the film beside the titles, but often action scenes are directed by the second unit director or stunt coordinator. The best resource for this information is www.varaces.com - a database site dedicated solely to logging every movie car chase ever filmed.

Let's begin, in no particular order:

The Matrix Reloaded - Highway Chase (2003) dir. The Wachowski Bros

A car chase which starts in the city streets and moves onto a highway, then turns into a motorcycle chase against the traffic, not to mention hand to hand combat inside and on top of the cars. Awesome! Love or hate the film The Wachowski Bros broke new ground for car chases with this scene. They built their own stretch of highway specifically for this scene. It’s smooth and slick style is a great contrast to say, the Bourne car chases, which uses a visceral ‘in-the-seat’ realism.

Bad Boys II - Freeway Chase (2003) dir. Michael Bay

"Bad Boys II" was ripped into by critics, but action/chase fanboys know Michael Bay's freeway chase is arguable the best stand alone chase scene. The sequence is so over the top, so crass, so debaucherous it’s divine.The carnage is unbelievable.

Ronin - Paris Chase (1998) dir. John Frankenheimer

The narrow streets, cobblestone roads and close-quarters of European streets always make for great action. John Frankenheimer’s "Ronin" features three great car chases. This is one is the best. Notice there is no music, just the hum of those beautiful sounding BMW engines.

Deathproof - Ship's Mast (2007 dir. Quentin Tarantino

Tarantino obviously reveres the classic car chase and specifically those 70's films I mentioned above. His characters even repeatedly reference "Vanishing Point" and "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry" numerous times. In the film's celebrated sequence stunt performer and actor Zoe Bell performs a manoeuvre called the "ship's mast", which involves riding the hood of a car while holding onto two leather belts. When Kurt Russell's 1970 Chevy gives chase the stakes and stunts are shifted into overdrive. Buckle up!.

Dirty Mary Crazy Larry - Finale (1971) dir. John Hough

A major influence on "Death Proof" was the final chase in "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry". It's mostly a one-on-one pursuit through straight roads. It's not the spectacular explosion-heavy chase of a Michael Bay sequence, but it's influential nonetheless and still wildly popular.

Diva - Through Le Metro (1982) dir. Jean-Jacques Beineix

This small little French hit features an amazing chase between a car and a scooter through the streets of Paris, and then through the subway system! Amazing.

Le Casse - Demolition Derby (1971) dir. Henri Verneuil

Watch these two little Eurocars skid their way through Greece. It's a Fiat and Opel Rekord that take much heavy damage before the end of this exhausting pursuit.

The Driver - Robbery Escape (1978) dir. Walter Hill

Walter Hill’s cult classic is a simple story about, well ... a driver. The climactic scene features Ryan O’Neal evading the police after a heist. Though not as violent or smash-up as the newer chases, it’s a tense scene. Watch Ryan O'Neil's calm and collected demeanor throughout - a true professional.

Bullitt - Mustang in Action (1968) dir.

The original San Francisco car chase. Steve McQueen driving his own car, that classic 67 Mustang, the jazzy score, the turtle neck! It still rocks.

The French Connection - Chasing the ‘L’ (1971) dir. William Friedkin

It’s not a car chase per se, but a car/subway chase, that’s even better. What makes Friedkin’s renowned chase so suspenseful is the intensity of Gene Hackman's performance and the danger he puts himself in to catch up to the train. This is a case of character influencing the action.

Unfortunately the chase has been removed from YouTube. If anyone know where to embed it please let me know.

To Live and Die in L.A. - Against the Traffic (1986) dir. William Friedkin

I haven’t read Gerald Petievich’s novel on which the screenplay was based, but I suspect Mr. Friedkin embellished or even invented the car chase in the story so he could top himself. Watch how Friedkin directs Petersen to act in the same fear-based hyper attentiveness as Gene Hackman in "The French Connection".
Friedkin would try and top himself again in the abysmal film "Jade" - skip it.
Only a trailer is uploaded at the moment:

The Bourne Supremacy - Moscow Chase(2005) dir. Paul Greengrass

Director Paul Greengrass puts the audience in the passenger seat next to Matt Damon as he plays bumper cars with his tiny little European taxicab. Listen to how John Powell’s heart pounding score adds to the speed and exhilaration of this chase.

Mad Max Interceptor Introduction (1979) dir George Miller

The opening of Mad Max is pure adrenaline, and one of best ever introductions to a hero. There’s two parts to the chase in the clip below. The spectacular crash through the camper is awesome, but I personally like when the thug starts crying when he finds out Max’s Interceptor is on his tail. Check it out:

The Road Warrior Opening (1981) dir. George Miller

Like his first film Miller opens with a bang. Few directors visualize the pure speed of better than Miller. Check it out:

Striking Distance Opening Chase (1993) dir. Rowdy Herrington

It’s a lame duck of a film, but Rowdy Herrington opens with a well-choreographed 1 on 20 car chase. The scene doesn’t quite have the intensity of a Mad Max scene and beware of some ugly cars and bad music. Other than that it’s a fine and lengthy sequence:

The Dead Pool Dirty Harry vs. A Remote Controlled Car (1991) dir. Buddy Van Horn

Buddy Van Horn – a second unit director/stunt coordinator by trade and pal of Clint Eastwood - directed the last Dirty Harry flick. He adds a new element to much imitated San Francisco chase by pitting Dirty Harry against a explosive-armed remote control car. It’s both comic and suspenseful and quite brilliant.

I could only find the trailer:

The Seven Ups Across the George Washington Bridge (1976) dir. Philip D'Antoni

A kind of spin off film to "The French Connection" – Roy Scheider gets to drive this time in an epic 10mins chase through New York and across the George Washington bridge. The ending is a classic. Enjoy:

The Blues Brothers Mall Chase (1980) dir. John Landis

Sure the final Blues Brothers chase is a classic, but arguably the Mall Chase is something we’ve never seen before or since. It’s a masterpiece of comic action. My favourite line – Jake: 'Disco dancing haircuts.'

Taxi Highway Chase (1998) dir. Gerard Pires

The original French film featuring a fast and furious speed through Paris and onto the highway. The monotonous electronic music provides a unique momentum to the scene:

Terminator 2: Judgment Day Downtown LA Chase (1991) dir. James Cameron

Cameron crafts a heart-pounding scene which starts in an underground parking lot, into the streets and ending in the concrete water runoff canal. As usual Cameron directs the scene with relentless muscular intensity.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines Arnold saves the day again (2003) dir. Jonathan Mostow

2003 was the year of the car chase: "Matrix Reloaded", "Bad Boys 2" as well a lengthy and destructive city car chase in "Terminator 3". It’s one of few chases featuring a woman driving one of the cars – does she count that she's a robot though? The extended crane attached to Kristanna Loken’s truck causes some massive destruction.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

In the Blues Brothers mall chase, one of the many shops they crash into was a bakery. I've always felt they missed a quick gag moment by having Belushi buy a dozen donuts.