Speed

Speed ★★★★

82

"It’s easy to forget that Speed (1994)—a film so famously invested in relentless forward motion—begins vertically. Before Keanu Reeves’ Jack Traven boards an L.A. bus rigged with explosives, set to blow if the speedometer drops below 50 mph, we get a hostage rescue from within an elevator shaft, and, right before that, an opening credits sequence that distills the rescue scene to its essentials: dizzying heights and the fear of falling. At first glance, this sequence seems simple, perhaps even bland. As the camera tracks down an elevator shaft, the credits materialize in blue, blocky letters to the rhythm of Mark Mancina’s grandiose score. After the A-listers are named, the film’s title barrels in from the left. The sequence then continues as before: a steady downward descent through a space that, though retroactively recognizable as the setting for the following scene, here feels hypnotically abstract. It’s less a specific location than a way to—via the sight of metal beams and luminescent lights gliding by every few seconds—visualize the motif of pure, downward velocity. Movement in gravity’s thrall."

I started a new action cinema column over at Mubi's The Notebook, and the first piece is on the opening credits sequence of Speed: mubi.com/notebook/posts/the-action-scene-speed