SPEED - Blu-ray review

It's all about the speed, and everything else doesn't matter. If you can get that through your head, this is one wild and entertaining ride.

James Plath's picture

"Oh my god, he is insane!"

What's really crazy, though, is that bus passenger Annie Porter (Sandra Bullock) was talking about the L.A. cop who was trying to save them, not the lunatic bomber who had planted the explosives that would destroy them if the speedometer dropped below 50mph. But you know what they say about the fine line between cops and criminals. In this case, it takes a lunatic to thwart one.

"Speed" was a surprise runaway hit, grossing more than four times it's 28 million dollar budget and earning an Oscar for Best Sound. It should have won for cinematography too, with former cameraman Jan de Bont in the director's chair. De Bont had done the camerawork for such action films as "Die Hard" and "Lethal Weapon 3," and he certainly knows how to get the shots that feed the action and frantic pacing. As mindless popcorn movies go, this one is gourmet. It may be all action and nothing else, but it's stylish action.

Keanu Reeves is surprisingly good as Jack Traven, a reckless L.A. bomb squad officer who acts before he thinks--though when he speaks, it's hard to take him really seriously because he still sounds like that surfer dude in "Parenthood" who tells his teen girlfriend, "We can film our love." Reeves is at his best when he's climbing and jumping here and there. Whether it's dropping down an elevator shaft to try to rescue people trapped by the mad bomber (played with relish by Dennis Hopper) or chasing after a bus to try to get on before another bomb activates, he was made for speed. During slow-down moments (and there are precious few here), we're reminded that he's not the world's greatest actor.

This is the film that made Bullock a star. She was like a soccer mom in an election year--everybody's darling. This cute and wholesome girl-next-door type played well opposite a savvy diehard cop, and audiences voted Reeves and Bullock Best On-Screen Duo. The MTV crowd also gave the film Best Action Sequence, Best Villain, Best Female Performance, and Most Desirable Female. Not bad for a popcorn movie.

All action films demand that you check your intellect at the door, but "Speed" will really challenge your notion of logic, if you let it. From the minute that Jack and older partner Harry Temple (Jeff Daniels) show up with a full S.W.A.T. team and bomb squad at a high-rise where passengers are trapped in an elevator, we're asked to suspend belief. Police procedure be damned, these guys carry on as if the rest of the cops aren't there and they have no one to report to. And when the bad guy is blown up, medals are handed out and it's on all the TV stations. Then it turns out the bomber wasn't blown up after all. Doesn't anybody bother to look for a body? Where was the L.A. coroner?

It gets even worse, logically speaking, when the plot shifts from the elevator situation to the bus. First of all, who in L.A. do you know who takes the bus? And secondly, where in L.A. can you drive anywhere for an extended period of time above 50? Why, also, is there just a short stretch of bridge that's not finished and it just happens to be in the middle, so the bus can attempt an Evel Knievel-style jump? And physics majors, how is it that on a practically flat stretch, when the bus goes airborne its front elevates like a rocket ship? I won't get into the sequence where a train ends up facing the same problem of an unfinished section except to wonder aloud, Is nothing in L.A. finished? And the stunts? People in this film are able to do some fantastic things, all of which defy believability.

But you know what? The pacing is so breakneck and the cinematography and special effects so good that it's easy to overlook all the illogical moments--which, as my colleague, John J. Puccio pointed out in an earlier review, is basically the entire movie. Had their been just a bit more meat on the characters' bones, this could have been a special film. But everybody is so one-dimensional that it seems light-hearted and comic at times. When all is said and done, it's hard to shake the feeling that to save the dozen or so people on this bus, Jack and the L.A. police make decisions that not only jeopardizes hundreds of people, but kills bunches of them. And then it's Miller time, with nary a regret. It's all about the speed, and everything else doesn't matter. If you can get that through your head, this is one wild and entertaining ride.

My contact at Fox tells me that there have been some "issues" regarding the Samsung Blu-ray player and Fox discs. I hope Samsung addresses the problem in the next software update. This one failed to load several times before finally working. And then, it went through stages that normally don't occur. First comes a blue bar with dots, then a colored bar, then a black-and-white shaded circle with dots, and finally a "stop" command followed by a "play" command. All the while, you hold your breath, so that the wild ride begins even before the bus pulls onto the freeway.

As for the quality, though, once the disc loaded it was very good. The film was transferred to a 25GB single-layer disc using AVC at 14MBPS and presented in 1080p HD resolution at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. For an older film and a fairly low-budget one at that, the picture has good color saturation and black levels and is sharp except for soft-focus shots.

But the audio is even better. The English DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio is phenomenal, with a crisp, bright treble and booming bass in perfect balance, and with great sound effects coming from all sides. The rear speakers really get a workout with this film, which offers a French Dolby Surround 2.0 option that pales compared to the uncompressed sound, and subtitles in English (CC) and Spanish.

The extras are a mixed bag. I hate to say anything bad about a director who's so obviously intelligent and committed, but De Bont is really dry and uninteresting in his commentary. He says a lot of things, but what he says doesn't often match up with what you wish he'd talk about. The better commentary of the two included here is the one with screenwriter Graham Yost and producer Mark Gordon, who give plenty of anecdotes and behind-the-scenes trivia--the kind of things that fans really like to hear. A trivia track is pretty standard stuff, and a trailer is also included in High Definition (which is more unusual). There's a nice search-content feature here that allows you to find scenes according to topic, and a personal scene selection feature that seems more work than it's worth.

The only other feature is a pretty ridiculous "Takedown" game, where you choose to be either Jack or the bomber. While a scene plays, you're supposed to find hidden bombs if you're Jack and defuse them. The problem is, there's about as much logic here as there is in the movie. You don't look for places the bomb might be. You simply keep moving your cursor arrows right or left, and up or down, until the finder turns yellow (meaning you've found a bomb) and then press "enter" to defuse it. All random, and not much fun unless you're five years old.

Bottom Line:
"Speed" quickly sets things in wild motion, like a runaway buckboard in an old western that the cowboy has to catch and slow down. What makes this action film work so well is that Reeves can't catch up to this thing until the final scene. Now why didn't Gene Autry think of that?


Film Value