If this bus brakes, it will explode: ‘Speed’, the movie that changed action cinema 30 years ago | ICON

If this bus brakes, it will explode: ‘Speed’, the movie that changed action cinema 30 years ago | ICON
If this bus brakes, it will explode: ‘Speed’, the movie that changed action cinema 30 years ago | ICON

Before the era of endless franchises, an original film could make its way to the box office simply on the basis of a plot hook. What in the world of screenwriting in Hollywood is called high concept: a proposition that can be sold, both to executives and viewers, in one sentence. In the case of Speed: Maximum power, Released in the USA on June 10, 1994 and in Spain on August 5, the idea of ​​“a bus that explodes if it goes below 80 kilometers per hour” (or as it was renamed in The Simpson, when Homer referred to her as The bus that couldn’t go any slower) It was enough for, in the summer of The Lion King y Forrest Gump, making it one of the biggest action hits of the 1990s. At the helm, an actor then little associated with the genre, Keanu Reeves, who would become one of its most influential figures, accompanied by a rising star, Sandra Bullock, and a world authority on over-the-top villains, Dennis Hopper.

Structured in three long action sequences – apart from the bulk in the vehicle, its initial 20-plus minutes take place in an elevator that is also bombed and there is another 15-minute climax on an exploding train, because the studio, Fox, feared that the bus set would fall short –, Speed It posed a show in perpetual motion. Beyond the cat-and-mouse game between the policeman and the terrorist who plants interactive bombs in revenge for the pension he was left with as a convenient bomb expert, in the development of Speed More and more bizarre unforeseen events keep cropping up: a stray bullet hitting the driver and forcing an inexperienced passenger to take the wheel, an unfinished section of road that the bus has to jump over by accelerating, or a run-over baby stroller that turns out to contain cans.

Directorial debut of Dutch director Jan de Bont, Speed found in the peculiar charisma of Keanu Reeves one of its assets. With They call him Bodhi (1991) as a scant precedent in action, Reeves was an alternative face of the generation X, who had stood out in author dramas such as My private Idaho (1991) or in niche youth comedies like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures (1989). He also played bass in his own group. grunge-, Dogstar, still active. The foray into the big budget with Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) did not fare well: his role as Jonathan Harker was the most criticized part of Coppola’s film.

Sandra Bullock promoting the film ‘Speed’ in June 1994.Ron Galella, Ltd. (Ron Galella Collection via Getty)

Signed by De Bont because of his “vulnerable” appearance, the actor came to Speed unsure of his abilities as a hero blockbuster And this was compounded by a personal tragedy: the death of his close friend River Phoenix in October 1993, in the middle of production. “It affected him emotionally and he became very quiet,” the filmmaker said in a 1994 article in Entertainment Weekly titled Keanu Reeves, the next action star?, where journalist Melina Gerosa predicted, based on the actor’s blunt answers in the interview, that “if Reeves becomes an action star, he will be the most shy one in history.” Sandra Bullock, in the same report, acknowledged her curiosity about this mysterious, tortured guy: “I think there’s a lot of pain in him. I see him walking away alone and there’s a hint of sadness in his eyes, but he keeps it to himself, and that makes you want to know even more.”

“He broke the mold of what an action star could be,” journalist and critic Chris Barsanti tells ICON. “Before Speed, They used to be stoic, muscular and very self-confident, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone or Clint Eastwood. [Reeves] He’s not the big guy who’s been training in the gym and has a big gun to pull out. There’s a transparency to his performance – the people on the bus can see him solving the problem and that gives them more confidence than if he’d pretended to have it figured out all along. His appeal is partly because he’s the underdog.”

Chris Barsanti is the author of What Would Keanu Do?: Personal Philosophy and Awe-Inspiring Advice from the Patron Saint of Whoa (What would Keanu do? Personal philosophy and inspiring advice from the patron saint of hallucination2020, unreleased in Spain), dedicated to the actor’s philosophy and his reconversion into an adored icon, thanks to his considerable string of emblematic films and his public image. Reeves is now seen as one of the most human stars in Hollywood, unafraid of showing sadness in public while exhibiting an infectious passion for his martial arts, animation, video game or literature projects. Also someone who, contrary to what might be expected before Speed, ended up dictating the prevailing trends in action cinema with Matrix (1999) y John Wick (2014), thanks to her respectful and dedicated dedication to choreography or her apprenticeship with specialist Chad Stahelski. In 2013 she directed her own film of the genre, The power of Tai Chi.

