December 30, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

It was, even by Hollywood’s own special-effects standards, a spectacular piece of morphing: At the wheel of Speed, first-time director Jan De Bont managed to turn a bad joke (a thriller about a bus?) into a high-octane adventuremobile, and transformed the formerly reedy Keanu Reeves into the most dynamic thing since TNT. At 50, De Bont is no cocky film-school grad. The cinematographer on such films as Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October, and Lethal Weapon 3 had been in the business for nearly 20 years before hitting high speed. ”I know what to do — I’ve been doing it so many years,” he says. But, he admits, ”I was a little nervous.” That obstacle overcome — to the tune of $121 million in ticket sales — De Bont is now working on the mega-budget remake of Godzilla as well as Speed 2. ”There’s always a difference once you make a huge movie,” he says, ”Especially if it doesn’t look like a freak accident.”

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