How Car Chase Scenes Have Evolved Over 100 Years?
This is a chase scene from 1924.
It's from the movie Sherlock Jr.
And in it, Buster Keaton seems to almost get hit by a train.
With extremely limited special effects, the filmmakers had to come up with an innovative way to create the illusion.
So they shot the sequence backwards, then reversed the film.
Since then, Hollywood has developed countless ways to make car chases feel more real and visceral to audiences.
From modifying cars to placing cameras right in the seat of the action.
And without each of these innovations, we wouldn't have gotten to the ultimate spectacle.
That is the Fast & Furious franchise.
Let's take a look at how the car chase has evolved over 100 years in Hollywood.
This is the scene that set the standard for all modern car chases.
It's from the 1968 Steve McQueen movie Bullitt.
And it's iconic partly because of the characters...
"Look, Chalmers.Let's understand each other.I don't like you."
But also because of their cars.
This mean-looking Dodge Charger is a muscle car.
A type of car that exploded in popularity during the late '60s in the US.
This new, sleeker generation was basically built for informal drag racing, with big V-8 engines and rear-wheel drive.
The hero car in Bullitt was a Ford Mustang, the first major pony car.
A more compact, sporty take on the muscle car.
And it's this combination of streamlined design and V-8 engines that made these cars powerful and maneuverable enough to pull off daring stunts.
Like racing through the hills of San Francisco at 110 miles per hour.
Bullitt also had another advantage: Smaller and more rugged cameras, which allowed shooting to happen in actual streets.
Bullitt was one of the first big Hollywood movies to rely on the lighter Arriflex 35 II camera.
《布利特》是第一部使用轻便的Arriflex 35 II摄像机拍摄的好莱坞大片。
So the crew could shoot entirely on location and also take audiences inside the cars.
They mounted cameras on the hood, sides, and interiors of each vehicle.
So viewers could feel every bump and lurch.
This dynamic camera style was most famously used in the chase from the movie The French Connection.
The filmmakers mounted cameras on the hood, front bumper, and dashboard of Gene Hackman's Pontiac.
These multiple angles, along with handheld-camera work from the backseat of the car, showed all the action from the driver's perspective.
The result makes that Bond chase look like a casual spin.
But higher-stakes car cases can also be more dangerous.
The French Connection chase was filmed on uncleared streets in New York, without permits, among other drivers and passersby.
These barely avoided collisions? They happened for real.
And this crash was entirely unplanned.
At the wheel of the white Ford was a civilian driver who was uninvolved in the shoot.
All this happened even with actors sometimes driving slower than what you see on film, a standard trick used to reduce risk.
See how some cars' exhaust pipes are blowing smoke faster than normal?
That's because filmmakers on French Connection used a technique known as undercranking--
Where they film some of the scene at a lowered frame rate.
Capturing fewer frames makes movement look faster. Basically the opposite of slow motion.
You can also see this in Vanishing Point released the same year.
Barry Newman's character bets he can drive his Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco in 15 hours.
That'd require a constant pace of some 80 miles an hour.
But in many sequences, like this hot race with a Jaguar, the actors were only driving at 50.
So the filmmakers created the illusion of speed by undercranking the camera to half its normal frame rate, making the cars look like they're flying.
Undercranking is still used today.
Most notably in the 2015 movie Mad Max: Fury Road.
But heavy undercranking works best for settings that don't have a lot of people moving around.
Mad Max and Vanishing Point were perfect fits, with scenes that take place in the desert.
In scenes that have lots of pedestrians, the effect can make human movement look jerky and fake, Like what you see in old silent comedies.
So city chase scenes can only use the technique sparingly.
The Paris chase in the 1998 thriller Ronin, where Robert De Niro's Peugeot pursues a BMW, didn't use undercranking at all.
To actually drive at these daredevil speeds, you pretty much always need a stunt driver.
So the filmmakers have to find ways to make it look like the actor, not the stunt driver, is controlling the car.
In Ronin, they had right-hand-drive cars fitted with fake left-side steering wheels.
The actor, in this case Robert De Niro, would pretend to drive for the close-ups...
While the stunt driver to their right did all the actual maneuvering on a steering wheel positioned out of shot.
But having the stunt performer in the other seat limits the angles you can shoot.
And what if the stunt driver can't be in the vehicle at all?
The solution came from a movie with exactly zero car chases: Seabiscuit.
The stunt team on that movie built a special rig for filming horse-race scenes.
Eventually, that rig evolved into a smaller, more versatile version designed specifically for filming car chases.
Known as the Biscuit, it's basically a vehicle that you can put other vehicles on, one that can be reassembled into different configurations, Like a giant Lego truck.
The rig makes it look like an actor is doing the driving, while a stunt person actually steers from the driver's pod.
This pod can be mounted anywhere on the platform.
So filmmakers can basically get any angle they want.
The Biscuit rig made it possible to film some of Hollywood's most famous car scenes over the past two decades.
Today's filmmakers build on all the tools we've previously seen but have to deal with a whole other set of challenges.
The cars themselves are another common hurdle.
Chase cars aren't built the same way today.
Since the decline of the muscle car beginning in the late '70s, models have been getting safer and safer.
Cars have always been reinforced and modified for stunts, but recent movies take customization much further.
For cars used in production for the "Fast & Furious" movies,
the crew removes the airbags from the cars and disables features like traction control and the antilock braking system.
They also fortify the frames and bodies of the vehicles so they can withstand heavy-duty stunt work.
This can also mean building new cars from scratch.
But just as it took 100 years to get the tech to where we are now, it can still take months to build up an epic car shot, even a short one.
So even if these cars are going fast, it's the slow work of production that's gotten chase scenes to where they are today.