The idea of a runaway bus sustaining the major part of a motion picture may at first blush seem ludicrous, but, in fact, in "Speed" it works extremely well. Director Jan DeBont has put more excitement, more edge-of-your-seat thrills, into this roller coaster of a movie than you'll find in half a dozen other action films combined. "Speed" may not make much sense, but it moves so fast you won't have time to think about it.
What's more, the movie's letter-perfect DVD transfer is better than ever and it comes with a load of extras in Fox's Five-Star Collection two-disc set, making this special edition of "Speed" one of the best buys possible in a pure action film.
The star of the movie is Keanu Reeves, who plays a member of an elite Los Angeles SWAT team that dismantles bombs, saves lives, and does other fearless stuff. Reeves has not always impressed people with his acting abilities, but in "Speed" he makes a surprisingly reliable action hero and is quite impressive in his derring-do. It would be another few years before he'd compete with computer animation in "The Matrix," and I think he's more convincing here in a more unaffected way.
Dennis Hopper plays the villain as only Hopper can play a villain. He's got it down to a science. This time it's important from the very beginning to establish Hopper's character, a demented bomber bent on extortion and revenge, as really, really bad. So, in his first scene he sticks an ice pick through an innocent bystander's ear. "Nothing personal," says Hopper. Now, that's bad. The third major star is Sandra Bullock, playing a young woman who gets caught up in the plot by being on the wrong bus at the wrong time.
You see, after Reeves foils Hopper's first extortion plan, Hopper tries again. This time he rigs a city bus with a bomb that arms itself when the vehicle reaches fifty mph; then, if the speed drops below fifty, the bomb will explode. He wants 3.7 million dollars or the bus and its passengers are up in smoke. Reeves goes to the rescue, and Bullock becomes his unwilling assistant. She plays the cute-as-a-button little darling she usually does, but she shows a lot more pluck in her part than you might expect. Their high-speed bus ride through L.A.'s city streets and freeways is like something out of an amusement park and will leave you quite breathless.
Of course, none of the film's excitement would be worth much if it didn't translate well from the big screen to TV. Trust me; it does. Played through a reasonably large-sized television and a surround sound system, the experience is intense. The visuals are about as cleanly photographic as anything I've seen on a DVD. Better yet, they are now THX certified. A comparison of image bit rates between the old version, which was excellent, and this new one shows an increase in some cases almost double. The main thing is that colors are now deeper and richer than ever, sometimes even verging on appearing too dark and intense. Definition remains truly remarkable, and the screen size continues to measure about a 2.13:1 ratio across a normal TV in anamorphic widescreen.
The movie won Oscars for Best Sound and Best Sound Effects Editing, and the soundtrack proves it. It's now available in Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, or regular Dolby Stereo 2.0 playback. I said of the previous edition that if DVDTown gave awards for sonics alone, "Speed" would win first prize. If anything, the sound I heard in DD 5.1 is even more robust, more discrete, more wide-ranging, and more dynamic than before. This is sound that comes at the listener as much from the rear speakers as from the front, and everything about it is awesome, from the gentlest whispers to the loudest explosions. It's nice to know that "Speed" is still a benchmark for spectacular sonics.
There were precious few bonuses on Fox's first, single-disc edition of "Speed," but Fox more than make up for any past stinginess by adding a whole galaxy of star items to this new, two-disc set. Let me go through them with you, starting with the first, main disc. Here you'll find the widescreen presentation of the film, its accompanying soundtracks, plus English and French spoken languages, English and Spanish subtitles, a THX Optimizer series of audiovisual calibration tests, and thirty-two scene selections (up from the previous edition's twenty-four). The most important extras, however, are a pair of audio commentaries, the first with director Jan De Bont and the second with screenwriter Graham Yost and producer Mark Gordon. Of the two, De Bont is probably the most informative, but he's also the most reticent. There's an index to his comments in the opening menu because there will be long stretches when he simply doesn't say anything. Well, better, I suppose than his clowning around as so many other commentators do. Yost and Gordon's track, on the other hand, is nonstop talk, most of it entertaining. Everything on both discs is tied together with new, animated menus.
Disc two is where the rest of the action is, bonus-wise, with the selections divided into six categories. Section one is called "Action Sequences." It features a couple of brief (six-to-ten minute) featurettes titled "Bus Jump Scene" and "Metrorail Crash," plus multi-angle stunt comparisons, storyboard-to-film comparisons, and an unfilmed sequence left on the storyboards. Section two is called "Inside Speed," and has more featurettes, like "On Location," seven minutes; "Stunts," twelve minutes; "Visual Effects," nine minutes; Graham Yost's full-length screenplay, all 267 screens of text; and a production design gallery with written commentary and stills. Section three is called "Interview Archives" and includes interviews with Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Daniels, and Jan De Bont. Section four is simply a collection of five extended scenes called, what else, "Extended Scenes." Section five is the "Image Gallery," eighteen full categories of stills, enough to have you gazing deep into the night. Finally, section six, called "Promotion," contains an HBO First-Look Special on "The Making of Speed," twenty-four minutes; a "Speed" music video with Billy Idol; a widescreen theatrical trailer; and eleven TV spots. There were a few times in all of this that I actually got lost, but hitting the "Menu" button on your remote will usually get you back to the Main Menu pretty quickly.
"Speed" is one of the best action thrillers since "Diehard," and its pace may in truth be quicker. Not a moment of it is plausible, but it's a pulse-pounder, nonetheless. It doesn't even give you a chance to bite your nails. I suspect this new Five-Star Edition is going to be a demonstration disc over the years in a lot of home theaters.