Demolition Man Review

The Film
Inspired by Raphael Pour-Hashemi’s Barebone Gems feature I decided to pick out some unsung films with sparse discs. Demolition Man is my first choice as I feel it is a grossly misunderstood film. Released in 1993 it did reasonable business netting over $50 million dollars in the U.S. but whilst classic action flicks like Predator, Die Hard and T2 are worshipped this one slipped under the radar. As a confirmed fan of the film I find this curious as whilst this film does not quite scale those heights, it comes damned close.

The action film plot is customarily simple. The year is 1996 and John Spartan (Stallone) has captured the madman Simon Phoenix (Snipes) at the seemingly great expense of 30 hostages killed. His punishment along with Phoenix is to be cryogenically frozen for a period of time whilst a computer program rehabilitates his thoughts.

Now fast forward to 2032 and San Angeles is a utopia created by Dr. Raymond Cocteau (Hawthorne). There is no violence and negligible crime. However, freedom of speech and choice has been curtailed to achieve it. Unfortunately the defrosted Phoenix escapes whilst at his parole hearing and continues the mayhem where he left off in 1996. The police force is ill equipped to deal with a 20th Century maniac (indeed they haven’t had a murder since 2010). So, of course they release Spartan from his cryo-stasis to track down Phoenix and the fun begins in earnest. Snipes’ target is an underground leader, Edgar Friendly (Leary). After much violence, double crossing, quips and more violence the film reaches its predictable conclusion. However, remember that sometimes the journey is more interesting than the destination.

In this case the journey is a “rip-roaring rollercoaster” (copyright Paul Ross I believe). The violence is OTT and cartoony and the humour is pitched just right. The fact that swearing is illegal gives us endless amusing quips from the leads and Denis Leary has at least one classic rant, which is a delight. Spartan’s partner Huxley (Bullock) is a great character that helps to bridge the culture gap between future and past and her comic interplay with Stallone is measured and successful. What is often overlooked is the satirical side of the film. The utopian society and current society is mocked mercilessly, whilst it isn’t done as well as Robocop or Starship Troopers it is still gratifying to see in a so called “brainless” action film. One wonders how much better the film could’ve been under the eye of Paul Verhoeven…

It has to be said that a big part of the appeal of this film lies in its performances. Stallone is adequate and his comic timing is passable as the gruff Spartan. Snipes is much better and he gets most of the best lines. His quips and hamming up make his performance a standout (he never seems to take it seriously). Nigel Hawthorne lends the film a certain grace and he is as good as ever. Given Sandra Bullock’s recent output you would expect her to be the weak link but that isn’t the case. She plays the kooky cop to perfection (of course we now know it’s the only part she can play).

The direction is perfunctory with very little spark but the action is done well and the comic scenes are carried through adequately. The effects are spectacular (pre-CGI for the most part) and I sometimes miss the old gritty 80’s/early 90’s action film.

The flaws are mostly the flaws of the genre as a whole. The plot holes are huge (Why did Phoenix get parole before Spartan?) and numerous but luckily the humour and cartoon violence carry us over the worst of it. The ending is a little bit too twee and nicely wrapped up, but what are you expecting from this kind of film?

Overall the film is a satisfying experience and is certainly a lot better than more recent examples of the genre (I’m looking at you 6th day, End of Days and Collateral Damage). In fact I can’t think of many decent action films that came after the early nineties and that is sad. I’ve missed seeing quality brainless action films and I hope they haven’t died out completely in the age of CGI and ratings friendly studios.

Addendum - Please note that this version is cut by 2 seconds as compared to the R1 version. The cuts aren't noticeable and have no discernable impact on the film. As a result this does not affect my mark.

The Disc
Well this a Warner cheap budget release and it shows. The case is a plain snapper and the disc has a very simple (and dull) menu revealing 28 chapter stops.

This is where Warner’s barebones releases usually redeem themselves and this one is no different. Here we have a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that looks great. The print is in superb condition with little or no damage. The picture is sharp with little grain and the few colours on display look solid and strong (to fit in with a dull grey future a lot of the film is dull and grey). The black level is great but I feel the shadow detail could be a little better as things become a little indistinct in the darker scenes. The transfer is accomplished with little or no artefacting present.

The DD5.1 track here is vibrant with plenty of life. The rears are used well in the explosive moments but the atmospherics never drown out the dialogue (a common problem in other releases). Whilst it obviously isn’t as dynamic as say Gladiator this track holds up well considering the film is from 1993.

None... literally none whatsoever. No trailer, no useless text biographies, no Web Link… nothing. Whilst some may not buy a disc on this basis, I want you to stop and think for a second. What extras do you want to see with this film?

To be honest a commentary on this type of film is usually redundant. Trying to sound interesting for 110 minutes about a film concept that could be written on the back of a fag packet is a no go. So you are left with nearly two hours talking about where it was shot and how, technically interesting maybe but ultimately a bit dull. Of course Verhoeven can do these tracks in his sleep but if you haven’t got a charismatic/amusing director it isn’t worth bothering.

A full-length documentary is also a bit silly given the genre so we are left with featurettes, 10-15 minute fluffy promo pieces done at the time of the film. Having seen far too many of these I’ll pass thanks.

There is something to be said for an honest release with no filler like cheap trailers and featurettes clogging up the disc. So this release gets a 0 for extras but don’t let that stop you buying it.

Addendum - The R1 release has a commentary from the director and producer as well as a trailer. As stated above I don't feel these extras are necessary therefore my mark for this disc is unaffected.

It should also be pointed out that the R2 is significantly cheaper than the R1 by a £3-£4.50 margin.

This is an entertaining action movie with comedy and satirical overtones. It is well done for the most part with competent direction and a cast who aren’t afraid to ham it up. The disc is pretty good for a budget release. The picture and sound are more than adequate and the lack of extras is actually a breath of fresh air (I don’t care how the film is made it’s a pure popcorn film). As this is available for £7.99 in quite a few places you would be silly not to add this to your action movie collection.

8 out of 10
8 out of 10
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out of 10

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