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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Speed: Five Star Collection (1994)

"Poor people are crazy, Jack. I'm eccentric."
- Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper)

Review By: Brian Calhoun  
Published: July 29, 2002

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper
Other Stars: Jeff Daniels, Joe Morton, Alan Ruck
Director: Jan De Bont

Manufacturer: Digital Video Compression Center
MPAA Rating: R for action violence and language
Run Time: 01h:55m:46s
Release Date: July 30, 2002
UPC: 024543040897
Genre: action


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B+A-A A

DVD Review

At the heart of Speed is a scene where a speeding city bus, filled with passengers, jumps a 50-foot gap in the Los Angeles 105 freeway. Though this sequence is as technically unsound as they come, I still found myself fervent with excitement. Speed is so incredibly far-fetched that to enjoy this film one must completely suspend all sense of disbelief. Those who are not able to shut off their minds and lose themselves in sheer implausibility will most likely turn off their televisions after the first five minutes of Speed. Everyone else will be treated to a frenetic and heart-pounding thrill ride. Ludicrous, but shamelessly enthralling, this is fiction at its most sensational and most unbelievable, and should be enjoyed as such.

The concept of the film is simultaneously one of the most masterful and absurd stories ever conceived. Madman Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper, once again seamlessly losing himself in lunatic mode) has rigged a public bus with a bomb designed to arm itself when the bus hits 50 miles per hour. Once engaged, if the bus drops below 50 miles per hour, the bomb explodes. His psychotic motivation is fueled by money; he demands 3.7 million dollars or he detonates the bomb. Payne is one of the most ingenious idiots I have ever seen in a movie. He has meticulously masterminded a scheme that all but assures he will never receive his money. Honestly, how long could a Los Angeles passenger bus consistently maintain a speed above 50 miles per hour? Regardless of improbabilities, this is the type of plan that makes exciting motion pictures.

Of course, a film like this needs a hero, and Speed gives us the stalwart SWAT team specialist, Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves). Jack does not show a great amount of intelligence, yet his presence equals those of the most popular action film icons. Though Keanu Reeves hams it up as only he can, Traven proved to be an excellent role for his acting abilities; he slips into the action hero persona with persistence and charm. Most impressive is that Reeves accomplished most of his own stunts, including a leap from a moving car into a moving bus that made me wince with pain.

Also on board is Annie, played adorably by Sandra Bullock. I must admit, I am not a great fan of Bullock, but for Speed, she combines her cute persona with a rough-around-the-edges charisma that eventually won me over. As the driver of the bus, she must portray herself as tough and headstrong without detracting from the sexy female quality that draws male audiences to the theaters in droves. On all counts, Bullock delivers. Her successful performance was a milestone for her career, and a stepping stone to her future as a prominent leading lady.

Yes, the idea of the film is outlandish, but this is necessary to pave the way for stupendous action sequences. Speed may very well contain the most action sequences of any motion picture ever made. With the exception of a brief awards ceremony, the wall to wall action intensity simply never stops. First-time director Jan De Bont significantly raised the benchmark for the action genre, meticulously staging never-ending stunts that involved nearly every moving vehicle imaginable. He used his extensive experience as a cinematographer to great effect, knowing precisely how to stage these elaborate scenarios. The breathtaking pace of Speed is enough to make even the most discriminating viewers cast aside any feelings of incredibility.

Surprisingly, all of the continuity and plausibility flaws do not undermine the power of Speed. What severely destroys the integrity of the film is bad dialogue; most of the one-liners honestly made my stomach churn. The filmmakers' were looking to lighten the load for the audience after they have endured the heart-stopping action. Yet, this approach backfires drastically. Speed opens with a nail-biting situation that involves a bomb on an elevator. After one harried woman escapes just moments before her feet get lopped off above the ankle, she turns back, notices one of her shoes is missing, and woefully exclaims "My shoe!" It is lines like this that destroy the enjoyment of an otherwise riveting rescue sequence. This is merely one small example from a mile-long list. I may be nitpicking, but dialogue like this seems to be a staple of action movies—perhaps someone can enlighten me as to why. An action movie certainly does not need a deep, thought-provoking screenplay; it only needs an average story to drive one action sequence to the next. Speed consists of a well above average story, yet the dialogue is so bad that the audience is jolted out of the intensity of the moment, causing the action sequences to lose their effect. The core of Speed is as tight as can be, but these sporadic bits of dialogue nearly destroy the impact of the film.

