F9: The Fast Saga

Universal;
Action;
Box Office $173.01 million;
$34.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $49.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of violence and action, and language.
Stars Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, John Cena, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Sung Kang, Michael Rooker, Helen Mirren, Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron.

By continuing the trend of its predecessors, the latest entry in the “Fast & Furious” franchise is a contender for one of the most absurd movies of all time. In addition to the franchise’s repeated assaults on the laws of physics, F9 adds long-lost family members and yet another character’s return from the dead.

Marking the 20th anniversary of The Fast and the Furious, F9 is the 10th film in the franchise, but the ninth in the main storyline, with 2019’s Hobbs & Shaw being a spinoff. It also features the return to the director’s chair of Justin Lin, who previously directed the third through sixth entries. Lin had previously directed the 2002 crime drama Better Luck Tomorrow, which could be considered the unofficial 11th film in the franchise as it introduced the character of Han (Sung Kang), who went on to appear in all of Lin’s “FF” movies and makes his return here, bringing the franchise’s main arc full circle as it prepares for its finale.

The story finds Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) living in seclusion with his wife, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and son, but he’s called back into action when it turns out his brother, Jakob (John Cena) is the leader of a clandestine group trying to steal a device that can hack into every computer on the planet. So the usual “FF” gang reunites for another round of car chases, explosions and quips from Tyrese.

The screenplay injects some pathos into the mix by exploring the sibling relationship between Dom and Jakob, in the form of flashbacks to when they were teenagers and their father was killed in a race, for which Dom blames Jakob. The flashbacks account for the “saga” aspect of the title as the film tries to connect nearly every character and plot thread from all the earlier films.

Once upon a time, these were movies about thieves in a street racing gang before it became about international missions to save the world. Now the characters are basically acknowledging they’re in a movie, joking about how they always survive against impossible odds, and pointing out the structure of the plot as a reason to switch sides for a third-act swerve.

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The film’s home video editions include a director’s cut that runs about six minutes more and improves the movie with important character moments, as well as another scene in Cardi B’s cameo.

Lin provides a good commentary track in which he discusses his return to the franchise, his desire to provide some weight to whatever drama exists in the franchise’s margins, and hints at future revelations.

The Blu-ray also includes a three-and-a-half-minute gag reel and more than 70 minutes of comprehensive behind-the-scenes featurettes.

There’s also a three-and-a-half minute featurette on the “Justice for Han” movement that influenced the film, and the fun four-and-a-half-minute “John Cena: Supercar Superfan,” in which the wrestler-turned-actor shows off several high-performance cars, including some used in the film.

The 4K disc contains the same bonus content as the regular Blu-ray.

 

 

DEG: Streaming Again Triggers Surge in Consumer Home Entertainment Spending While Catalog Keeps TVOD Afloat

U.S. consumers spent an estimated $15.7 billion to watch movies, TV shows and other filmed content on home and mobile platforms in the first six months of 2021, DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group reported Aug. 10.

The trade group reported the total spend was up 5.2% from the first half of 2020, when consumer spending on home entertainment was pegged at $14.9 billion.

The big winner, as expected, was subscription streaming, which posted a 21.4% gain to an estimated $12.2 billion.

The transactional segment, which includes a la carte disc and digital purchases and rentals, was down a whopping 28.7% to an estimated $3.4 billion, from $4.8 billion in the first six months of 2020.

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This reflects the pronounced lack of new product available to buy or rent in the first half of this year, when uncertainty about COVID-19 prompted the studios to hold back releases until they had more clarity. New theatrical releases, the DEG stated, have “historically [been] a key driver of home entertainment spending.” In January, virus cases were surging to record highs. Then came the vaccine and a swift drop-off in new cases, resulting in a gradual reopening of theaters. Movie houses in Los Angeles, the center of the film industry, didn’t begin to reopen until March.

Another key reason for the sharp decline in consumer transactional spending reported by the DEG is that the trade group does not track revenue generated from a premium rental or sales window that studios adopted in lieu of a theatrical release, even though this, too, is money spent on home entertainment consumption.

In a DEG presentation Universal Pictures Home Entertainment president Michael Bonner estimated “there’s a billion dollars in consumer spending that is not captured” in the trade group’s numbers.

“And those numbers are not insignificant,” he said. “We’ve seen tremendous engagement from consumers in that product that’s made available in early windows.”

Given the lack of theatrical new releases, spending on library titles “is notably strong,” the DEG stated. Over the past two years, digital catalog sales have grown at an annualized rate of 17%, a record high.

