DirectorJan de Bont
Release Date(s)1994 (May 4, 2021)
Studio(s)The Mark Gordon Company/20th Century Fox (20th Century Studios/Disney/Buena Vista Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
Speed opens as a pair of LAPD SWAT officers, Jack and Harry (played by Keanu Reeves and Jeff Daniels), foil the multi-million dollar ransom demands of a bomb-making lunatic (Dennis Hopper). The pair believes said lunatic has perished in an explosion when—surprise!—a few days later, a Santa Monica city bus explodes as well, specifically to get Jack’s attention. It seems that the bomber is not only still alive, he wants his money, and now he means to get revenge against Jack and Harry too. To initiate his plan, said lunatic informs Jack that he’s rigged another bus with explosives—when it reaches 50 miles an hour, the bomb will arm. And if it drops back under 50 mph again... BOOM! So Jack races after the bus in a desperate effort to save its passengers, including the plucky Annie (Sandra Bullock) and a geeky tourist who’s new to the city (Alan Ruck).
Not only was Speed director Jan de Bont’s first feature (he cut his teeth as a cinematographer on such films as All the Right Moves, Die Hard, and The Hunt for Red October), it put Sandra Bullock on the map. Reeves was already a box office regular, having starred in Point Break, the first two Bill & Ted films, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but it would be another five years before his appearance in The Matrix. The good news is, Speed holds up very well. You don’t want to think too deeply about its plot twists, but the genius of the film is that it clips along at a remarkable pace and manages to be gripping for nearly the entire time. Though Reeves occasionally struggles to deliver his one-liners, he’s plenty solid and likable here. Daniels, Bullock, Hopper, and the rest of the cast deliver well too. What’s more, the direction, editing, and score work together seamlessly to offer a master class in early 90s action filmmaking. It’s certainly a thrill to see a film where the special effects and stunt work are almost entirely practical. And it should also be noted that screenwriter Graham Yost would eventually go on to create the outstanding FX series Justified.
Speed was shot photochemically on 35 mm film using Arriflex, Beaumont, Panavision Panafex, and VistaVision cameras with Panavision Primo anamorphic lenses. It was finished on film for an intended theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1. For its release on Ultra HD, the original camera negative has been scanned in 4K to create a new Digital Intermediate complete with color grading for high dynamic range (HDR10 only is available on this disc). The improvement in overall image detail is significant, especially compared to the 2006 Blu-ray (which suffered from edge enhancement and other issues). Fine detailing is lovely, with a notable uptick in refinement visible in fabric, pavement, skin tones, and other surfaces. (You can almost read the fine print on the back-lit blueprints in the film’s opening sequence.) Photochemical grain is light but natural and organic looking. Though the film’s palette has always been subdued—and the HDR grade here is restrained—the wider color gamut definitely adds nuance and naturalism to the image. Shadows are a bit deeper, while the highlights are brighter but shy of being eye-reactive. For a film of this vintage, this is a very good 4K presentation. If you’ve seen Fox’s Die Hard in 4K, this is right in the same wheelhouse.
Audio on the 4K disc is offered in the exact same lossless English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that was found on the original Blu-ray (48kHz, 24-bit), and while some might be disappointed by the lack of a new object-based Dolby Atmos or DTS-X mix, this track was impressive back in 2006 and it remains so now. The soundstage is wide up front and highly atmospheric, with smooth panning and movement, and plenty of directional effects. Dialogue remains clean and clear in the front-center, while bass is robust, and Mark Mancina’s score is staged with excellent fidelity. And for those of you who may be wondering, the original 20th Century Fox logo and fanfare are present and unaltered. Additional sound options on the 4K disc include English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, French and German 5.1 DTS, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, and Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital. Subtitles are available in English for the Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, German, and Japanese.
