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SPEED
Five Star Collection

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper, Joe Morton, Jeff Daniels
Director:  Jan De Bont
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  See Review
Length:  115 Minutes
Release Date:  July 30, 2002

"Pop quiz, hotshot. There's a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do?"

Film ***1/2

Before helming his first feature film, Jan De Bont was a cinematographer who worked side by side with the likes of John McTiernan and Paul Verhoeven.  That's the kind of education money can't buy, and De Bont was certainly an excellent student.

Seeing Speed the first time was a rush of pure adrenaline like few movies dared to offer.  It's white-knuckled ecstasy from start to finish, never slowing down, never relenting, never caring if you're about to pass out from holding your breath.

Is it believable?  Mostly, but not always.  The beauty of the film, however, is that you don't have time to dwell on the implausibilities.  I'm always impressed that every time I watch it, I have moments where I go, "hey, WAIT a minute...", but De Bont always throws another topper at you so quickly, you don't have time to complete the thought!

Keanu Reeves got his first chance at action stardom with this picture (which would pay off later down the road with The Matrix).  He plays a Los Angeles cop named Jack Traven...a cool character with steel nerves who early in the picture helps stage an amazing rescue of some civilians trapped in a high rise elevator.  A madman has affixed a bomb to its brakes and has issued a ransom demand, otherwise the car full of workers will end up at ground floor too rapidly for comfort or safety.

That madman, Howard Payne (the always inimitable Hopper), is evil, unstoppable...and possibly too smart for the LAPD.  Having one attempt thwarted, he unleashes his coup de grace.  A city bus has been wired with a bomb that arms as soon as it hits 50 miles per hour...after that, if it drops below 50, it detonates.  And it's rush hour in Los Angeles. 

Only by meeting his ransom demand will the bus and its passengers be spared, unless the intrepid Jack can work another heroic miracle.  It won't be easy...Payne seems to know his every move before he can make it.  Time and gas are running out.  And that traffic?  Just remember...stay above 50...

The pacing is relentless...like the speeding bus, De Bont fearlessly plunges his audience into one scenario after another, usually pausing only long enough for a quick breath or a well-needed laugh.  He orchestrates the mayhem with all the enthusiasm of a first time director who's been chomping at the bits to show his stuff.  I dare say there's probably not one more idea he could have squeezed into the picture's two hour running time.  That's both a compliment and a critique, because no matter how many times I see the film, I always ask myself...was that last stretch really necessary?

No matter.  Speed is a film with a few flaws, but also one that smashes through them with chutzpah and gusto.  Any minor complaint is easily swept away by the movie's sheer entertainment value.  It was instantly a landmark action film, and raised the bar for ones to follow.  Very few pictures since have been able to reach that bar...the lame attempt at a sequel never even came close to leaving the ground!

Consider Speed the ultimate rush...original, electrifying, and relentlessly exciting.  Your adrenal glands will be begging for mercy by the end.

Video ****

I don't always trust the THX label, but this is a disc that earns it.  Fox offers a tremendous improvement over its lackluster first offering of Speed with a slick anamorphic transfer.  The detail level is impressive from start to finish; nothing is lost in the mix no matter how minute.  Colors are natural looking and extremely well rendered all the way, with no bleeding, softness or distortions.  The disc is free from grain or any compression evidence, and both dark and light sequences play with equal integrity.  A superior effort!

Audio ****

Wham, bam, EXPLOSIVE...this audio track is a rush from start to finish.  Whether you pick Dolby Digital or DTS, you'll get your money's worth with sound that rages from shattering to subtle.  Front and rear stages are blown wide open...you'll never know where the next cue is coming from.  The .1 channel adds kick to the gunplay, crashes and explosions.  All six speakers keep you firmly centered in the action from start to finish.  Dialogue maintains perfect clarity throughout despite competing against walls of noise.  This is the way action movies are supposed to sound, and why you bought your sound system in the first place!

Features ****

Fox has really delivered a package worthy of the Five Star moniker.  Disc One contains two solid commentary tracks.  The first is by Jan De Bont, who talks openly and enthusiastically about his first movie.  He discusses the transition from cinematographer to director, his ideas about action and pacing, working with the directors, the stunts, effects, and more.  From an informational point of view, it's a terrific listen.  The second is by screenwriter Graham Yost and producer Mark Gordon...a little less hands-on and more about the development and production.

Disc Two is loaded...for starters, the menu screens are cool.  As you move through the selections, in-screen TV monitors change to reflect your picks!  The featurettes are plentiful and specific...you can choose ones on location, visual effects, stunts (you may be surprised at how many Keanu actually did himself), the bus jump, the metrorail crash, plus the original HBO special hosted by Dennis Hopper.

If you like multi-angle features, you get your choice of four stunt sequences with up to 8 angles apiece.  Watch the angles one at a time, or a composite screen showing them altogether...this is one of the best of its kind. 

There are also 1994 interviews with Reeves, Bullock, Hopper, Daniels and De Bont...mostly short, but also arranged by subject matter for easy surfing.  There is a production design gallery with pictures available, the entire screenplay, a music video from Billy Idol, 5 extended scenes, a trailer, 11 TV spots and storyboard comparisons.  All in all, one of the year's best packages.

Summary:

This is one of the year's best discs...a fantastic action film that makes the best possible use of the DVD medium in every way.  You'll want to experience the film again and again, and you'll also be grabbing this one to show off your home theatre...this is one no home library should be without.

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