Review: “Speed” (Film)

Well, since “Speed” happened to be on TV the night before I prepared this review, I thought that I’d set up the DVR.

Although I’d vaguely thought about looking at this film during my “1990s films” review series a month or two ago, I decided against it at the time (partly due to the cost of second-hand DVD copies and partly due to the film’s running time).

Plus, since it’s a film that I haven’t seen since I watched it on VHS sometimes during the early-mid 2000s, I thought that it was about time that I took another look at it. Yes, everyone’s probably already seen this film at least once. But, well, nostalgia.

So, let’s take a look at “Speed”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

“Speed” is an action/thriller film from 1994 starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. It begins in an office building in California, where a criminal (played by Dennis Hopper) threatens to crash a sabotaged lift full of people if he isn’t paid $3 million.

When the police arrive, bomb squad officers Jack (Keanu Reeves) and Harry (Jeff Daniels) decide to attempt a daring rescue. However, after eventually managing to free the passengers from the lift before it plummets into oblivion, Jack realises that the criminal must still be in the building. In fact, he’s in the lift beside the one he sabotaged.

With a shotgun too! The fiend!

After a tense stand-off, in which Harry is wounded, the criminal manages to get away. But, given that the passengers were saved, the cops decide to call it a day and celebrate.

Well, that was a short film. Huh? There’s more…

The next morning, Jack is nursing a hangover and getting ready to go back to work when a nearby bus explodes in a spectacular fashion. After realising that he can’t save the driver, he notices that a nearby payphone is ringing. Picking it up, he suddenly realises that he’s talking to the criminal from the office – who is absolutely furious that he didn’t get his three million dollars.

Yay! Payphones! This is wonderfully ’90s 🙂

The criminal tells Jack that he’s planted another bomb on the 2525 bus and that, once the bus goes above 50mph, the mechanism will be activated. However, if the bus then goes less than 50mph, it will detonate. Needless to say, Jack has to find that bus….

I mean, it’d be a pretty short, dull and depressing film if he didn’t

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it is a textbook example of an action thriller movie done right. This film is like a carefully-orchestrated symphony, with a defined three-act structure (involving a lift, a bus and a train) and expertly-controlled suspense.

Every few minutes, something will happen that helps to ramp up the tension. For example, the bus’s fuel tank will spring a leak, there will be a traffic jam etc… Seriously, this film is a testament to the power of creativity and inventiveness. Not only is the premise of keeping a bus travelling more than 50mph a fairly inventive one, but the fact that the film is able to keep what is essentially a one-hour bus journey thrillingly suspenseful is quite an achievement.

Yes, the film actually manages to make THIS thrilling!

The film’s three-act structure is also handled really well too. The first segment of the film, involving a lift, helps to introduce the premise of the film in a thrilling way. The second act, set on the bus, is pretty much a self-contained thriller film in it’s own right. Then the final segment of the film, set on a train, allows for a dramatic resolution to the few plot points that were left unresolved in the second act.

Yes, the remaining plot points are resolved… with a vengeance!

In addition to making the film seem like “three films in one”, this structure also helps to counterbalance the film’s relatively long (by 1990s standards) running time. Although I was initially wary about the fact that the film is nearly two hours long, it never feels bloated. If anything, it almost feels like they’ve managed to cram three hours worth of storytelling into those two hours. In other words, this is a rare example of a relatively long film that actually justifies it’s length.

Another inventive thing about this film is that, for a thriller movie, it is relatively non-violent.

Yes, there are a few explosions and several scenes involving guns. But, the main “action” in the film revolves around the film’s main characters using both teamwork and their brains in order to save lives and outwit the criminal. Although Jack is the film’s main “hero”, he’s nothing without other characters such as Harry, a passenger called Annie (played by Sandra Bullock) and the other police officers.

This focus on teamwork helps to add a small amount of “realism” to the film too.

This focus on realistic teamwork and intelligent fast-paced problem-solving also helps to lend the film a warm “feel-good” emotional tone that you don’t really get in “lone hero” action movies or more modern superhero-based action movies. This focus on teamwork in the thriller genre is something from the 1990s (which can also be seen in movies like “Broken Arrow” and games like the original “Resident Evil) which you don’t really see quite as often today. And, well, I really miss when films used to be like this.

In addition to this, the film also contains a small amount of social commentary too. The main motivation behind the villain’s actions (apart from extreme greed) is the fact that he’s a retired man with a meagre pension and a feeling that there’s no purpose to his life.

Likewise, the rear end of the bus has a sarcastic advertising poster that reads “Money isn’t everything (yeah, right.)“. Given that the film’s villain is obsessed with money, to the point of being willing to kill for it, this small detail really adds something to the film.

The film’s special effects and action sequences still stand up extremely well to this day. Since the film uses timeless practical effects and has a fairly large budget, the effects still look pretty spectacular. These include everything from lots of extremely well-choreographed vehicle stunts, a couple of relatively understated combat scenes to a number of melodramatic explosions.

Like this one.

Plus, although the film is mostly set during the day and within bright, summery locations- there is at least a small amount of the kind of really cool ultra-gloomy lighting and inventive set design that is so characteristic of films from the 1980s/1990s (which can mostly be found within the final third of the film):

Such as this mildly futuristic-looking underground train track.

Or this vaguely “Blade Runner”-esque train station concourse.

