Although Speed is often claimed to represent the ultimate high concept movie: if a bus full of passengers on an LA freeway slows below 50 mph, it blows up, watching the film again provides a reminder of how much more the 1994 film is than, in Homer Simpson’s words, “the bus that couldn’t slow down.” Revisiting Speed particularly highlights the strength and tension of the opening scenes in a packed elevator about to plummet 35 stories. The difficulty of repeating such a successful formula was amply indicated by the dismal aesthetic and commercial failure of Speed 2. Keanu Reeves’ performance as Jack Travers is an unexceptional but likeable take on the hoary theme of the young maverick cop breaking all the rules to get the job done. It is the perfect casting of Sandra Bullock as the feisty stand-in bus driver, rather than any extraordinary thespian ability, that created such a star-making turn for her. A film of two climaxes, the final subway scenes hype up flagging audience adrenaline competently, and replaying Dennis Hopper’s decapitation in slow motion provides hours of amusement.
The DVD extras suggest a release very keen to promote itself as a quality classic product, and they are incredibly comprehensive, filling almost 150 minutes of screen time on Disc Two alone. Unfortunately, though there are many good things on the second disc, the decision to include the minutiae of every aspect of production from storyboards to the mediocre Billy Idol music video gives a sense of too much padding. The short films narrating the creation of key stunts such as the bus jump are surprisingly tedious, and run the risk that always accompanies making-of features, that of demystifying the film’s magic.
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Extended scenes either provide negligible additional footage or immediately indicate by their very nature why they ended up on the cutting room floor. They do show the genius of the film’s rigorous editing, as virtually all character exposition was sliced in favour of explosions and missing road portions. The promotional inclusions such as trailers are, like much else on the disc, pretty much standard but lengthier than normal and the image gallery, which seems to form a mandatory feature of so many current DVD titles, is also intensely dull.
Much better features include the interview archive’s impressive selection of footage with all the main stars: Reeves, Bullock, Hopper, Jeff Daniels, and director Jan de Bont. The Hopper interview is typically laconic, whilst the interviews with Bullock and Daniels suggest they would have found watching paint dry a more engaging task than explaining the story and their character, but Reeves is a revelation. Smart, enthusiastic and keen to mention even bit part players by name, his interview is the only one that gives the sense, conveyed so powerfully by many of the other extra features, of just what an ensemble piece the film was on every level. The extra features on Disc One surpass those of the second, offering writer and producer’s perspectives and an in-depth director’s commentary, with a fascinating take on the crafting of action that makes his subsequent Hollywood track record more disappointing that Bullock’s. For true aficionados, this special double edition DVD has everything a purist could possibly hope for. For everyone else, they can dip in and out for curiosity’s sake but will find themselves returning to disc one much more often.