Ever since Paul Walker’s untimely and unfortunate demise about a month back, the question looming in front of Universal would have been on how to go forward with Fast & Furious 7. Walker had shot partly for the film, but there were still some scenes pending, including a race scene. Universal recently took the first step of shifting the release date from the initially accelerated release in July 2014 to April 2015. But what would happen of Paul Walker’s on-screen character, Brian O’Conner? There have been all sorts of rumours around this, including the possibility of one of Paul Walker’s siblings shooting for the remaining scenes. But now Universal has finally laid all speculation to rest. As reported by Hollywood Reporter, Universal would retire the character of Brian O’Conner from the Fast & Furious franchise without killing him off. It is said that director James Wan along with a few others, decided to use Walker’s footage that has already been shot, but tweak the existing script so that Walker’s character would remain a part of the story but could be written out.
It seems to be the right thing to do, a touching gesture and if done well, a fitting homage to an integral actor of this highly successful franchise. Killing off Brian O’Conner would have been a second heartbreak for the fans and supporters of Paul Walker and this movie franchise. How will the character be retired though, is a mystery for now. O’Conner had in fact settled for a peaceful life by end of Fast Five and became a father in the beginning of Fast & Furious 6; he would have continued that way if the crew did not have to be banded together again on Agent Hobbs’ request. So of the two lead characters, Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner and Vin Diesel’s Dominic Torreto, one would have bet on O’Conner being the one to walk away from the “fast” life first. Hence, his “retirement” in Fast & Furious 7 would hardly be jaw-dropping, and would perfectly fit the character; the only thing we can hope is that it does not feel abrupt, and is a smooth transition which would give us a moment to grieve and yet allow the franchise to continue without any hassles.
Hollywood, sadly, has witnessed such untimely demises in the past as well, actors and actresses who passed away during filming. Not so long back, Heath Ledger’s death at the age of 28 caused a lot of grief in Hollywood. Ledger died before the release of The Dark Knight but the filming had already been completed, and so his work could be viewed on the big screen without the need for any alterations or additions; Ledger also won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Joker in this film. Christopher Nolan had also made it clear that there would no references to the Joker in the next movie The Dark Knight Rises out of respect for Ledger. But Ledger was in the midst of filming in what would be his last role in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Shooting was suspended temporarily on this film; it was then reshot with Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Collin Farrell, playing pieces of Ledger’s character. In a lovely display of respect and affection, each of these actors opted to hand over their wages for the role to Ledger’s young daughter, Matilda.
But not all of the movies who lose their stars are able to reach the cinema hall, to display for one final time, the work of the lost artist. Years ago, one of the most popular icons of Hollywood, a certain Marilyn Monroe was found dead in mysterious circumstances in her home. The film she was then working on, Something’s Got To Give, was never released. Another movie that almost never made it was Bruce Lee’s final film Game of Death. Lee was also directing this film, and his untimely death at the age of 32 stalled the film, which had about 100 minutes of footage shot. Later on, Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse was enlisted and he used the original footage as well as other footage from earlier in Lee’s career to complete the film which was released in 1978, five years after Lee’s death. A somewhat similar unfortunate tale revolves around the movie Dark Blood which got stalled in 1993 after its lead actor, River Phoenix (older brother of Joaquin Phoenix), died of a drug overdose. The film faced some legal complications with the insurers, and the project was then abandoned. But director George Sluizer finally managed to screen the movie at a film festival in 2012, almost after two decades of Phoenix’s death, by providing narration to explain those scenes that were missing.
If much of the filming is complete, the studios have the option of having a double enact the remaining scenes. That is how The Crow managed a theatrical release despite the terribly sad demise of Brandon Lee (son of Bruce Lee) on the movie sets due to an accidental gunshot. Director Alex Proyas used a double and special effects to complete the film, with some script rewrites. Another feature film Brainstorm made it to the theatres in 1983, two years after the death of the leading lady Natalie Wood in a boating accident, as the director Douglas Trumball used a body double for Wood’s remaining scenes, which were quite few as the actress had completed much of her work already. Ridley Scott’s Gladiator hit the theatres on time, despite the demise of Oliver Reed due to a heart attack, as most of his scenes had already been shot and for the additional scenes, digital effects were used.
It is a trying time for all, when such an unfortunate event occurs. For the family, for the fans, for the studio, for the cast members, and for the director. While the movies are insured for such possibilities, getting the film out, not from the financial standpoint alone but so that the final works of the actor can be showcased, becomes important. For a franchise like Fast & Furious, providing the character a conclusive end is also required for the longevity of the franchise. So this one will see no body double, no digital effects, no legal disputes, and no further delays hopefully; on April 2015, we will see Paul Walker and Brian O’Conner on the big screen for the final time… a chance to bid adieu!