DVD Review: Speed Five Star Collection
By Glenn Abel
Take away the giant cell phones, the boxy cars and that
ghastly Billy Idol theme
song, and "Speed" looks and feels like it could have been made in the '00s. The
1994 action film has lost none of its velocity. "Speed" still kills.
Fox Home Entertainment has released Jan de Bont's thriller as part of its high- end Five Star Collection, updated to THX standards and sporting a dazzling new audio mix.
The film comes in a two-disc package (retail $26.98) or as part of a "collector pack" with the good-looking but inconsequential "Speed 2" (retail $39.98).
"Speed" comes packed with an unusual amount of extras for an older film, many originated during production. The commentaries are new, featuring director de Bont on one track, producer Mark Gordon and writer Graham Yost on another. Key scenes can be checked out with multiple angles and cameras.
The widescreen images look suitably flashy -- a bit flat in some outdoors shots but with few signs of age. DTS delivers the audio remix to maximum effect, rear speakers frantically pumping out breaking glass and screeching metal. The Dolby Digital (5.1) track sounds edgy as well, but without DTS' sonic depth.
For all its fame, "Speed" -- starring Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock and Dennis Hopper -- was made on the cheap with low expectations. "No one wanted it," producer Gordon recalls. The movie began as a widely rejected spec script by a first-time feature writer. Finally sold to Paramount, the project stalled in turnaround. Fox finally took a shot on it, breathing down the necks of Gordon and Yost (a writer for Fox TV's "Herman's Head").
Reeves was the only name actor who would take the starring role, but he was feared to be too "Bill & Ted." Bullock, the wisecracking heroine, was pretty much an unknown (the part was written for Ellen DeGeneres and later rejected by Halle Berry). Veteran actor Jeff Daniels came aboard, but he "thought we were making a piece of crap," Gordon says. Bad guy Dennis Hopper joined three weeks into the shoot.
The premise -- a bomb wired under a city bus would go off if the vehicle slowed below 50 mph -- was ridiculous. De Bont, a veteran cinematographer ("Die Hard") making his directorial debut, fretted over the absurdity of an action film set on a slow-moving bus. "My God, how can I ever make it exciting?" he moaned. The characters were "one-dimensional at best," writer Yost admits.
Then there was the question of where to stage all that carnage. Finally, some good luck. The Southland's Century Freeway was available during the last month of its construction. The crew brought in hundreds of cars and 13 buses ("a couple to blow up"), moving from site to site to stay ahead of the road builders. "Talk about a pain in the ass," Gordon remembers.
Buses were swapped out depending on the scene requirements. One oddity was the "Popemobile," outfitted with a large Plexiglas box in front of a bus to allow filming without wind or noise. While passenger Bullock pretended to steer, real drivers sat on top of the buses or hid behind seats watching monitors. De Bont rigged his buses with dozens of cameras, some still visible in the film. Stars and extras alike sweltered while the crew huddled on the bus floor, adding to the claustrophobia. Nonetheless, "There was a lot of camaraderie on the bus," Gordon says.
One of the best-remembered scenes shows the bus jumping over an unfinished piece of the freeway. Although early CG came into play, a bus actually made the jump, going farther than expected and destroying camera gear set up to record the crash.
A new LAX runway was used to shoot the bus' explosive final scenes after plans to use Dodger Stadium fell through. Filming would never be allowed on a runway now, the filmmakers note.
After a Florida test screening drew raves, Fox moved the film into a hot summer slot, opening just five days after it was completed. Made for only $28 million, "Speed" went on to become a pop sensation, earning $121 million at the domestic boxoffice. Reeves and Bullock became stars, but only Bullock returned for the sequel. Gordon and Yost say they're "bitter and happy" they weren't involved.
The soft-spoken de Bont uses the commentary to outline his philosophy of acting for action films, saying that subtle performances just look dumb in frantic movies. A lot of actors are afraid of the perils of action filming, he says.
Mark and Graham come across like Mark and Brian but pack their high-energy, off- the-wall commentary with information. They turn serious for a consideration of action filmmakers' responsibilities post-Sept. 11. "Speed" would never be greenlit now, they say: "Nobody wants to see a plane blown up."
Bullock's improv skills draw repeated praise on both commentaries. (Now, "She doesn't return my calls," Gordon says.) The filmmakers also single out Daniels, an "underrated actor."
"Speed's" second disc includes an unusually detailed featurette on stunt coordinator Gary Hymes. He shows admiration for the "very physical" Reeves, who "wanted to do almost everything himself," including a leap onto the moving bus. Hymes talks about his craft at length, saying he likes to work with a stuntman "who has a good, healthy sense of fear."
A visual effects segment breaks down the bus-jump sequence (look for the digital birds) and the film's final subway crash, mostly done with models. Multiangle, multicamera views put viewers in the driver's seat.
Other extras include the script, storyboard/film comparisons, an on-location featurette, detailed production design galleries, a few extended scenes, publicity chats with the actors and, yes, a Billy Idol video.
Glenn Abel is Executive Editor, Electronic, at The Hollywood Reporter
Reprinted, with permission, from The Hollywood Reporter
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