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Jan de Bont
Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock, Joe Morton, Jeff Daniels
Graham Yost

Get ready for rush hour.
Rated R.

Academy Awards:
Won for Best Sound Effects Editing; Best Sound. Nominated for Best Film Editing.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
English Dolby Surround
French Dolby Surround
English, Spanish

Runtime: 115 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 7/30/02

• Audio Commentary by Director Jan de Bont
• Audio Commentary by Producer Mark Gordon and Writer Graham Yost
• Five Extended Scenes
• “On Location” Featurette
• Stunts Featurette
• Visual Effects Featurette
• Bus Jump Featurette
• Metrorail Crash Featurette
• Four Multi-Angle Stunt Comparisons
• Four Storyboard-Film Comparisons
• Interview Galleries
• HBO Special
• Billy Idol Music Video
• Still Galleries
• Trailer and TV Spots
• Full-Length Screenplay

DVDMusic soundtrack

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Speed: Five Star Collection (1994)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Of all the many films that rehashed the Die Hard formula, Speed easily remains the best of the lot. Some of the others worked fairly well, but none reach the same level of quality. While not as strong as the seminal Die Hard, Speed does top that film’s two sequels and stands as one of the few action flicks that merits consideration alongside the prototype.

Perhaps Speed neared the level of Die Hard because the director of the former acted as cinematographer on the latter. Maybe he learned enough lessons during the original film to carry him through Speed. The jury remains out on Jan de Bont’s overall qualifications as a director, though. After Speed, he earned greater financial success with 1996’s Twister but he flopped with 1997’s Speed 2: Cruise Control and 1999’s The Haunting. As I write this in July 2002, de Bont has yet to produce a fifth directorial effort, though I hear indications he’s behind the reins of next year’s Tomb Raider 2.

Even if de Bont stinks up the joint with future releases, he can’t taint the glories of Speed. Actually, I liked The Haunting to a moderate degree, and I also thought Twister provided a lot of fun for what it was. Only 1997’s Speed 2: Cruise Control really stunk, at least as I recall; I’ll probably see the movie again on DVD soon, but I hated it theatrically. (It didn’t help that the film’s excessive usage of handheld camerawork literally made me nauseous.)

In any case, Speed remains the prize of the bunch. Speed starts with a crisis in an office building. A nutbag named Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper) threatens to kill a bunch of elevator passengers if he doesn’t receive a payday of about three million bucks. Along with his partner Harry (Jeff Daniels), gung-ho young cop Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) saves the passengers and foils Payne’s plot.

After the baddie fakes his own death, Jack soon learns that Payne remains on the prowl. He still wants his money, but he also wants to torment Traven along the way. Payne blows up a nearly unoccupied bus and tells Jack that he put another bomb on a different one. The gimmick: once the bus reaches 50 miles per hour, it’ll arm the explosive device, and if the vehicle dips below that speed, it’ll detonate.

And there’s your plot! The rest of the movie simply follows Jack’s attempts to save the passengers. He manages to get aboard the moving bus and he gets to know the inhabitants. Jack develops a special connection with Annie (Sandra Bullock). She gets drafted to take over the vehicle when another passenger accidentally shoots the driver (Hawthorne James). As they roll through Los Angeles, the film offers one close call after another while the crew defies death.

I’ll never refer to Speed as a perfect film. It includes characters that seem too cardboard and dialogue that appears too stilted and forced. However, it does pretty much everything else right, as it creates one of the liveliest and most compelling action flicks I’ve ever seen.

Much of this occurs because de Bont keeps the pace relentless. Sometimes that can be a bad thing, as too many movies try to overwhelm the viewer with action. Although de Bont rarely lets us catch a breath, he still manages to avoid overkill. Not many movies go for the gusto in such an active manner, but it works well for Speed. Heck, it helps cover some of the plot holes; you’re too occupied with the thrills to notice just how many people the police endanger to save the handful of bus passengers.

No one looks to this sort of film for fine acting, but Speed benefits from some good performances. None of them reach the heights established by Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman in Die Hard, but almost no clunkers appear either. It seems that the most faulted work comes from Reeves, who provides a typically flat performance as supercop Traven. However, the lack of complexity works for the role. Jack seems like a very focused individual who maintains total concentration on the task at hand, and Reeves demonstrates that attitude quite well. He also brings a solid physical presence to the role. No, Keanu’s not the second coming of Olivier, but give the guy some credit; he did well in this part and the fairly dissimilar Bill and Ted flicks, so the dude can show some versatility.

Nonetheless, the other main actors outclass him and provide the strongest work. Stuck as the thankless second banana, Daniels manages to bring some life to Harry, and he makes some of his scenes surprisingly memorable. The nutcase role should have been second nature to Hopper at this point, and he offers a comically insane performance. Payne’s no ultra-weirdo like Frank Booth in Blue Velvet, as he seems much cartoonier. Hopper embraces the over-the-top comic book tone of Speed and tosses out some excellent line readings as well.

If nothing else, folks should remember Speed as the breakout vehicle for Bullock, for it launched her career as a star. It wasn’t her first film by a long shot, and it wasn’t even her first big-budget action flick; she appeared in 1993’s Stallone dud Demolition Man. However, Bullock brings a wonderful sense of humanity and personality to the underwritten Annie and makes her a very memorable character. Few usually remember this sort of role in this sort of film, but Bullock manages to create a nice portrait with her work here.

I still don’t feel Speed approaches the heights of Die Hard, but I can’t think of another film in the genre that threatens its number two status. Speed provides a consistently exciting and thrilling experience that holds up well after eight years. The movie pours on the action and miraculously allows us to suspend disbelief even as it offers some of the most moronic scenes ever filmed. From start to finish, Speed remains a classic action film.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio B+ / Bonus A-

Speed appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While the picture didn’t reach reference levels, it nonetheless seemed quite satisfying.

Sharpness appeared nicely crisp and detailed throughout the movie. I saw no instances of softness or fuzziness, as the movie remained distinct and accurate at all times. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, but I did notice a little light edge enhancement at times. As for print flaws, I occasionally saw a few specks, and I also noticed a mark or two. Otherwise, the image seemed clean, and it lacked any significant defects.

Speed featured a naturalistic palette, and the DVD presented these hues accurately. The colors remained tight and concise throughout the film, and they always seemed nicely vibrant and lively. Black levels also appeared deep and dense, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy but not overly thick. Really, most of Speed presented a solid image; without the smidgen of edge enhancement and the smattering of print flaws, this one would have made it to “A” level.

Also positive were the soundtracks of Speed. The DVD included both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 audio. Overall, I found the two mixes to seem pretty similar. I found that the DTS track showed slightly stronger low-end response, but really, the two were a lot alike; nothing about the DTS version appeared to greatly outdo the Dolby edition.

That was fine with me, since both came across quite well. The film showed a very active and involving soundfield at all times. From the opening elevator sequence to the bus shenanigans to the climactic scenes, Speed used all five channels to great effect. The music showed solid stereo presence, and effects cropped up from all around the spectrum. Elements seemed appropriately placed, and they integrated well. Sounds moved cleanly from one speaker to another and each channel boasted a lot of unique audio. In regard to the soundfield, this was a top-notch mix.

Speed lost a few points due to audio quality. The sound seemed good across the board, but it lacked the spark that would make this an “A”-level mix. Speech appeared crisp and distinct, and I noticed no problems due to edginess or intelligibility. Music was clear and bright, but the score didn’t show great depth; not that the music lacked any bass, but I felt those portions needed stronger punch to work as well as they should. Effects came across as clean and accurate, and they provided a stronger low-end presence. Actually, I found the bass for the effects to seem a little boomy at times. In any case, my criticisms of the Speed soundtracks remained minor, as the film usually provided very positive audio.

For this new “Five Star” edition of Speed, we get a nice roster of extras. These start on DVD One with a pair of audio commentaries. The first comes from director Jan de Bont, who offers a running, screen-specific track. I’d heard de Bont’s discussion of Twister and thought it seemed decent but unexceptional. His chat about Speed appeared somewhat more engaging. I can’t call it a terrific commentary, but it worked pretty well.

During Twister, visual effects supervisor Stefen Fangmeier accompanied de Bont, and the track took a pretty technical bent. Even on his own, de Bont still stayed with a lot of nuts and bolts aspects of Speed, but these didn’t dominate as heavily as they did during the Twister piece. He offered a good general discussion of the film that seemed a little dry at times, but de Bont nonetheless provided a reasonable amount of useful and interesting information.