Speed moves so quickly, the audience is rarely given enough time to dwell on any of its infinite problems. Jan De Bont and his talented crew have proved that they know the action genre implicitly. Their intelligent approach to this film all but assures that the audience will become wrapped up in the grand spectacle instead of focusing on the fact that Speed is essentially nonsensical. The ability to lose ourselves within a surreal fantasy world is one of the main reasons we love going to the movies, and Speed is two hours of pure cinematic escapism.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Up until now, Speed fans have had to settle for a dull and lifeless nonanamorphic transfer. While not perfect, this newly remastered 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is beautiful enough to satisfy even the most discriminating viewers. The overall aesthetic is incredibly pristine, conveying a smooth and lifelike characteristic throughout. The bold color palette is especially pleasing, consisting of cool, bluish tones that are nicely contrasted by warm, natural lighting. Periodically, minor color bleeding occurs within reds. While not distracting, this overblown, blooming effect may irk serious videophiles. Black level is exquisite, appearing as dark and rich as can be expected. Thanks to wonderfully balanced contrast, these darker scenes also reveal natural shadow detail, and daylight scenes exhibit a soothing grayscale (perhaps thanks in part to the smoggy Southern California skies?) The most noticeable distraction is the soft nature of the picture. While the lack of sharpness can cause the image to appear fuzzy and smeared, the level of detail is still highly commendable. Transfer-related deficiencies such as edge enhancement are occasionally noticeable, yet never terribly irritating. This is an incredibly film-like presentation and yet another stunning transfer from 20th Century Fox.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes
DTSEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: Two fantastic audio tracks are offered: Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS. While both are outstanding in terms of fidelity, the DTS offers slightly better spatiality and depth. The surround speakers are often fully utilized, filling the soundfield and enveloping the viewer with the sounds of passing helicopters, speeding vehicles, and crackling gunfire. Dynamic range is impressive, ranging from delicate whispers to maximum sound pressure levels. Dialogue sounds somewhat thin and lacking in depth, yet clarity always remains first rate; never do spoken words sound harsh or unintelligible. While not as deep as many action extravaganzas, the low end is remarkably clean and sure to satisfy bass fanatics. This is not as sonically impressive as many recent soundtracks, but the 5.1 mix for Speed is as tasteful and aggressive as one could possible hope for.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
11 TV Spots/Teasers
4 Multiple Angles with remote access
5 Deleted Scenes
Screenplay
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
5 Featurette(s)
Storyboard
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Jan De Bont; producer Mark Gordon and screenwriter Graham Yost
Packaging: Amaray Double
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:55m:08s

Extra Extras:
  1. Interview Archive
  2. Image Gallery
  3. Production Design
  4. Music Video
Extras Review: The latest in Fox's impressive Five Star Collection, Speed contains the best set of DVD extras I have seen in quite a long time. While not every special feature will satisfy all viewers' tastes, there is certainly something for everyone in this two-disc set. These extras offer a broad look at the intense level of work that goes into making a motion picture. The generous quantity and superior quality of supplemental material included in this set has greatly heightened my appreciation for the art of filmmaking.

Disc One begins with a commentary from director Jan De Bont. Instead of wasting time talking about the screenplay or the acting, De Bont focuses his discussion more on the nature of creating such a bold action picture. He reveals secrets of the magic behind the camera without detracting from the overall experience. While this is not the most entertaining commentary I have ever heard, De Bont is a pleasure to listen to, and he delivers an interesting analysis of his film. Anyone who is interested in commentary tracks and the process of filmmaking will find this a worthwhile listen.

