This review is sponsored by

Details At A Glance

Category Action Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.33:1, non-16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1994 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 111:12 minutes Other Extras None
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (76:17)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director Jan De Bont
20th Century Fox
Fox Home Entertainment
Starring Keanu Reeves
Dennis Hopper 
Sandra Bullock
Joe Morton
Jeff Daniels
Case Transparent Amaray
RRP $39.95 Music Mark Mancina

Pan & Scan/Full Frame None MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Dolby Digital 5.0
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.0, 384 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision ? Smoking No
Subtitles Czech
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or
After Credits

Plot Synopsis

    Whilst they have yet to commit themselves to Region 4 DVD in a huge way, it has to be said that amongst their initially announced titles Fox Home Entertainment had some eagerly awaited titles. Speed was one that I was especially waiting for, along with the still awaited Independence Day. Whilst their initial release was that film in a rather underwhelming non-16x9 enhanced transfer, they soon learnt their lesson and announced that subsequent releases would be 16x9 enhanced. That made the wait for this particular title all the more anticipatory. Was it worth the anticipation? Heck, yes.

    For those who may not know the story here, where have you been since 1994? Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) and his partner Harry Temple (Jeff Daniels) work for the Los Angeles Police Department. Called to a hostage situation in a downtown building, Jack and Harry save the day by rescuing all the hostages from a stranded elevator, and apparently see the death of the hostage taker, Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper). After receiving decorations for their feat, Jack has a nasty surprise when one of the Big Blue Buses of Santa Monica (now that brings back memories) blows up virtually in his face. Turns out that Howard is anything but deceased, and now rather peeved about being diddled out of his $3,000,000. So he has set a little challenge for Jack involving a Big Blue Bus running from Venice to Downtown. Said bus has a rather large explosive device attached to it, set to trigger once the bus attains 50 miles per hour and set to explode if it falls below that speed after triggering. Cue Annie Porter (Sandra Bullock) belatedly catching said bus, and the race is on for Jack to locate the bus and then figure out how the heck to save the passengers without forking out the $3,700,000 ransom, as well as getting the girl, all whilst getting one large bus to do some quite extraordinary things.

    Okay, so no one ever accused this of having a scintillating plot. Indeed, there are so many plot holes here that you run serious risks of bodily harm when falling into them. But that completely overlooks the raison d'être of this film. This is nothing more than a typical Jan De Bont over the top effort where nothing is overlooked in the quest for topping every piece of action in the film. This is just supposed to be a mindless exercise of entertainment, a couple of hours of brain-off action. In that regard, the film succeeds admirably. Obviously where the plot is so loose, great acting is not a requirement. Which therefore makes this the absolute perfect vehicle for Keanu Reeves, whose lack of acting ability has never been questioned. Indeed this is almost the most bearable effort of his that I have seen. Of course, this was the film that catapulted Sandra Bullock into the serious heavyweight league in Hollywood, and it is plain to see why. She will never be recognized as a great actress, but there is no doubt that she brings to the screen a refreshing naturalism that I find quite (okay, very) appealing. The star here is Dennis Hopper who is quite delightful as the scheming ex-cop out to gather his just deserts in his view. He brings just the right sort of mix of intelligence and eccentricity to the role. Whilst this will never be recognized as a great film, it nonetheless garnered two Oscars in 1995 - for Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing and for Best Sound. They were deserved in my view, but the technical quality ends there really. You just have to get used to the odd blooper, like having the bus shown with a very visible side camera mounted, and the grossly obvious underbody device used to jack the bus up for the famed hard right turn onto the freeway. But these are overlooked in the fun to be had in the film.

    This rates a solid 7 out of 10 on the Internet Movie Database, reflecting the fun that is to be had here. Not a great film but certainly a great piece of entertainment.

Transfer Quality


    Straight out from the opening titles, this is a noticeably good transfer.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    After becoming so familiar with the Region 1 release of the film, this immediately grabbed me as a very nicely sharp and well defined transfer - just check out the opening titles, which have always left me a little underwhelmed in the Region 1 version. Here they are really bright and vibrant, with plenty of definition. Whilst there are a few odd lapses, more as a result of the way the film was shot than anything else, this maintains a high standard throughout. It is not however a really clear transfer although there are no really distracting problems in that regard. Overall shadow detail was perhaps just a little on the disappointing side on a couple of occasions, but overall more than acceptable. There does not appear to be any low level noise problems with the transfer, although at times the picture does seem just a little grainy. The only really perturbing glitch is at 97:37 where the picture appears to jump: this looks as if there are a couple of missing frames in the film. This may be a bad edit in the original film, but I do not recall seeing it before.

