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Hi-Def Review
Blu-ray Disc review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Speed (Blu-ray Disc)

1080p - Analog Full ResolutionBlu-ray Disc FormatDTS HD

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!

1994 (2006) - 20th Century Fox
Released on Blu-ray Disc on November 14th, 2006

Film: A-
Video (1-20): 17
Video (DVD comparative): 7
Audio (1-20): 15
Audio (DVD comparative): 8
Extras: C+

Specs and Features:
116 mins, R, AVC 1080p standard (2.35:1), BD-25 SL, Elite Blue HD packaging, audio commentary by director Jan de Bont, audio commentary by screenwriter Graham Yost and producer Mark Gordon, text-based trivia track, Speed: Takedown interactive game, personalized scene selection, theatrical trailer in HD, animated film-themed root menu with audio/"in-film" menu overlay, scene access (32 chapters), languages: DTS HD Master Lossless 5.1 (English) & Dolby Surround 2.0 (French), subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned

DVD Features Not Included:
None of the video-based features from the previous Five-Star edition DVD are included.

Summer "popcorn" movies are delicious handfuls of mindless fun made of three ingredients: 1) a base of amazing action sequences, 2) a liberal dash of comedy, and 3) a pinch of campiness. For the best examples, check out Raiders of the Lost Ark, Die Hard, True Lies, The Mummy and, of course, Speed. As rollicking, mindlessly fun entertainment, Speed is almost perfect.

For both of you who have not seen this film, Speed is the story of ransom-seeking lunatic Howard Payne (played by a deliciously over-the-top Dennis Hopper) who plants a bomb on a Los Angeles city bus. Once the bus hits 50 mph, the bomb triggers and will explode if the bus's speed falls below this mark. LAPD Officer/overgrown Boy Scout Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) is pulled into the situation by Payne as payback for foiling his previous caper. Jack forces himself onto the moving bus full of confused passengers, and that's when the movie (and the fun) truly begins. By a twist of fate, sprightly passenger Annie (Sandra Bullock in her breakout role) ends up behind the wheel of the bus and provides some of the comedy that helps this film work so well.

There's just something about watching a city bus careening at full speed through crowded city streets that brings out the young boy in a grown man. Director Jan de Bont completely understood this phenomenon and played it to its fullest potential. Because when you think about it, the concept of this movie is pretty stupid. But Speed never takes itself too seriously and includes some really funny dialogue, and that makes all the difference. Alan Ruck (of Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Spin City fame) plays one of the endangered bus passengers and when he opens his mouth it's usually gold.

[SPOILERS AHEAD] But as sensational as this movie is, it does have one glaring problem. While the freeway gap jump about half way through is just utterly and completely daft, it is the sort of stunt I'm willing to excuse in a movie like this. No, the biggest problem Speed faces is that once the bus explodes, the movie is effectively over. I never was able to get enthused about the subway epilogue. While a movie like this demands that the audience witnesses the bad guy getting his comeuppance, it seems that there could have been a more interesting way for the filmmakers to pull it off. In the end, the film just transitions from one speeding vehicle to another.

Since the U.S. Census Bureau maintains that 99.999% of the population has seen this film, the biggest question on your mind is likely, "Is the quality of the Blu-ray version worth a $30+ double-dip?" The short answer is: Hell, yeah! The long answer is that this is one of the best looking 10+ year old films I have seen on either of the HD disc formats; the video on this disc excels in all aspects over Fox's previous Five-Star DVD edition. The 1080p AVC transfer comes darn close to looking like film that was shot in the last couple of years, especially given the level of clarity and detail not seen on any previous home video edition. There are minor soft spots here and there, but this movie has never looked better. Despite being housed on a 25GB Blu-ray disc (as opposed to the larger-capacity 50GB variety), there are no visibly annoying compression artifacts. Colors are more vivid than ever and actually are a tad oversaturated. The print struck for this master was either carefully restored or was in perfect condition, as there are no blemishes to be found.

The Blu-ray edition's DTS HD Master Lossless 5.1 audio also excels over the previous Five-Star edition's "lossy" DTS 5.1 track, but not by as much as the video has improved. While current hardware limitations restrict the audio to the 1.5 Mbps core DTS signal, this compressed audio still excels noticeably over the original 768 kbps track. Channel separation, soundstage depth and low end tightness all have improved.

Gone from the Blu-ray edition of Speed are all of the video features that were included on the second disc of the Five-Star edition. This is likely due to Fox's use of the 25GB single-layer Blu-ray disc, as the 50GB discs were not ready for prime time when Speed debuted on the new format. But most of the good stuff from those features are covered in the two excellent audio commentaries, the first with director Jan de Bont and the second with screenwriter Graham Yost and producer Mark Gordon (both are carry-overs from the Five-Star edition). New to this edition are several interactive features that do nothing to rev my engine. There is a running trivia track that features text that pops up on the screen containing little tidbits of info. It's okay, but nothing I would look at if I were not reviewing the disc. Next is a feature that allows the viewer to program scenes to playback in his or her favored order. Really, who is using this feature? Last, and most certainly least, is a ridiculously inane and overly simple BD-Java game called Speed: Takedown, that asks the player, via the remote control, to move a cursor over scenes from the film broken into a grid. Within random points in the grid are hot spots that contain bombs. Once you find a bomb you press the "Enter" button to disarm it. Every disarmed bomb adds a little speed to a ticking speedometer. If the speedometer dips below 50 mph, then... well, you get the idea. Why Fox spent time and money on this feature in lieu of almost anything else is beyond me, but it's the kind of advanced interactive silliness that a lot of the studios are including on their recent releases on both HD formats these days.

Speed looks and sounds better on Blu-ray than it did when it was released theatrically. To be fair, I was working at a second rate theater when this film debuted, so my first experience with the flick was on an old screen with an antiquated sound system. That notwithstanding, I'll wager that very few fans of this film saw it in a cutting edge theater (circa 1994), so Speed on Blu-ray will be an audio/video revelation for most. If you are a fan of this film (and you've already upgraded to Blu-ray capability), the cost to double-dip this title is justified in the outstanding audio/video presentations. Just make sure to keep the old Five-Star edition around for the supplementary material.

Greg Suarez

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