Even more satisfying was the second commentary from producer Mark Gordon and writer Graham Yost. Both were recorded together for this running, screen-specific piece. From start to finish, this track was a blast. Gordon and Yost clearly know each other well, and their dynamic seemed fun from minute one. They provided a lot of great information about the movie; from its genesis to casting possibilities to changes made along the way to challenges experienced during the shoot, they contributed scads of useful material.

In addition, Gordon and Yost showed a terrifically irreverent tone toward the movie itself. They demonstrated a sense of affection for the flick but they still poked lots of fun at it - and many holes in it. They appeared more than happy to point out all the plot flaws and scenes that lacked logic, and they also provided appropriate criticism of their work. Many amusing moments resulted, such as their on-going debate about how many people died in the film. Overall, this was an excellent commentary that I really enjoyed.

Available on both Disc One, Speed includes the THX Optimizer program. This purports to help you set up your home theater to best present the movie on the disc in question. Apparently the Optimizer is unique for each DVD on which it’s included; unlike programs such as Video Essentials, the Optimizer should tweak your set-up differently every time. Frankly, I’ve been very happy with my already-established calibration and I’m afraid to muck with it, so I’ve never tried the Optimizer. If you lack calibration from Video Essentials or a similar program, or if you’re just more adventurous than I, the Optimizer could be a helpful addition.

To find the rest of this package’s goodies, we need to move to the second disc. Once we dive into the “Action Sequences” domain, we discover a mix of pieces. Bus Jump offers a nine-minute and 37-second featurette that covers the creation of Speed’s most famous sequence. It combines many shots from the set and interview clips with stunt coordinator Gary Hymes, director Jan de Bont, executive producer Ian Bryce, stuntman Jophery Brown, and producer Mark Gordon. The program provides a nice examination of the work that went into this stunt and shows its completion in a fairly thorough manner. Amusingly, the featurette demonstrates just how ludicrous the film’s jump really is.

A similar program looks at the Metrorail Crash. Actually, the six-minute and 17-second piece also covers the subway scenes in general. We hear from stuntman Brian Smrz, de Bont, Hymes, and Bryce along with some great behind the scenes shots. I especially enjoyed the rough footage of the fight sequence on top of the train.

After this we get a collection of Multi-Stream Storyboards. An “Introduction” gives us some career details about storyboard artists Giacomo Ghiazza, and then we see four difference sets: “Bomb On Bus”, “Bus Jump”, “Metrorail Fight and Crash”, and the unfilmed “Baker Sequence”. So what’s a “multi-stream storyboard”? Basically just the same old thing. We get one “stream” with the filmed storyboards on their own, and the other shows a comparison between the boards and the finished film. You can flip between them with the “angle” button on your remote.

Only the “Baker Sequence” alters this presentation. Since they never shot it, they can’t show the final film. Instead, you can watch the storyboards presented along with either music or commentary from de Bont. The fact this segment didn’t appear in the movie makes it the most compelling of this set. De Bont offers a few remarks about the clip but nothing of substance; they didn’t show it for budgetary reasons, and his statements don’t much expand on that fact.

You can use your “angle” button more in the Multi-Angle Stunts area. The text “Introduction” basically discusses why so many camera angles exist. From there we can check out four different stunt scenes: “Bus Jump”, “Cargo Jet Explosion”, “Jack Vs. Payne”, and “Metrorail Crash”. All of these except “Jack” provide eight different angles; “Jack” includes only three. We hear production audio for all the snippets except “Jet”; it uses music from the film.

Nice touches abound in this area. For one, you can watch all of the angles at once via a camera composite screen. In addition, the presentations run three times in a row to make the multi-angle viewing easier. I also like the fact that each scene shows the frame rate at which it was shot; that’s a cool notation. The clips are very interesting to see as they let amateur editors inspect all of the potential choices.

That completes the “Action Sequences” domain, so now we move to “Inside Speed”. It begins with On Location, a seven-minute and 22-second program that combines the usual mix of movie segments, shots from the set and interviews. We hear from producer Gordon, executive producer Bryce, director de Bont, and actors Reeves, Daniels, Bullock, and Hopper. This featurette mainly concentrates on some light technical details about the stunt buses and the camerawork as well as the freeway shoot. This show seems somewhat superficial, but the behind the scenes shots remain very useful, especially since these include the actors.