Or this wonderfully gloomy lighting in the villain’s secret lair.

The film’s acting and characterisation is fairly good too. Although Keanu Reeves plays the kind of stoic character that you would expect him to play, he is contrasted brilliantly by Sandra Bullock’s expert performance as a more reluctant hero. Her character’s courage is emphasised by the fact that she reacts to a lot of the film’s events in a more realistic way (eg: shock, sarcasm, nervousness etc..). Seriously, this is one of Bullock’s best performances.

Plus, she also gets many of the best lines in the film too.

In addition to this, Dennis Hopper’s performance as the film’s villain is really good too. Whilst he comes across as slightly maniacal, he tends to be a slightly more understated evil character who bears a grudge and is willing to sink to any sociopathic depth in order to get the money he feels is owed to him.

The only slight flaw in the film is probably the dialogue. Since the emphasis is on the thrilling and suspenseful events of the film, the dialogue often tends to take a back seat. Yes, there are some fairly good lines of dialogue in the film but most of the dialogue is just “functional” realistic dialogue that fits in well with the events of the film. It’s ok, but nothing spectacular.

All in all, this is the kind of fun, thrilling “feel-good” popcorn movie that shows why the cinema of the 1990s is still highly-regarded to this day. It has an inventive premise, a well-designed structure, almost constant suspense and an emphasis on both teamwork and intelligent problem-solving. There’s a good reason why this film is regarded as a classic. It’s a timeless example of a well-made thriller movie.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get five.

Four Quick Tips For Writing Fast

2017 Artwork Tips For Faster Writing

Well, since I was in a slight rush when I started writing this article, I thought that I’d give you a few tips about how to write fast. Most of these tips will work regardless of whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, but there are some slight differences.

So, let’s get started.

1) Practice your typing (or write it by hand): As I mentioned in this other article, you don’t need a touch-typing course to learn how to type fast (although it might help). All you need is lots of practice.

But, even if you still type by poking each key individually, then just keep doing this until you get faster. Try to use two fingers, one on each hand for each side of the keyboard.

When you’ve learnt to type fast, words don’t feel like a collection of individual letters. Each word feels like a pattern of movement instead. You move your hands in one way to make one word, and in a different way to make another. Almost like playing chords on a guitar.

Likewise, if you can, use a word processing program without a spell-checker (I use WordPad) and, when you’ve finished, copy your writing into one that does have a spell-checker. This might sound convoluted, but going back and correcting spellings every couple of minutes when you’re writing can be a huge distraction (and not the good kind, like in the third point on this list).

But if, like I used to, you write faster by hand than you do with a keyboard, then write it out by hand first. Yes, copying up the first draft is a bit of a hassle, but it also gives you a chance to edit what you’ve written and it’s less difficult than having to write it for the first time.

2) Simplicity (or not): Unless you’re really on a roll, you don’t have time for either fancy prose or informal prose, or for prose that is too short or too long when you’re writing fast.

The emphasis when writing fast is on just getting your ideas down on paper or on the screen. Go with the style that feels the most natural to you, regardless of whether you feel more comfortable with formal or informal writing styles. Regardless of whether you love to write at length or if you prefer shorter things. Go with what feels natural.

If you’re worried about using repetitive speech tags (eg: “he said”, “she said” etc..) or repetitive sentence openings, then don’t worry. Although it doesn’t always look very elegant, it’s easier for the reader to absorb and skip past repeated things than it is for them to read ten different words or descriptions for the same thing.

One trick for reducing repeated sentence openings without losing writing speed is to have a few well-practiced stock phrases that you can throw in at the beginning of sentences in order to keep things interesting (eg: “Therefore..”, “Another…”, “Likewise…”, “Whilst…” etc..). It makes everything sound a bit like an old school essay, but at least it keeps things mixed up.

As for speech tags, just go with “he said” and “she said” as much as possible. Using too many other types of speech tags too often just makes the writing sound pretentious or it makes the writer sound inexperienced. So, keep it basic. This will also save you having to consult a thesaurus when your characters start talking.

3) Write in bursts (or don’t): Often, when I’m writing quickly, I don’t just sit there and do nothing but writing. I’ll fire out a few sentences and then I’ll pause to read a little bit of something, pause and do nothing, or pause to change the song I’m listening to. Then I’ll go back and fire out another few sentences.

Having lots of very short breaks might sound like the opposite of what you’re supposed to do when you’re writing fast, but it gives you a little bit of time to gather your thoughts. The little breaks also help you to keep your attention focused on what you’re writing, provided that they don’t last for too long (eg: try to keep them under a minute).

Different people have different attention spans and different ways of writing. So, go for what works for you. If you find that you focus better by doing nothing more than staring at what you’re writing, then do this. If this tends to make you feel worn out or bored, then try taking micro-breaks every few sentences.

4) Stock ideas and writer’s block: Of course, you can be experienced at writing quickly, but it won’t help you if you don’t know what to write. So, either prepare some ideas in advance or have a stock of ideas that you can dip into at any time.

This stock can include things like topics you know a lot about, things that fascinate you, types of character relationships, interesting places, your own memories etc… If you’ve got a good enough stock – and you probably have, even if you don’t realise it yet – then writer’s block can be a bit less of a challenge than it might otherwise be.

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Whew, I wrote the first draft of this article in just under half an hour! Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