Jan de Bont had worked on many films prior to his directing debut with Speed. From Die Hard to Lethal Weapon 3, this prolific cinematographer made a name for himself well before sitting in the director's chair. After watching Speed it was safe to say that his transition to director was inspired; though to be fair he hasn't worked on another project since that that has been as prolific.
Parodied and referenced so many times in the past twelve years it's easy to say that Speed has become a cult classic. The film did wonders for the careers of Keanu Reeves and really put Sandra Bullock on the map. It has also found its way into the hearts of action fans and remains popular to this day. The concept may be simple and downright hokey at times but it's presented in such a way that it remains fun throughout.
Even if you haven't seen the movie you most likely know all about the story. There's a bus with a bomb on it and it can't go below 50 mph or else it will blow up. That's basically it. Granted there is more depth to the plot than just that but there's truly nothing that gets really fleshed out. This is a straight forward shut-your-brain-off-and-enjoy-the-ride movie that proves to be entertaining from start to finish.
Keanu Reeves stars as maverick LAPD officer Jack Traven who soon finds himself having one of the worst days of his life this side of Jack Bauer. At the start of the film Jack and his partner Harry (Jeff Daniels) respond to a hostage situation where a lunatic with a bomb is threatening to blow up some passengers in an elevator. While the rest of their squad is sent to strategic locations Harry and Jack have the daunting task of attempting to defuse the bomb. Things go sour quickly but in the end they corner the bomber and save the victims.
Shortly thereafter we learn that the bomber, Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper), is still alive and free as a bird. He gets Jack's attention via an exploding bus and tells him that another will blow up unless he gets $3.7 million. This sends LAPD's craziest cop on a mad rush to find bus 2525 before it hits 50 mph because that sets the bomb. Naturally there wouldn't be much of a movie if they didn't so before long it's bombs away down the freeway and Jack is the only one who has a chance to save these people's lives.
Things go from bad to worse once the driver gets shot and Annie (Bullock) has to take the wheel. Across lanes of traffic, through downtown, and eventually onto a section of highway that hasn't been finished yet, so many things are tossed in the path of these users of public transportation that it gets ridiculous. The entire time the villain watches on rooting to see the inevitable explosion and hoping to receive his payout.
Throughout the film there are many scenes that impress with wild sequences involving the bus careening through red lights, school children, and baby carriages . These moments are compounded by Jack attempting to maneuver under the bus to disarm the explosive. The pacing of the film will keep you on the edge of your seat from the moment it begins to the final scenes. Unfortunately the film's ending felt rather anti-climactic to me but such is the case when the plot is extended beyond its boundaries. I don't want to give details away in the off chance that you haven't seen it but let's just leave it at the film should have ended with the bus.
Another little gripe that I had with Speed had to do with character development. Because there is so much action going on at all times insight into Howard's past, Jack's rationale, and Annie's feelings kind of get pushed aside. It doesn't truly affect enjoyment of the film but a little more depth could have gone a long way to making it more than just a fun action romp.
Speed is a wild ride from start to finish. Along the way it leaves a little bit of character development and realistic sensibility at the door but even so it's still one of the better action movies to come from the 90's. It's easy to see why the film did so well when it was released and makes the fact that Speed 2 was released even more of a shame. Action fans looking for a good title to put on their Blu-ray shelf will definitely want to keep this one in mind.
In case you aren't already aware there are some compatibility issues with Speed on the Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray player. Fox has apparently offered replacement discs for owners of the player and last I heard here have been no firmware upgrades to fix this error. Our very own Joshua Zyber encountered these technical problems but I found that the disc player perfectly fine on my PlayStation 3.
Speed is presented on a 25GB Single Layer Blu-ray disc that uses AVC at 14 MBPS. The film also receives 1080p HD resolution and comes with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. As far as the quality of the film's appearance itself it is definitely a big step up from the Five-Star DVD release from 2002.
The picture quality has been beefed up to allow Speed to live in a hi-def world. The image is sharp, the colors are well saturated, and there is little to no grain to complain about. Compression artifacts are nonexistent even in the darker scenes such as the subway tunnel towards the end and elevator shaft at the beginning. On the regular DVD release those moments included minute amounts of compression but I didn't see evidence of any of that here.
The work that Fox put into this release was impressive to me though I do have to point out that at some points the image was noticeably soft. While most of the disc retains its sharpness there are a good amount of quick shots and close-ups that are softer than most. There's only so much you can do with a 12 year old transfer though so take these moments with a grain of salt and you'll appreciate the effort.
Speed is presented with English DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio as its main track and it features some phenomenal output. The track is immersive with deep bass and a fine balance across all channels. Sound effects and music pick up in the rear though an appropriate spread of dialogue makes the cut as well. It's worth mentioning that I also encountered no glaring flaws in the presentation technical or otherwise. Everything about the sound on this track is crisp, clear, and loud; just the way we like it.
There is a French 2.0 Dolby selection as well but that doesn't offer anywhere near the capability that the DTS track does. English and Spanish subtitles are included as well.
While some Blu-ray releases disappoint with a lack of supplemental content Speed comes through with a somewhat decent spread. On the lighter side of things is a Search Content feature and Personal Scene Selection along with a HD trailer. A Trivia Track is also included and though it's fairly useless it's not as pointless as the "Speed: Takedown Game".
By far the best inclusion on this disc is a pair of commentary tracks. One features director Jan de Bont and the other has producer Mark Gordon and writer Graham Yost. The Bont track is informative but kind of too droll to sit through for a length of time. At least the Gordon and Yost commentary is a little livelier with some diversified insight into the film. If you are looking to upgrade from the Five Star DVD you'll probably be disappointed because both of these tracks were featured on that release.
The Speed Blu-ray has better video and audio than the Five Star DVD had so I'm pleased to say that there have been some improvements. Unfortunately the bonus content that is here is no where near on par with, or better than the Five Star release. In that sense you're only reason to upgrade is for the presentation of the film; which is still reason enough.
If you have a Samsung player you'll want to hold off until Fox or Samsung fixes the compatibility issues. Otherwise this is a great action romp that works well with a nice transfer. Recommended