The focus of Stunts should be pretty obvious. The 12-minute and eight-second featurette uses the same format as the others. We get interviews with de Bont, Bryce, Hymes, Daniels, and stuntman Brown, though Hymes dominates the program. The piece covers the general use of stuntmen and what the actors did rather than concentrate on specific stunts. The bits that show what Reeves did seem most interesting, but the piece as a whole is entertaining.

Another featurette with a self-explanatory title, Visual Effects offers a nine-minute and 13-second examination of that area. We hear from visual effects supervisor Boyd Shermis, computer graphics supervisor Ron Brinkman, and engineer Jack Sessums. A generally compelling program, a couple of elements appear most interesting. I like Shermis’ discussion of why he used Vista Vision for green screen composite shots, and I also think the matte painting composite seguences are good.

The final two pieces of “Inside Speed” provide text pieces. Original Screenplay lets you step through Graham Yost’s work. It covers 267 screens, which makes access slow, but it’s fun to see; I love to compare the finished film to the early vision. Production Design includes a written commentary from production designer Jackson DeGovia. Design sketches appear throughout the text; you access them when you see a little bus icon on screen. The text can be a little dry at times, but DeGovia offers some good details, especially about the ways in which the filmmakers tried to use symbolic touches. Overall the text definitely deserves a read.

Next we move to a section called the Interview Archive. This section mainly concentrates on the actors, as we hear from Keanu Reeves (5:56), Sandra Bullock (9:27), Jeff Daniels (6:48), and Dennis Hopper (4:41), as well as director Jan de Bont (4:22). Most of the comments cover similar territory. Each of the actors talk about their roles, the movie’s plot, the other actors, and de Bont. For the most part, the remarks seem fairly banal. Some of the actors’ personalities make the pieces more palatable, but they offer little useful information. The director goes over some different information and is a little more interesting, especially as he reflects on his early experiences as a director.

Extended Scenes includes five segments. These range in length from 40 seconds to four minutes, 55 seconds, for a total of 11 minutes and three seconds of footage. The vast majority of that running provides shots from the final film to set up the unused material; the actual new footage fills little of the space and seems like minor alterations. Most significant is an extension to the cop party at the bar, where we get a little more character information about Jack and Harry. Most entertaining is a very short addition to the chat between Helen and Annie; the latter gets some funny lines that should have stayed in the film.

Inside the Image Gallery we see a whopping 18 different collections of stills. These range from six shots to 59 frames for a total of 408 shots. Most of these provide production stills, but we also get a few publicity shots as well. It’s a nice collection of material, and the presentation makes the images easily accessible.

The final area of DVD Two covers “Promotion”. In the Trailers and TV Spots domain, we get one of the former and 11 of the latter. HBO First Look: The Making of Speed runs 24 minutes and 12 seconds and provides the usual glossy program. Hosted by Dennis Hopper, the shows mixes the standard complement of movie clips, shots from the set, and interviews. In the latter vein, we hear from actors Bullock, Reeves, Daniels, and Hopper, producer Gordon, director de Bont, technical advisor Randy Walker, executive producer Bryce, stunt coordinator Hymes, visual effects supervisor Shermis, engineer Sessums, stuntmen Smrz and Brown, and computer graphics supervisor Brinkman. Although the piece includes a few good behind the scenes snippets, it remains fluffy and promotional as a whole. We find much of its information elsewhere, as the subway crash and bus jump are explored more thoroughly on other parts of the DVD. Speed buffs may want to give it a look for some of the candid bits, but otherwise it’s not very useful.

In the unlikely chance anyone likes it, the DVD includes the music video for “Speed” by Billy Idol. The terrible song makes for a bland video; it offers the standard mix of lip-synched performance with shots from the movie. Lastly, Press Kit Production Notes includes some moderately superficial but fairly interesting information about the movie.

On DVD Two, we get one cool Easter egg. From that disc’s main menu, you can highlight an icon in the upper right corner of the screen. Clicking that takes you to some DVD credits. Proceed to the end of those and you’ll find a bus icon. After you select it, you can watch one scene that was modified for the airline version of Speed. It’s worth the modest effort, as the clip’s hilarious.

Eight years after its release, Speed remains a terrific thrill ride. It may not be the absolute best of its genre, but it’s quite close to the top, and it provides a fun and exciting experience. The DVD offers very good picture and sound along with a fine roster of extras. I highly recommend the Five Star Collection edition of Speed to anyone with an interest in the film, and that includes owners of the old movie-only DVD.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0377 Stars Number of Votes: 53
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