(film review written in early 2000)
Former cinematographer Jan De Bont made his directing debut with this 1994 action film and although he was only moderately successful with recent efforts, "Speed" will likely stand out as an action classic. I'm sure that the pitch meetings for this picture must have been interesting - "there's this bus...and there's a bomb on the bus...and most of the movie takes place on the bus." A premise that's deceptively simple, but the movie runs with it. If the bus of the picture goes below 50 mph, then it explodes. The bus is on the freeway, but it's rush hour, it leaves the freeway, but can't make its way through traffic. The movie just keeps throwing obstacles in the way, and some are phenomenal.
Keanu Reeves stars as Jack Traven, an LAPD cop who foiled the plot of a mad bomber (Dennis Hopper) once before. Now the bomber wants revenge, and Jack soon finds himself on the bus, trying to save those onboard, including himself. When the bus driver is shot, a young woman (Sandra Bullock) is able to take the wheel. I think it's rare that a movie like this comes along, where there literally isn't a moment that stops to breathe. Renny Harlin attempted it with "Deep Blue Sea", but it isn't as successful as "Speed".
The performances are excellent all-around as well; the movie gave a jump-start to the careers of both Reeves and Sandra Bullock, the later unfortunately choosing to come back for the film's sequel. Jeff Daniels is also quite good as the bomb squad expert who is helping Jack by phone from the police station. And of course, Dennis Hopper creates the perfect villian in a great performance.
It's always been my opinion that the ending of the bus sequence was enough to end the picture and that the subway scene was a little too much, but all in all, it works. Chemistry between Reeves and Bullock is excellent, and the movie keeps the tension building. Definitely a classic in the action genre.
VIDEO: "Speed" was originally presented in 2.35:1 non-anamorphic widescreen by 20th Century Fox. It was a very early release and, while the picture quality was not a complete disaster, it was certainly not the kind of image quality that the film deserved. This new release is not flawless either, but is certainly an improvement over the prior release in several ways. Sharpness and detail are excellent throughout, although there are some very slight touches of softness in a couple of scenes. The level of fine detail apparent here is certainly better than the prior release and there's a smoothness to the image here that was not apparent on the earlier edition.
As noted, there are still a few little problems again on this release. Edge enhancement is visible in a couple of scenes, but not to a terribly distracting amount. The original release had a more "jagged" appearance, with shimmering and some pixelation. Neither problems are visible this time around. A couple of specks are still seen on the print used, but they aren't too terrible.
The film's natural color palette was presented wonderfully again on this release, as colors came across looking crisp and vivid, with no smearing. Black level remained solid, while flesh tones looked accurate, too. A very nice upgraded presentation. Like former cinematographer De Bont went on to do "Speed" and other pictures, "Speed" cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak has gone on to direct a few of his own pictures, as well.
SOUND: This new edition of "Speed" includes both the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that was included on the prior release and an additional DTS 5.1 soundtrack. The film offers terrific sound design; while advancements over the years means that this doesn't match many more modern soundtracks, it's still a highly entertaining sound experience that still stands up very well today. Surrounds are heavily put into play to deliver various sound effects during the action sequences, as well as an enjoyable amount of ambience. Mark Mancina's outstanding score fuels the film wonderfully and fills the room quite nicely. Deep bass is also present during several of the action scenes. Dialogue, music and sound effects all remain crisp and clear throughout. The DTS soundtrack provided more depth and a fuller, richer overall sound.
MENUS: The main menu is a terrific montage of images from the movie edited together, accompanied by Mancina's score. However, moving between options seemed unusually slow.
Commentaries: director Jan De Bont offers his own full-length audio commentary, while producer Mark Gordon and writer Graham Yost offer their own screen-specific audio chat. I enjoyed De Bont's "Twister" commentary and his commentary here provides an equally informative overview of the making of the film. The director energetically covers several topics, such as casting, effects, minatures and other production stories. Again, "Speed" was De Bont's first picture and he certainly has a great deal to say about the obstacles that he faced during production. It's a very good track, however...
...The producer/writer commentary is even better. Gordon (who sounds a little like Jon Lovitz) and Yost are clearly very good friends and seem to feel free to riff on the movie. While they certainly seem pleased with the final film, they also point out what they feel is doesn't quite work in the picture, including a few goofs. There are a number of classic moments in this relaxed, informal chatter, including one about thirty minutes into the picture, where the two discuss the fact that they had nothing to do with the sequel (and they seem happy that they weren't a part of it). Although much of this track is made up of some witty, sharp humor about the picture, there's also a lot of good, solid information about the production mixed in, too.
Bus Jump: The first section of the second disc is "Action Sequences". The first piece included is this short featurette, which thankfully doesn't start with a trailer or anything - it simply goes into the details about how this sequence was accomplished. Director De Bont, the film's stunt co-ordinator and others provide interviews in-between on-set footage as we watch the scene being filmed.
Metrorail Crash: This is a similar featurette that provides an interesting, straightforward explanation of how the metrorail sequence was accomplished.
Multi-Angle Stunts: Four sequences ("Bus Jump", "Cargo Jet Explosion", "Jack Vs. Payne" and "Metrorail Crash") are offered in this section. As with any big sequence in a film, multiple cameras are involved. Here, the viewer is allowed to see the viewpoint for eight different cameras (three for "Jack Vs. Payne") that were going to capture these sequences. The angle button on the remote is used to skip from angle-to-angle, with the additional option available of viewing all angles at once.
Storyboard Vs. Scene: Storyboard-to-scene comparisons are provided for "Bomb On Bus", "Bus Jump" and "Metrorail Fight and Crash". Viewers can switch between viewing only storyboards and storyboard-to-scene comparisons with the angle button on the remote. An additional, unfilmed scene, "Baker Sequence", is offered here in storyboard form only, with optional commentary from director Jan De Bont.
On Location The first piece available in the next section ("Inside Speed"), this is a pretty traditional "making of" featurette, if a little less "promotional" than these efforts usually are. It thankfully gets right to the point, giving a fair amount of detail about De Bont's work and how the action was accomplished.
Stunts: This is a featurette partially about how many of the film's complicated stunts were accomplished and partially about the kind of enormous planning and detailed safety discussions that must go on before scenes like this are filmed. Director De Bont as well as the film's stunt coordinator are featured in interviews. We also find that Reeves did many of some of the film's stunts, including some of the more dangerous ones.
Visual Effects: As mentioned in De Bont's commentary, there were a lot of miniatures used in the film. This featurette has the film's visual effects supervisor discussing the different ways effects were used in the film - such as some digital effects, some miniatures and other various tricks.
Original Screenplay: Graham Yost's original screenplay is available in text format. It's a lot to browse through, but it's available for those who are interested in taking a look through it all.
Production Design: This section is set up in an interesting way that other DVD producers should look at. It is a text section that goes into great detail and analysis regarding the film's production design, but there are additional logos scattered throughout that bring up more material, such as concept drawings.
Interview Archive: Original interviews with Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Daniels, Dennis Hopper and Jan De Bont.
Extended Scenes: 5 very small bits are included here, along with some minor text information about each one. Nothing too interesting, although they're a nice inclusion.
Also: HBO First Look: Making of "Speed"; an extensive image gallery; press kit/production notes; "Speed" music video by Billy Idol; the film's trailer and 11 TV spots. An easter egg (a rather strangely edited "airline" version of one scene) is hidden after the DVD credits, which are also actually hidden in the main menu of the second disc.
Final Thoughts: Fans of "Speed" finally get their wish, as Fox has offered a release that improves upon the original in every way, with better audio/video and lots of great supplements. Highly recommended.