‘Speed’ Still Rules After All These Years

It’s actually a shock to the system to re-watch Jan de Bont’s 1994 action thriller Speed in 2021. No, seriously. And I’m not talking about passively having it on in the background as it plays on cable, or whatever. I mean really watching it. (A new 4K was released this week, so if you want to do this, you have a good excuse.) At least with me, it literally caused multiple adrenaline rushes. And it’s not just because it’s an action movie or, more precisely, a really good action movie. I honestly think my brain has been become so in tune with the current iteration of special effects, derived from CGI, that watching a movie that is all practical effects and stunts – and with Speed, it’s almost nonstop effects and stunts – I think my brain thought I was watching something “real.” It’s quite a thing.

Look, I have nothing against CGI. I like CGI, I guess. This is not an anti-CGI manifesto because CGI is a cost efficient way to make action movies and, whatever your opinion on it may be, it’s never going away. Even movies today that promise “practical effects” – J.J. Abrams made a big deal about this with The Force Awakens – it’s still going to be a movie with a lot of CGI. It’s just the way it is and it’s just the way it will be.

But, having said that, that doesn’t negate what a trip it is watching Speed today. It’s like deciding, one day, that you will never drink a Coke again. And from this point on, it’s Diet Coke* from here on out. Then, let’s say, many years later you’re at a restaurant and you order a Diet Coke and, on accident, the waiter brings you an actual Coke. Then, you take that first sip and, before realizing what’s going on, you proclaim to the world that this is the BEST Diet Coke you’ve ever had in your entire life! Before, slowly realizing, ah, of course, I am drinking sugar and of course it tastes amazing. This is what it’s like to watch Speed 27 years removed from its release. Speed is having sugar in a soft drink when you haven’t had sugar in a soft drink for 27 years. Even back then it was marketed as a nonstop adrenaline rush, but what should have been in those TV spots back then was, “then wait 27 years and watch it again because it will mess you UP!”

(*As a quick aside, did you know Diet Coke is actually the much-maligned New Coke formula? And that’s why it tastes nothing like actual Coca-Cola? Diet Coke was released before New Coke and was the first Coke brand to use the new formula. But it was such a big hit, once New Coke reverted back to Coke Classic, Diet Coke just kept its New Coke formula. Anyway, I guess my point is Speed 2: Cruise Control is New Coke.)

Here’s where, usually, I’d run through some scenes and tell you how good they look in this new 4K transfer. But you know all these scenes already. It makes no sense for me to tell you how good the elevator scene looks. Or how good the bus jump looks. Or how good the bus explosion at the airport looks. Or how good the subway crash scene looks. You already know these scenes are great! My point here is this movie physically did something to my body. It’s really remarkable. I know I promised to not lament on the nature of CGI, but it’s true our brains can just tell it’s not real. And that’s fine. Our brains used to be able to tell practical effects weren’t real. But the bar has been shifted. It’s a disconnect we don’t even truly know that’s happening until we watch something like Speed again. My brain is now so used to CGI, Speed made it go, “Oh, crap, that’s real, RUN!”

It’s pretty safe to say we’ll never see anything like Speed again – at least in regards to how a movie like this can physically affect our brains after years of CGI influence. And I know you, most likely, know this movie by heart. But really sit down and watch it and it winds up being a strange experience. Nothing looks cartoonish. There’s nothing there to stop our brains from interpreting it as real. Honestly, it’s pretty overwhelming.

Speed was released by Fox, so this movie is now owned by Disney. And Disney hasn’t exactly been at the forefront of releasing catalog 4K discs, so this is a welcome surprise that it even happened in the first place. I do wish Disney would consider putting this back into theaters. It would be an honest to goodness adrenaline-fueled trip to watch this again on the largest screen possible. But, the chances of that are pretty low. So, as an alternative, just sit in front of the largest TV possible and watch Speed again. It’s incredible. Speed rules.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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