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L.A.P.D. SWAT team specialist Jack Traven is sent to diffuse a bomb that a revenge-driven extortionist has planted on a bus. But until he does, Jack and passenger Sandra Bullock must keep the bus speeding through the streets of Los Angeles at more than 50 miles per hour -- or the bomb will explode.
For more about Speed and the Speed Blu-ray release, see Speed Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on April 11, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock, Joe Morton, Jeff Daniels, Alan Ruck
Director: Jan de Bont
» See full cast & crew
Speed Blu-ray Review
This great Blu-ray provides good visuals and full-throttle sound.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, April 11, 2008
Guts will get you so far and then they will get you killed.
If Commando represents the iconic 1980's action film, then Speed perhaps deserves the same respect for the 1990's. It's a slick, fast-paced, adrenaline-pumping flick that everyone who has any inkling towards action has probably seen. More refined than the somewhat raw, unforgiving action movies of the 1980s, Speed takes the action genre in a new direction, toning down the on-screen violence in favor of a somewhat more general audience-friendly film. It is short(er) on gore but nevertheless high in tension and higher in production values, polish, and quality of script than its predecessors from the previous decade, but also retains the levity so prevalent in 1980s action films.
Keanu Reeves (Point Break) and Jeff Daniels (The Lookout) play bomb squad officers Jack Traven and Harry Temple. As the movie begins, this duo find themselves defusing a dangerous situation that has several people trapped in an elevator, a bomb attached to the elevator cables the only thing between them and death. The inventive pair mount a rescue operation and hunt down their suspect (Dennis Hopper, Hoosiers), a crazed man with a grudge who plants the bomb on the elevator with the intention of extorting money from the city. With the suspect presumed dead in an explosion, the city presents citations for valor to Traven the Temple, but Traven soon discovers the bomber lives on -- and has planted yet another deadly device on a crowded city bus, one that innocent passenger Annie (Sandra Bulllock, Premonition) soon finds herself driving. Thankfully, this speed-demon is on the bus because her license has been revoked for, you guessed it, speeding. Once the bus passes 50 miles per hour, the bomb activates. Should the vehicle drop below that speed, it will detonate. Traven must locate the bus, guide it through nightmarish Los Angeles city traffic without slowing down, and with the help of Temple, disarm the bomb and locate and put an end to their adversary once and for all.
Jack Traven represents a new breed of action hero, one catering more to the "X-Games" or extreme sports crowd rather than appearing as one of the many musclebound bodybuilder stars of the 1980s, seeking out trouble rather than getting into it only when absolutely necessary. Schwarzenegger's character "Dutch" in Predator turned down missions that weren't his "style;" Matrix from Commando sought to escape violence by moving with his daughter to a mountain retreat; Sylvester Stallone's "Cobra" (from the film with that same title) only worked when called upon. In Speed, however, it seems that Jack Traven goes looking for trouble. He's always willing to stir up the pot, disregard orders, and create "inventive" solutions to problems. He even goes so far as to recommend (and then actually does) shooting hostages for the sake of the final outcome of the mission. What Jack lacks in physical muscle he more than makes up for in adrenaline, truly representing the more "balanced" action hero seen throughout the 1990s, a perfect fit between the extremes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and, say, Jason Statham in a film such as Crank, a film where we see extreme gore make a comeback in the action movie.
Speed launched Keanu Reeves to stardom, and provided yet another opportunity for Dennis Hopper to prove that he is Hollywood's quintessential maniac. Speed's story comes close to being brilliant, but it's the cast that really makes it work. In its own right, Speed achieved notoriety worthy of its fast-paced action and a complement of characters we can believe truly exist -- from the villain, to the police, and even the innocent passengers on the bus. Never mind that Speed is not smart cinema. Rather, it's fun cinema, a movie with wall-to-wall action, well-developed and played characters, and a concept that proves most frightening to anyone whose ever driven in city traffic before. Implausible? Absolutely. Improbable? More than likely. Nevertheless, movie goers willing to forego a bit of logic and reason, who want to sit back and enjoy the ride, will come out of this experience exhausted yet excited, and even after nearly 14 years of entertaining audiences around the world, Speed still manages to hold our interest and keep us on the edges of our seats for nearly two hours of thrills.
Speed Blu-ray, Video Quality
While delivering a fine looking transfer, this 1080p, 2.35:1 image is definitely not Fox's best effort, but is impressive nevertheless for a film that saw its first release in 1994 (time flies when you're watching Speed). Definitely benefitting from a high-definition release, the movie holds up very well. I cannot compare it to the DVD releases of the film as I never purchased it for that format, but I have owned this film on both VHS and LaserDisc, and the quality obvious blows those two out of the water. I'd imagine it fares much better than the DVD as well, as the overall presentation makes for an above average Blu-ray viewing experience. This image is best described as "very good." The image retains the fine layer of natural grain inherent to film, though it is so light at times that it is hardly visible. Detail is only moderately good. We can see sweat on close-ups of faces, but little other very fine definition (either that or these actors had a lot of make-up on to smooth them out). There might be just a hint of red in flesh tones, but they look very good and accurate for the most part. Some scenes exhibit a small amount of softness, notably during one of the close-up shots of Joe Morton's character. Colors appear natural and pleasing -- from the bus' light blue exterior and its yellow and blue interior seats, to the clothing worn by the passengers, or to the interiors of various locations -- all are reproduced exceptionally well. The occasional black spots pop up, though I didn't notice the first one until almost 49 minutes into the movie, and noted only a few more afterwards, definitely not a distraction or a reason to lower the score too much. Overall, this is a very good, but not exceptional, effort from Fox, and all things taken into account, notably the film's age, the quality on this disc is good enough to please any Speed fans out there.
