Cut to the chase…..

There has been a debate for such a long time about what is the best car chase that has been captured on film. By that I men cinema and TV. I reckon that the first film that comes to mind is Bullitt, starring Steve McQueen, a Ford Mustang and a Dodge Charger. Filmed in San Francisco, and with McQueen doing much of his own driving in the film, some say that the intensity of the chase towards end makes this on of the greatest car chases ever captured.

I completely disagree. Yes, this was one of the first properly staged car chases, but in terms of all time greatness status – this does not make my top three. Repetition of shots and a flawed ending marks this chase down. But the main thing is I just can’t get excited about it – the tow cars playing cat and mouse for the best part of 5 mins, really puts me to sleep – where is the fire, where is the action? It just doesn’t give me the wow factor.

What I believe constitutes to a truly exceptional car chase sequence is the timing, choice of car that are used, execution of the stunt and skill involved in driving.

Bad Boys II (2003) could have been right up there in my top three – a magnificent chase sequence set in Miami, with a GMC Yukon being harassed by a Car transporter followed by a Ferrari 550 Maranello.

Where the Buick‘s are launched from the top deck of the transporter and thrown, flipped and dragged along the bridge destroying anything in their path is quite brilliant. This is a ton of car being hurtled along by a chain, and therefore the way that the car reacts to being dragged along is totally unpredictable, and keeps the viewer on edge, as you don’t know if the protaganists will clip the rolling car, or manage to catch up with the Yukon, and save the girl. 

But this car chase is flawed – and can never be considered as great. Reason? CGI. To the purist, the skill of the driver builds and creates the cinematic chase legend. However, the producers were so worried about damaging the Ferrari, for some of the sequences where it weaves between the traffic, are CGI’d. Why? Why bother? With such a big budget, surely a replica bodyshell – such like the F355 replica in The Rock could have been used, and therefore avoided the CGI. A waste and a shame. Also the end sequence with the boat, sees yet even more CGI used – have a look at the Jaguar XJ40 flip through the boat – it seems a little too unrealistic for a car of that size to fly through the air.

So, the search continues, but having watched quite a few chases now, I can recommend some. Over the next few blogs, I will detail them and why that these are some of the chase sequences that have been filmed on celluloid.

For one of THE cinematic experience, you need not look any further than Ronin (1998) starring Robert De Niro. In this film, John Frankenheimer, who directed Grand Prix, insisted that all the stunt work was done without CGI and such. 

Although action sequences are often shot by a second unit director, Frankenheimer did all these himself, and sometimes rode along. While he was aware of the many innovations in digital special effects since then, he elected to film all these sequences live, to obtain the maximum level of authenticity. To further this, many of the high-speed shots have the actual actors in the cars. Skipp Sudduth did nearly all of his own driving, while other cars were right hand drive models with stunt drivers driving – crashes were handled by a stuntman. To lend additional authenticity, the sound recordist re-recorded many of the vehicles in the chases to ensure that during the editing, the right sounds were dubbed in for each vehicle. The chases are also notable for their lack of musical score accompaniment, unusual in modern films, though the last chase ends with syncopated, non-melodic music. [i]

The results are simply incredible – speed, technique and intensity of the sequence gives an unparalleled thrill ride that has ever been captured on film. And to cap it off, the choice of cars used –Audi S8, Peugeot 406, Citroen XM…..with the film set in France these cars complement the scenery and moodiness of the film. The sequence below shows only one of the sequences, starring the S8…….


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