***/**** Image A Sound A Extras A-
starring Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Daniels
screenplay by Graham Yost
directed by Jan de Bont
by Bill Chambers At the risk of calling it generic, Speed is such a perfect title for the film to which it belongs that you're almost reminded of those unornamented yellow boxes dotting the aisles of grocery stores everywhere--the ones labelled simply "SALT," "FLOUR," "BRAN FLAKES"...you get the picture. Though "Speed" gives it permission to be about anything, the film, to its credit, actually practices velocity and momentum. It puts the action movies that preceded it on fast-forward, so that in each sequence is packed the sum thrills of a Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal joint. It's one of the few films in which propulsion forgives stupidity because it makes the point-blank claim of being an amphetamine.
Keanu Reeves's second and more commercially successful attempt to become a superhero after Point Break, Speed casts Reeves as Jack Traven, a hotshot SWAT cop who earns the ire of a mad bomber (Dennis Hopper) for foiling his plot to send the passengers of high-rise elevator plummeting to their deaths. Traven soon finds himself barrelling down the unfinished L.A. freeway in a bus that will explode if it slips under 50 miles per hour. Piloting the bus is chipmunk-cheeked Annie (Sandra Bullock), filling in for the vehicle's wounded driver. Communicating alternately with his desk-bound partner Harry (Jeff Daniels) and the bomber via cell phone, Jack must find a way to keep from running out of fuel, running out of road, and running out of patience with the harried passengers while negotiators come up with ransom money and proverbially "figure something out."
The directorial debut of acclaimed cinematographer Jan de Bont (Die Hard, Basic Instinct), a master of widescreen framing, Speed, made for the paltry--considering the complexity of the shoot (real elevator shafts, real freeway lanes, real subway cars)--sum of $28 million, is nothing less than a work of alchemy. De Bont would go on to helm Twister, Speed 2: Cruise Control, and The Haunting, abominations of progressively diminishing returns; screenwriter Graham Yost, son of TVOntario's beloved "Saturday Night at the Movies" host Elwy Yost, subsequently scripted Broken Arrow (a clunker) and Hard Rain (a steaming turd); and Reeves and Bullock have each had hits and misses but last gave us Sweet November and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, respectively. It doesn't even make sense that another variation on the Die Hard formula turned out this well (or felt this fresh) as late as 1994. Speed is lightning in a bottle, in every way that that implies.
Deserving, certainly on the basis of box-office success, of their "Five Star Collection" banner, Speed receives just that in a DVD reissue from Fox. The 2-disc set contains a 16x9-enhanced, 2.35:1 widescreen transfer vastly superior to that of Speed's previous DVD release, which recycled a too-sharp, too-hot LaserDisc master. Contrast has greater range within the "Five Star"'s THX-approved image and detail is softer yet more pleasing to the eye. I enjoyed both the Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 mixes on board the new DVD--they are clear and expansive to the point of being dizzying. I believe this Five Star release is the first domestic home-video edition of Speed with a dedicated LFE channel; alas, the film fails to take advantage of it to the extent that one would presume of a summer spectacle.
Besides a rarely-seen THX trailer and the THX Optimode set-up, the first platter includes a largely technical and oh-so-quiet commentary by de Bont plus an additional, very entertaining track with Yost and producer Mark Gordon. Recorded together, the two spill a lot of beans, such as the fact that Bullock's part was written for Ellen DeGeneres (!). They have little patience for the film's third act, heavily reworked by "Buffy" creator Joss Whedon, though neither touches on his participation. The second platter divides a he-man portion of supplements into six sections as follows:
Bus Jump (10 mins.)
Stunt co-ordinator Gary Hymes recollects the pains that were taken to pull off Speed's centrepiece 109 ft. jump. An impressive stunt, even if it was refined by CGI--something we don't learn until a later featurette.
Metrorail Crash (6 mins.)
Yes, the ceiling was that low when Hopper and Reeves duked it out atop the train.
View the storyboards for five sequences (the fifth an unfilmed rescue attempt with optional Jan de Bont commentary or music-only accompaniment) inside or outside a splitscreen with finished footage.
De Bont shot some sequences with up to eight cameras at once, and here's your chance to view the various angles--or composites that suggest a Mike Figgis wet dream.
On Location (7 mins.)
A mix of interviews from 1994 and today and outtakes. Hearing of the multiple buses rigged for specific shots or manoeuvres in the yak-tracks for the film itself pales in comparison to seeing them in use here.
Stunts (12 mins.)
Reiterates that which we discovered in the previous section.
Visual Effects (9 mins.)
Thanks to this mini-doc, I finally understand why F/X are shot on VistaVision stock even for Panavision films. You may be surprised here by the sophistication of the circa-1994 CG technology.
Yost's screenplay (presented as 267 individual screens of text) and compelling notes written by production designer Jackson DeGovia round out Inside: Speed. (Aside: the presence of the colon in all headings is to simulate a red digital readout.)
From 1994: Keanu, Sandra, Daniels (genuine shrapnel buried in his Dudley Do-Right chin), and Hopper speak out on Speed. De Bont's two-part talking head was taped recently. Those in search of substance need not apply.
Because Speed was efficiently scheduled and edited, very little in the way of deleted material exists. In the best and longest of these five extensions, we delve into Ray the Gunman's criminal past.
Eight sub-sections of production stills for the Speed completist. Actor Alan Ruck's private snapshots capture a playfulness the remaining photographs lack.
And finally, eleven TV spots, Speed's trailer, Speed's bland (save for Hopper-hosted interstitials) 24-minute HBO First Look making-of, Billy Idol's video for the song "Speed," and presskit production notes. I have to say the RDR gimmick loses its lustre here.
Clever menus (pay close attention to the TV screens) and an odd Easter egg finish off the Speed: Five Star Collection. Pop quiz: Buy it. Okay, so that's not a question.
115 minutes; R; 2.35:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, English DTS 5.1, French Dolby Surround; CC; English, Spanish subtitles; DVD-9s + DVD-5; Region One; Fox