The second commentary is from producer Mark Gordon and screenwriter Graham Yost. This track gets off to a rocky start with the two participants stepping on each other's sentences. As their conversation progresses, they begin to find a more integrated way of communicating together. It is refreshing to hear them both state that they do not take this film seriously; Graham Yost even goes so far as to mention that "the central conceit of this movie is absurd." This is another enjoyable commentary track, filled with moviemaking tidbits from two gentlemen who seem to be enjoying themselves.

Disc Two contains the majority of special features, which are divided into six main sections. First is Action: Sequences, focusing on the technical bravura of the many thrilling action scenes. The four subsections are as follows:

Bus Jump Featurette:
I was interested to learn that the famous bus jump scene was not in the original screenplay. It was included during filming when Jan De Bont decided that yet another grand action sequence was needed. While another action scene may seem redundant in a film like this, the bus jump proved to be one of the most ambitious and daring stunts in Speed. This featurette dramatically shows the technical side of setting up and filming this thrilling sequence. Due to tight camera work and deft editing, I actually became somewhat nervous watching them attempt this dangerous feat, even though I was fully aware of the outcome.

Metrorail Crash Featurette:
This featurette is similar to the Bus Jump Featurette. This time, the focus is on the frenetic finale of the film. This is yet another fascinating look at creating and executing one of Speed's many eye-popping effects.

Multi-Stream Storyboards:
This is the type of storyboard section I have been longing for. All of my many complaints with the typically annoying method of storyboard presentations have been rectified in this fantastic section. It contains automatically advancing storyboards for four separate sequences, all of which play to the film's soundtrack. At any time, the viewer may use the angle button to toggle between the full frame storyboards or the storyboard-to-film comparisons. Most impressive is the nature of the split-screen presentation, with the storyboards encompassing half of the screen and the finished film consuming the other half. This might seem like an obvious visual method, but I cannot begin to state how many storyboard sequences I have seen that present the storyboards in a microscopic window box accompanied by a multitude of wasted screen space. It is interesting to note how closely the final film mirrors the storyboards, proving how such conceptualizing greatly effects the final shot structure of a film. The fourth sequence is an interesting storyboard-only look at a stunt sequence that was never filmed. Jan De Bont offers an optional commentary for this elaborate sequence, but the storyboards do speak for themselves.

Multi-Angle Stunts:
This section is arguably the best of the bunch. A compelling feature, it provides the viewer with a candid look at exactly how the filmmakers achieved awe-inspiring shots and how they are edited into a believable piece of work. Coverage of four key stunt sequences is offered with as many as eight fully isolated camera angles. The viewer has the option to view an individual camera angle, flip through all of the cameras by using the angle button, or watch a composite of all cameras presented in window-box format. I found the Bus Jump sequence most fascinating. No single angle proves to be very exhilarating, but thanks to eight meticulously placed cameras, the viewer can now see exactly how the filmmakers achieved pure movie magic.

The next main section is titled Inside: Speed, containing five subsections that document the intense production work for the film:

On Location Featurette:
Most of this featurette consists of the usual, uninteresting interviews with the cast and crew. However, the way in which this featurette is presented wholly encompasses the intensity of the film. I am not typically big on making-of specials, but On Location impressed me. It further proves that so much of the overall effect of a featurette is not based on content, but rather on an effective delivery.

Stunts Featurette:
As if the title does not speak for itself, this is a thrilling look at staging and executing the plethora of stunts in Speed. Like On Location, the Stunts Featurette proves to be another exciting and enthusiastic presentation.