    Overall the colours are nicely vibrant and very nicely toned, just on the right side of being rich toned. Apart from the slight oversaturation of the colour in the elevator scenes, which is intended as it is in all versions of the film I have seen, this is a very nicely saturated transfer without going way over the top (now there is a rarity for a Jan De Bont film!). This really came over as a very natural looking transfer, as opposed to the slightly muted tone of the Region 1 version.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. Film-to-video artefacts were virtually non-existent, mainly comprising some minor aliasing, the most noticeable of which is on the building rooftop around 11:48; however in this regard, this is a much better effort than the Region 1 release. Surprisingly, film artefacts were barely noted during the film, with just the odd speckle blemishing what is actually quite a clean transfer.

    This is an RSDL formatted disc with the layer change coming at 76:17, just as the scene changes to the approach to Howard Payne's house. This is a nicely placed layer change, just noticeable but not really disruptive to the film at all.

    Note that the packaging refers to a Hebrew subtitle option, but this is not present on the disc.


    Okay, there has been some discussion about this around the newsgroups, so let's clear it up straight away. Yes, this is only a Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack, as the packaging clearly states. However, despite what the packaging may say, the Region 1 release also only has a Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack. If the LFE (.1) channel does exist, then it is a silent channel in both Region releases. And after direct comparison, this Region 4 version is significantly better too.

    There is only the one audio track on this DVD, the English Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack.

    Dialogue was always clear and easy to understand.

    There were no audio sync problems with this disc.

    The score by Mark Mancina is a beauty, highlighted by one of the most memorable film themes to emerge in the nineties. And no opportunity is lost to use the theme throughout the film, especially when the action is driven along a little. Very nice stuff indeed.

    Straight out, this grabbed me as a lovely sounding effort. Even though it lacks the bass channel, this is only really noticeable in the explosions (of which there are several in true Jan De Bont style). This is a very nicely detailed effort with plenty of use of the surround channels, especially the rears. As a result this is a far more detailed effort than the Region 1 in little ways, such as the sounds of tools clattering in the opening sequence in the elevator control room. The sound is also a lot brighter and more vibrant, resulting in a really nice soundscape, totally enveloping and very believable. This is probably one of the best uses of a 5.0 soundtrack that I have heard and it even puts a fair number of the 5.1 soundtracks I have heard to shame. There really is not too much to complain about here.


    Well, after the disappointment of that film extras wise, things picked up a lot with There's Something About Mary. Sorry, they have gone backwards here, and all we have is the theatrical trailer. What a gyp! Where is the "Making Of" documentary that was apparently included in the widescreen version of the VHS tape?


Theatrical trailer (2:49)

    An okay effort, but disappointingly presented in a aspect ratio of 1.33:1 , not 16x9 enhanced, and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 1 release misses out on:     Other than that, the two releases are identical apart from differences in the subtitle and language selections. Direct comparison between the two versions indicates that the Region 4 release is sharper, more vibrant, far less prone to aliasing and with a noticeably better soundtrack. If there is any doubt about how much better 16x9 enhancement can make a film look, then check this one out. The Region 1 release is not in anyway superior to the Region 4 release. Accordingly, throw out your Region 1 versions and grab a hold of the Region 4 release - it wins hands down. About the only thing against the Region 4 release is the price - cheaper than that film but not at the consumer preferred level of $35 maximum.


    A great, fun film unless you really need serious plot, in which case you should avoid this like the plague. A very nice transfer in every sense, let down by a very poor extras package. The pricing is a little problematic, especially bearing in mind that the most recent pricing of this film in its VHS format was in a 3 for $40 deal, and also bearing in mind that there is little in the extras package. Other than that, this should make it into plenty of collections.

    The video transfer is good.

    The audio transfer is very good.

    The extras are anything but exciting.

    Just one suggestion to Fox Home Entertainment - the technical detail on the rear cover is good, but can you make it a little bigger so that it is actually easier to read please?

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris
19th January 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL