Paul Walker died yesterday in a car crash at the age of 40. When any young man’s life is cut short it’s a tragic event, and that goes double (rightly or wrongly) for someone so recognisable around the world, someone loved and admired by millions of film-goers.
I honestly can’t see how Universal can complete FAST & FURIOUS 7 (currently filming), let alone continue the series, without appearing completely tasteless. Oh sure, you have all the affectionate and well-written tributes pouring in now, from cast, crew and executives alike, and I’m sure there will be a period of mourning. But there will come a time, as it always does, where the question of money will raise its ugly head. Film is big business after all, and the FAST & FURIOUS franchise is Universal’s most profitable film franchise ever. They’re not going to give that up for the sake of appearances.
Actors have died before films have been completed before, of course. Most prominently in recent years was Heath Ledger dying months before the release of THE DARK KNIGHT. Luckily for Christopher Nolan and the money-men, Ledger had finished his filming, and his sudden death only resulted in a shift of focus in the advertising campaign (away from the Joker) and a posthumous Oscar for the actor (which I really hope he would have received even if he had lived).
Going further back, Oliver Reed died before filming on GLADIATOR had wrapped, and this caused quite a headache for Ridley Scott and his editing team. The gladiator trader Proximo is a key supporting character in the film, and they ended up finishing the film with doubles, outtakes and a little CGI trickery, and you can hardly tell in the end product unless you’re really looking for it.
Then there’s Brandon Lee’s infamous accidental fatal shooting on the set of THE CROW. It was one of the great controversies of the time, and a particularly black day for filmmaking, not just because a promising young actor (and son of another who passed prematurely) but because he died as a direct result of the film he was involved in, because of a special effects blunder. The film was completed with special effects and stunt doubles, but it will always be a slightly uncomfortable viewing experience because of the real-life events surrounding it.
Actors have died before, and their films have been completed and released. Fast 7 will also, in all likelihood be completed and released too, but it might leave a bad taste in your mouth. Sadly, money is more important than respect for the dead. There will be re-writes, editing trickery and a “in memory of” message slapped onto the end credits. Where can the franchise can go after that, with one of the major actors suddenly passing away? Could anyone be so tactless as to simply write Brian O’ Conner out of the series to allow for a real-life death? Whatever happens, the series won’t stop – franchises don’t, not while they’re producing mountains of cash. Walker’s final film will probably even get a bit of a box-office boost from morbid curiosity. It’s all a question of good taste, which will always, sooner or later, give way to thoughts of profit. SSP