Keanu Reeves driving through Santa Monica with his band Dogstar in 1994.Denny Keeler (Getty Images)

“Each of these films marked a turning point in action cinema. They were copied, but never equaled,” explains Barsanti. “It’s similar to what Bruce Willis, previously known for the television comedy Moonlight [1985]did with Crystal jungle [1988]in which he was also a regular guy. Instead of punching his way through, Reeves is the embodiment of cinematic Zen. He stands still, studies the landscape, and when he acts, he moves intelligently and quickly. There is an economy to his movements, no wasted effort, that in certain scenes, such as the shootout on the Paris steps in John Wick 4 [2023]it’s like watching ballet.” Any philosophical lessons to be drawn from Speed? “It may not be a lot more than thriller A superbly executed time trial, but it’s far from mindless. Although ‘shoot the hostage’ [un dilema recurrente que el protagonista y su compañero policía enuncian] It’s a terrible idea in real life, in Speed It serves as an interesting stimulus that encourages us to think outside the paradigm and look for answers in surprising places.”

Apt Pupil

Yes ok Speed: Maximum power It was his first film as a director, Jan de Bont did not appear out of nowhere. He had an impressive resume behind him as a cinematographer of some of the most important films of the late twentieth century, especially in the service of the also Dutch Paul Verhoeven and the American John McTiernan. He was responsible for the textures of Turkish delicacies (1973), The Lords of Steel (1985), Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October (1990) o Basic instinct (1992). McTiernan, who felt that Speed era “Crystal jungle on a bus” was the person who recommended De Bont for the job, after he himself had turned it down.

“We wanted to breathe new life into action movies, because at that point they had become stale, flat and repetitive. We wanted to change things up,” Jan de Bont told the outlet in 2020. Collider, Regarding the style he forged with McTiernan since Crystal jungle, “With a freer camera and only three sets, flowing from one to the other and with the actors actually doing many of the stunts.” “It was about seeking the audience’s point of view, creating the feeling that the camera has some life, not static and stuck to the ground. The camera adopts the position of someone who wants to know more, who wants to see more, as if it were investigating,” he added.

Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock and Dennis Hopper during the filming of ‘Speed’.mptvimages.com

The career of the now eighty-year-old Jan de Bont as a filmmaker was not, however, as brilliant as his career as a director of photography. Retired from cinema for more than 20 years, he only made five films, including a sequel to his hit, Speed 2 (1997), which was greatly reviled. In this sequel, Keanu Reeves did not return and the lead role was taken by Sandra Bullock, who was already famous enough to headline the film. Despite the actress’s commendable efforts, the script for the sequel did her a disservice: instead of placing her as the heroine of the film, in Speed 2 Bullock was back as comic relief alongside a different cop, this time Jason Patric, with whom she was having a new romance. The messy tone (Bullock is supposed to be the protagonist, but she doesn’t really carry the weight of the plot) and an over-the-top plot twist (the concept is repeated on a cruise ship, this time with a worker who resents the company after his blood is poisoned with copper, played by Willem Dafoe) doomed the film and tarnished its very competent action sequences and set designs.

The chemistry between Bullock and Patric was also not comparable to that of the first film with Reeves. In an interview with Ellen DeGeneres in 2018, the actress confessed to having fallen in love with her co-star: “He was very sweet and very handsome, I had a hard time staying serious. But I guess there was something about me that he didn’t like.” Keanu Reeves picked up the gauntlet a year later in front of the same interviewer, when she asked him if during the filming he realized that Sandra Bullock was attracted to him: “No, just like obviously she wouldn’t realize that I was attracted to her either.” When she was asked if she was interested in him, she said: “No, just like she obviously wouldn’t realize that I was attracted to her.” Esquire He later consulted the actress to delve deeper into the gossip, the star of Gravity (2013) explained her lack of emotional understanding as follows: “It drives you crazy. When I first met him, I would talk non-stop, to make him feel comfortable. And the more I chattered, the quieter he became. And I thought: ‘I don’t understand what’s wrong with him! He looks at me with confused eyes. He’s quiet. Did I say something that offended him? ‘ And then, days later, he would come with a note or a small package, and say: ‘I’ve been thinking about what you said the other day. ‘ And he would give you his answer.”

In fiction, the romance between the characters was treated with irony through the mantra, repeated by both, that “relationships based on very intense experiences do not last.” It was one of the many uncredited contributions of Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy cazavampiros (1997), to whom screenwriter Graham Yost credited “98.9%” of the dialogue. In his rewrite, Whedon also took into account Reeves’ request to get closer to SWAT, to make the hero model more polite and less bragging, and removed the film’s big twist: the cop buddy, played by Jeff Daniels, was going to be in cahoots with the terrorist. Yost, however, recycled the idea in his next film, Broken Arrow: Alarma nuclear (1996).

Thirty years after Speed, Reeves and Bullock, in addition to belatedly declaring their love for each other, have shown their willingness to act in another sequel, which has not yet been announced. The film has not been forgotten and has penetrated popular culture, with frequent references in all kinds of productions: for example, the Spanish All the names of God (2023), by Daniel Calparsoro and with Luis Tosar, paid homage to its plot and borrowed generously, especially in its resolution. And Jan de Bont’s work is still clearly relevant today, with the premiere on July 17 of Twisters, an update on your film Twister (1996), a classic disaster film of the decade. Proof that the Dutch director’s influence, however ephemeral his career as a director, endures.

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