The 4K disc itself includes the following special features:
- Audio Commentary by Jan de Bont
- Audio Commentary by Graham Yost and Mark Gordon
But the package also includes the film in 1080p HD on Blu-ray. And the good news is that it’s a newly-authored disc, complete with new menus, the new 20th Century Studios logo (which appears when you first put the disc in your player), and yes, the image is mastered from the new 4K scan. This disc also offers the same two commentaries and adds the following:
- Action Sequences: Bus Jump (SD – 9:38)
- Action Sequences: Metrorail Crash (SD – 6:18)
- Inside Speed: On Location (SD – 7:21)
- Inside Speed: Stunts (SD – 12:09)
- Inside Speed: Visual Effects (SD – 9:14)
- HBO First Look: The Making of Speed (SD – 24:13)
- Extended Scene: Jack Shoots Payne in the Neck (SD – :42)
- Extended Scene: Payne Lives/Cops Party (SD – 4:56)
- Extended Scene: Annie’s Job (SD – 1:12)
- Extended Scene: After Helen’s Death (SD – 3:15)
- Extended Scene: Ray’s Crime (SD – 1:07)
- Extended Scene: Cargo Jet Explosion: The Airline Version (SD – :54)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:51)
- TV Spots (SD – 10 spots – 5:19 in all)
- Speed Music Video by Billy Idol (SD – 4:35)
All of this material was created for Fox’s original Five Star Collection DVD release way back in 2002, so everything apart from the theatrical trailer is in SD (and some of the footage is also letterboxed). But the two commentaries are well worth your time. De Bont certainly gives it his best, but the real treat is Yost and Gordon who cut up throughout their track like Statler and Waldorf, riffing on each other, the film, the story—you name it. At the same time, they offer lots of interesting anecdotes and even debate the responsibility of filmmakers in depicting violence on screen. In a nice touch, the original DVD Easter egg is included among these extras (the Cargo Jet Explosion: Airline Version) and of course there’s a Movies Anywhere Digital code on a paper insert too. But while the disc offers a nice amount of content to be sure, it doesn’t quite carry over everything from the DVD.
Missing are the Original Screenplay, the Press Kit, Production Notes, and Production Design Notes (all interactive text features), as well as Multi-Angle Storyboards (for Bomb on Bus, Bus Jump, Metrorail Fight & Crash, and the unfilmed Baker Sequence—that last one also featured optional commentary by the director), Multi-Angle Stunt Footage (for Bus Jump, Cargo Jet Explosion, Jack vs. Payne, and Metrorail Crash), about thirty minutes of Video Interviews (with Reeves, Bullock, Daniels, Hopper, and De Bont), and an Image Gallery (broken up by subject). So if you want to retain everything, definitely be sure to keep your Five Star Collection DVD. It’s also worth nothing that Fox’s 2006 Blu-ray had none of these extras, save for the commentaries, but it did include a trivia track and the Speed: Take Down BD-Java game (neither of which are here, but you won’t miss them).
In any case, Speed remains an iconic film actioner and it’s great to finally have it on physical 4K Ultra HD. Frankly, it’s even greater just to see Disney releasing more 20th Century Studios catalog films on this format. We can think of many more that would sell like hotcakes in 4K, including Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, Peter Weir’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, the rest of the Alien franchise, Franklin J. Schaffner’s Patton, and of course any number of genre films from director James Cameron (including the long-delayed True Lies and The Abyss, not to mention Aliens, Avatar, etc—we suspect many of these are on tap for Blu-ray and 4K in the lead-up to the theatrical debut of Avatar 2 and 3). In any case, our message to Disney is: Please keep these Fox live-action catalog films coming on 4K disc! And if you’d care to release some Hollywood Pictures titles too (think the Tombstone: Director’s Cut, The Rock, etc), that would be appreciated as well. As for the rest of you, Speed offers few frills on 4K UHD, but it’s a solid release and a fine image upgrade. Most importantly, the more copies it sells, the more likely Disney will be to get the message and release additional titles on this format. Recommended.
- Bill Hunt