With the massive April 3 release date of “Furious 7” rapidly approaching, producer Neal Moritz treated fans to a surprise debut screening at South by Southwest on Sunday night. While the action was meant to take center stage, the presence of the late actor Paul Walker is what loomed the largest over the eager crowd.
Walker, who plays Brian O'Connor in the films, was the definitive star of the franchise before his tragic death in Nov. 2013, appearing in six out of the seven installments. With filming for “Furious 7” only half complete at that time, it was put on a brief hiatus before the filmmakers announced they would push forward with production using a combination of CGI and Walker’s real-life brothers, Caleb and Cody, as body doubles.
According to MTV News, Moritz brought the crowd to thunderous applause when he revealed that the movie would be shown at SXSW. However, he almost immediately copped to the fact that there was a giant elephant in the room.
“On a serious side: We obviously lost a dear friend, brother, comrade when we were making this movie,” he said. “He was really the best guy I ever met in my world – in my life. When we decided we were going to continue this movie, we were determined to honor his legacy and our love for him forever. I just want to ask one big favor of everybody. You guys are going to get to see the movie tonight without knowing what happens to Paul’s story line. Whatever you want to say after the movie is cool, but please let future audiences see it the way you’re going to see it tonight.”
The crowd was on board with the sentiment to keep the big reveal a secret and thus, the details of how the character was written out of the franchise remain unknown. While the series has a built-in and devoted fan base, many will likely flock to the theater simply to satisfy their curiosity as to how director James Wan handled the end of O’Connor’s storyline.
Buzzfeed reports that [MINOR SPOILER ALERT] the film’s use of body doubles and CGI to fill in for the late actor is noticeable, but only if you’re actively looking for it. Overall, Wan does a great job of making sure that the character is not on screen long enough for the audience to really dwell on Walker’s absence.
Perhaps the most jarring scene from the movie was partially shown in the Super Bowl trailer in which Vin Diesel’s character, Dominic Toretto, crashes a red sports car through a skyscraper. Walker’s character is reportedly in that car, drawing an eerie parallel to the real-life tragedy that befell the movie roughly two years ago.
Still, despite the strange life-threatening action scenes the character is involved in, it seems the crowd’s consensus on the movie was positive and it looks like the film makers honored Walker appropriately. Reuters reports that the movie ended with a closing scroll saying the words “For Paul” - forever dedicating it to the late actor.
“Furious 7” hits theaters April 3, in the meantime, check out this action-packed trailer featuring Paul Walker.