Popular catalog titles in the period included the eight “Fast & Furious” films and “The Office” TV series from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, Warner’s “Game of Thrones” and Harry Potter Complete 8-Film Collection DVD and Blu-ray Disc collections, Lionsgate’s John Wick Triple Feature disc set, and Paramount Home Entertainment’s A Quiet Place and “Yellowstone” sets.

The DEG noted that the 5% increase in U.S. home entertainment spending in the first half of 2021 came amid a nearly 88% drop in box-office performance for the films released in the period, due to prolonged movie theater closures due to the pandemic.

Looking at the DEG’s defined home entertainment market that excludes PVOD revenue, subscription streaming’s share of total home entertainment revenue rose to 78% by the end of June 2021, up from a 67.6% market share a year ago.

That means that the disc market (sales and rentals) fell to 8.8% of the home entertainment picture in the first half of 2021, down from 12.4% a year ago, while transactional VOD (digital sales and rentals) was down to 13.2%, from 20% a year ago.

Disc sales on their own were down to 6% in the first half of 2021, down from 8.6% a year ago.

Among just transactional home entertainment sources, disc sales and rentals comprised 40%, up about 1.73% from a year ago, with TVOD comprising 60%.

Home Release Dates Uncertain After Movie, Original Series Postponements and Production Halts

Movie release postponements as well as production suspensions for films and original SVOD series due to the mounting coronavirus health crisis will likely lead to significant shifts in the home release calendar for the rest of the year.

With movies typically becoming available for disc or digital delivery three months or so after their theatrical openings, delayed home releases include several big Hollywood movies, including the Walt Disney Co.’s live-action Mulan; Universal Pictures’ latest “Fast and Furious” film, F9; and the Paramount Pictures horror sequel A Quiet Place: Part II.

Meanwhile, such original digital series as the Netflix comedy “Grace and Frankie” and Marvel’s “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” on Disney+, will likely debut later than expected due to production halts.

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On the film front, Mulan’s scheduled March 27 theatrical opening has been called off, with no new date set — despite a star-studded premiere March 9 at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood that was attended by some 3,400 guests and a smaller London premiere March 12.

F9’s theatrical debut has been postponed by nearly a year, from May 2020 to April 2, 2021. According to a Twitter posting, “While we know there is disappointment in having to wait a little while longer, this movie is made with the safety of everyone as our foremost consideration.”

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A Quiet Place: Part II, slated to open March 20, has also been taken off the schedule, with no new date set.

The first big movie to be postponed was the latest James Bond film, No Time to Die, with Daniel Craig in his final turn as the fabled spy. On March 3 MGM, Eon and Universal Pictures announced that the planned April theatrical debut was off and the film, instead would open in the United Kingdom on Nov. 12 and in the United States on Nov. 25.

The companies said the decision came “after careful consideration and thorough evaluation of the global theatrical marketplace.”

Disney also pushed back the theatrical openings of two other movies, the horror film Antlers, original slated for April 17, and Marvel’s New Mutants, which was supposed to hit the big screen on April 3. No new dates have been set. New Mutants has already been delayed for years due to production issues and uncertainties associated with Disney’s buyout of Fox.

In addition to A Quiet Place: Part II, Paramount postponed the theatrical debut of The Lovebirds from April 3 to an unspecified date. The theatrical release of another Paramount film, Mission: Impossible VII, is up in the air after filming in Venice, Italy, was stopped in February due to the coronavirus outbreak there.

Also pulled from its originally scheduled theatrical release date is Sony Pictures’ Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway, which was supposed to open March 27 in Europe and in the United States on April 3. The film is now slated to open on Aug. 7.

Most recently, Variety on March 13 reported that Disney “for a short time” has halted production and pre-production on The Last Duel, The Little Mermaid, Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings, Home Alone, Nightmare Alley, Peter Pan & Wendy and Shrunk.

“While there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 on our productions, after considering the current environment and the best interests of our cast and crew, we have made the decision to pause production on some of our live-action films for a short time,” according to a studio statement, the Variety story said. “We will continue to assess the situation and restart as soon as feasible.”

The day before, March 12, various media outlets reported that Skydance Television, producer of “Grace and Frankie,” halted production of the seventh and final season of the comedy, which stars Jane Fonda, 82, and Lily Tomlin, 80.

Two days earlier, USA Today reported that Disney shut down production of “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” in Prague.