Visual Effects Featurette:
Par for the course, Visual Effects proves to be the most exciting of these well-produced featurettes. Visual effects supervisor Boyd Shermis gives us a fascinating look at how miniatures and computer graphics were combined with live action footage to create a seamless effect. Particularly interesting is a glimpse at how effectively computer technology was utilized back in 1994. The filmmakers used this gift tastefully without overdoing it to the point of overkill. This is much more than I can say for so many of today's CG laden films.

The original screenplay is presented in its entirety at a whopping 267 pages. The entire scrpt is manually advanceable, allowing viewers to read at their own leisure. While Speed is not one of the most elaborate screenplays ever written, its inclusion offers budding film students a candid look at how to create one of the most important elements of a motion picture.

Finishing up the Inside: Speed section is a unique focus on the production design. Most of this section consists of still text frames that read much like production notes, but what truly makes it fascinating is the inclusion of a selectable icon on each screen. When selected, the viewer is treated to blueprints, graphic designs, schematics, and sketches that embellish on the chosen topic. It is amazing to see how much effort goes into designing the most diminutive details, such as all the tiny wires on Payne's explosive devices.

Next is the extensive Interview: Archive, featuring interviews with Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Daniels, Dennis Hopper, and Jan De Bont. Each of the participants' interviews are broken down into several subsections, allowing individual access to their thoughts on a variety of topics including the story, the other cast members, and the action genre in general. This entire section is too long and redundant. Every interview is a dragged out version of clips that were edited more tastefully into the HBO special. I personally have no interest in hearing Keanu Reeves struggle to explain the story line of Speed.

Extended: Scenes begins with an interesting text opening that explains how every scene that was shot appears in the final film, which is why there are no actual deleted scenes. The only exception is a scene titled Ray's Crime. I am thankful for the inclusion of this section, yet the fact that most of these scenes predominately consist of footage used in the final film does not make it truly worthwhile.

Image: Gallery contains hundreds of still photos from the film's production, presented in anamorphic widescreen. I appreciate all things anamorphic, but why this section is anamorphic above any other section is baffling. As for the images themselves, I found them about as interesting as watching grass grow. The Speed Portraits are tremendously wretched, looking like shots out of a high school yearbook, or even worse, engagement photos for Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock.

The final major section is Promo:tion [sic], consisting of the following four subsections:

Trailers and TV Spots:
The theatrical trailer is presented in anamorphic widescreen with Dolby stereo surround sound. Seeing as Speed is two hours of nonstop action, it would have been incredibly difficult to create an ineffective trailer. Needless to say, the trailer is concise, yet thrilling. Also included are 11 TV spots, presented in pan & scan. All eleven are nicely edited montages; if I had not already seen the film, these would certainly spark my interest.

HBO First Look: The Making of Speed:
I typically greet these HBO specials with apathy and disdain. While this one proves to be a bit more entertaining than the typical tiresome affair, it suffers from an extensive running time and sheer redundancy. The only unique footage is from the always entertaining Dennis Hopper, who guides us through this documentary. Other than his infrequent, witty comments, this event is plagued with boring interviews as well as pan & scan clips from the film. The entire special feels like a bad experience of déjà vu.

Speed music video by Billy Idol:
This is the typical music video fluff seen on so many action film DVDs. The video consists of Billy Idol performing a simulated live performance along with clips from the film. Overall, this is very tawdry, which seems to fit the film just fine.

Unlike many production notes, which mostly consist of redundant information, Press Kit Production Notes offers an abundance of insight into the creation of Speed that is not already offered in this vast collection of special features.

Finally, be sure to look for an easily accessible easter egg on the main menu screen of disc two. When found, DVD production credits are revealed, as well as a clip of how the film was altered for airline audiences. This heinous mutation further proves my belief of why no one should ever watch an in-flight movie.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

It has been a long wait, but finally, Speed has been given the treatment it deserves. I have no reservations whatsoever urging fans to get rid of their lackluster original Speed DVDs and purchase this new two-disc set. The audio and video presentations are exquisite and the special features will keep one busy for hours.

Highly Recommended.

 


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