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DeBONT, JAN: Speed 2 Cruise Control

DeBont gets on DeBoat . . . for Speed 2, and tells PAUL FISCHER the critics are unkind. (He is pictured on set with Sandra Bullock.)

Amsterdam-born cinematographer Jan DeBont is now Hollywood-based action director, and while critics were solidly in favour of his first film, Speed, as well as his second film, twister, critical reaction to Speed 2 in the US was muted, to say the least. "It seems, that in America, if you have two films that are successful, it becomes a lot harder. They don't want you to be TOO successful too quick, which I've seen so many times with other directors. The other problem, far more evident in the US than Europe, is that too many films come out far too quickly, so there's never enough time to think about each movie. The market place becomes ridiculously over-crowded for audiences and critics alike." (Echoes of our own thoughts; see our feature story, Too Much of a Good Thing? - Ed)

"When you're given $35 million... you're expected to see that there's a return..."

The comparatively low-budget Speed, was a mammoth hit for the then first-time director. Not that he was thinking in those terms at the time. "When you make a movie, you're just trying to make the best you can, and you hope that a lot of people will agree with you," explains the quietly-spoken film maker while promoting his latest film, Speed 2: Cruise Control, in Sydney. While audiences and critics ultimately DID agree with the director, he was still under a certain amount of pressure to deliver the goods. "When you're given $35 million to make a film, you're expected to see that there's a return on the studio's investment. At the same time, it's important to prove to yourself that you can do it. But I had an idea that Speed would be successful, although not to the extent that it became. I felt when I was cutting scenes together that what I was doing was good work."

"the expectations become very high"

DeBont followed the success of Speed with the more elaborate Twister, another huge success, before Speed 2. On this latest trip, which moves from a bus to a cruise ship, the pressure was more pronounced. "After having made not one, but two, successful films, the expectations become very high, not only your own, but those of audiences and critics. Sequels come with their own set of unique problems. If you make it too much the same, then you'll be criticised for being repetitive; if you make it too different, people complain that it's not the same as the first one."

The latest Speed, based on an original story by DeBont, takes place several years after Annie Porter's (Sandra Bullock) bad experience on that L.A. bus rigged with a bomb. She's got a new boyfriend, Alex Shaw (Jason Patric), a police officer, and life seems to be treating her well. She and Alex go on a Caribbean cruise for some rest and relaxation, but they're going to get just the opposite. A disgruntled terrorist, John Geiger (Willem Dafoe), who used to design computer control systems for marine vessels, takes over the cruise ship. Most of those on board are evacuated, but Annie, Alex, and others remain on board, with Alex and the second mate, Mr. Juliano (New Zealand's Temuera Morrison), trying to stop the madman. As Geiger's plan flawlessly unfolds, Alex and Annie must do what they can to stop Geiger's plans of ramming the ship first into an oil freighter and then into an island port.

"most of them were duplicates of the first one.."

It took DeBont and Twentieth Century Fox some time to come up with the right story. "They'd wanted me to make a sequel for some time. They were sending me stories and screenplays, and most of them were duplicates of the first one, but just on a different vehicle, such as a train or a truck. That didn't make any sense to me, because I'd already done that. Then while I was doing Twister, there was a period where the weather was so bad for 4-5 weeks, that I wondered how I can next make a movie which is set in a far more appealing location. Ah ha, a cruise ship sounds the ticket." Thus began the story idea for Speed 2.

DeBont grew up in love with American cinema. As a cinematographer in his native Holland, he rose to fame with a fellow Hollander, director Paul Verhoeven. A graduate of the Amsterdam Film Academy, DeBont lensed Verhoeven's Turkish Delight (1973), Keetje Tippel (1975) and Soldier of Orange (1979). DeBont's first American film, Private Lessons (1981), was, in keeping with its visual style, directed in a quasi-European fashion by Alan Myerson. During his Hollywood years, DeBont emerged as one of the foremost lensers of slam-bang action fare, as witnessed in Jewel of the Nile (1985), Die Hard (1988) and Hunt for Red October (1990), to name but a few, so it was only natural that he stick to that formula for his first directorial effort, Speed (1994).

Though a master of the action genre, DeBont is an avid Western fan. "Those were the movies I relished when I was growing up. I was a student of Ford and Hawks", he recalls. It is not surprising, then, that he hopes to revitalise the Western with his next project. "It's an unusual film which is in the early stages, and one that's pretty exciting."

Watch this space.

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Jan DeBont, with his star Sandra Bullock


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