Speed Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Before I reviewed for this site I screened Speed on Blu-ray at home using equipment that decoded only the "core" 1.5 Mbps DTS track. It sounded very good then, but the lossless mix blew me away this go-round. It's fantastic, in fact, an entertaining mix that is boisterous, powerful, all-encompassing, and flat out fun to listen to. In fact, Speed won two Oscars for its sound. The first thing to notice is one of the better action scores (written by Mark Mancina, Training Day) that resonates and screams action, and is easily identifiable as the score to Speed. The theme music plays over the opening titles and sounds very nice and smooth as it fills the room easily and gracefully, but with subtle power and authority. Some excellent discreet effects appear in the rear channels, some of the best, most defined, clear, and perfectly placed I've heard. Imaging is excellent with these effects as well as with the entirety of the track in general. Several of the fine discrete effects are noticed right away after the opening title sequence and something is heard almost constantly in the back channels the rest of the way. Dialogue reproduction is excellent, focused in the center, never lost in the action, the voices clean, clear, and easily discernible. Bass is excellent, not quite foundation-rattling, but it gets the job done and often sounds loud and deep without becoming overwhelming and distracting. The elevator drop at the beginning of the film, for example, resounds with a "thud" when it hits the bottom floor, the effect sounding fantastic -- deep, loud, exciting, and exhilarating. The entire soundtrack, from the loudest explosion to the softest, simplest effect is reproduced with flair and finesse, making this mix one of the most fun I've listened to yet. Speed's DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack easily ranks as one of my favorite Blu-ray mixes.
Speed Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Speed makes its high-def debut with a few decent features, though certainly lacking for a high-profile title, not to mention one that received the 2-disc treatment on DVD a while back. The highlight of the disc are two audio commentary tracks, the first featuring director Jan De Bont. His track is fairly interesting, and the disc does provide viewers with a short summary of what he discusses in each chapter, making it very easy for users to skip around and choose to listen to select sections of the commentary that seem more appealing than others. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of his discussion is his take on the fate of action films after 9/11, confessing to having trouble watching films with terror plots. He nevertheless realizes the goal of a movie is to entertain, and some 14 years following its initial release, Speed is still entertaining. The second track features writer Graham Yost and producer Mark Gordon. Once again, participants on a Fox track first discuss the studio logo. This track is livelier and more interesting than De Bont's, the participants very eager to share their thoughts on the film, the excellent score, and even discussing Keanu Reeves earning his stripes as an action star, overcoming the label of comedic actor after working in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. This track is a must-listen for fans of this film. A pop-up trivia track is also included on this disc, occasionally providing a snippet of decent information about the movie as the film plays.
A feature utilized on several Fox discs, Search Content allows viewers to scroll through an alphabetical list of Speed-related terms and jump to scenes than pertain to that item. In other words, it's a fancy, digital index, and is a cool feature. From "airport" to "wildcat," it's all there, allowing easy access to any part of the movie, and a superb feature to include. Personal Scene Selections allows viewers to choose specific scenes from the film by pressing "1" on the remote, return to the menu, and watch them in any sequence they choose. Speed: Take Down Game lets user play as either Jack Traven or Howard Payne. As Jack, players move an icon around the screen, blindly searching for bombs, and an indicator will turn yellow when one is discovered, and pressing enter disarms it. The more you disarm, the faster your speed. Drop below 50 m.p.h. and lose. Gameplay is identical when playing as Howard, except pressing "enter" now detonates a bomb, and players earn more money for the more bombs they detonate. This is a moderately fun game and a good way to kill a few minutes, but not really worth more than that. Finally, 1080p trailers for Speed, Behind Enemy Lines, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Phone Booth, Planet of the Apes, and The Transporter conclude the special features.
Speed Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
No doubt about it, Speed is a major player in action movie history, one of the better ones of the 1990s (or any decade for that matter), a film that is infinitely re-watchable, and one that is simply great entertainment. Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock play very well together, and later starred opposite one another in The Lake House. Everything about Speed just works -- the acting, action, direction, pace, script, and plot -- all come together to create magnificent entertainment. Despite not having seen the DVD versions, I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that this Blu-ray edition is the best this film has ever looked or sounded for the home video market. The video quality is definitely above average, though not top flight. As you might imagine, for a film that took Academy Awards for both (1) Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing, and (2) Best Sound, the audio quality on this Blu-ray disc is superb. A decent but ultimately skimpy group of extras don't necessarily hinder the overall package. Speed is a must-own film in its own right, and owning it on Blu-ray is a no-brainer. Highly recommended!
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