2008 marks the 15th anniversary of the release of Stuart Gordon's sci-fi action flick Fortress. While I'm sure that there aren't many people out there celebrating, August 5th's home video re-release of the film from Lionsgate seemed to suggest that the movie would get an upgrade. The original DVD, released by Artisan, sported a pan and scan full frame version with few extras. I remembered seeing the film about a decade ago, probably on VHS, and thinking that it wasn't great but wasn't bad either, and thus looked forward to reviewing Lionsgate's new version for DVD Talk.
So, when the DVD arrived in the mail, I looked at the shiny new slipcover with "Lionsgate" on the spine and thought this might indeed be a good upgrade.
And then I pulled off the slipcover . . .
. . . and discovered it's the old &%$#-ing Artisan DVD!
This seems a little deceptive on Lionsgate's part. This title is being sold as new, but the only thing new about it is its slipcover. And really, the only difference between the art on the slipcover and on Artisan's DVD is the aforementioned name of the distributor and a new blurb under star Christopher Lambert's name that reads "from 'the Master of Horror' Stuart Gordon."
What a letdown. And it's too bad because the movie, while it hasn't aged well, is still an entertaining comic book sci-fi action vehicle for Christopher Lambert.
In Fortress, Lambert is an ex-military officer in the year 2017 named John Brennick. He and his wife, Karen, have violated a mandated one child only policy in the United States. Karen is pregnant with their second child, their first having died. At the start of the film, they are fleeing for Mexico where, apparently, it's legal to have more children. They're caught, however, and sent to a massive underground prison system run by a corporation called Men-Tel.
This prison is interesting . . . and unpleasant. It's overseen by a computer system named Zed-10 and its awkwardly unstable prison warden (played creepily well by Kurtwood Smith, who would go on to play the father in the long-running Fox sitcom That 70's Show). Prisoners are implanted with intestinators, devices that cause severe pain and explosive death within the intestines should they do something impermissible. John wants to plot the great escape from this prison and is driven to save his wife, who has attracted the attention of Poe.
As I mentioned before, this film was produced 15 years ago and thus doesn't benefit from the ubiquitous CG work in today's sci-fi and action vehicles. (There is some rudimentary computer graphics in a few virtual scenes though.) Still, Stuart Gordon directs a film with neat underground prison sets and various other tech devices. There's also some impressive, over-the-top gore effects work - especially when prisoners are intestinated (trust me, it's as brutal as it sounds).
The cast is okay - with two standouts. I remembered being impressed with Kurtwood Smith's work in this film as Poe, and all these years later, it's still impressive. It is an appropriately unnatural and off-centered performance befitting the unusual nature of the character (which is given some interesting character turns through the course of the film). Loryn Locklin is also good as Brennick's wife. Locklin had a unique presence on film - and she was great in an episode of the classic sitcom Frasier where she played a call girl Niles unknowingly goes out with. But, her career never really seemed to take off unfortunately.
Christopher Lambert comes off weakly, however, as the lead. Here, he seems to follow in the footsteps of overemotive action heroes of the time like Schwarzenegger.
Fortress is fairly silly, but it's still a fun sci-fi action flick from a different era (God, I feel old for saying that). I'd say it's most like the 1990 flick Total Recall if you need a comparison. Unfortunately, this is an old, old DVD and doesn't really match up with today's standards. More on that below. I recommend the movie but not this edition. Rent it if you're interested in seeing it.
Yep, this is a full screen 1.33:1 pan and scan version of Fortress. The Internet Movie Database lists Fortress's aspect ratio as 1.85:1. Seriously, in 2008, should films really still be getting this kind of treatment? I understand having a full screen option on discs, but this has no widescreen option at all. Well, technically speaking, the DVD is actually from 1999, so I guess that explains it. The image is fine though not spectacular, and could be much cleaner.
Fortress has one audio track: Dolby Digital 2.0. It's not bad, with dialogue and sound effects well-represented. No subtitle options are made available.
There are a few extras on this disc. Some text-heavy cast and crew information as well as production notes can be flipped through with the remote. A theatrical trailer is also included (full screen, of course).
Fortress is a preposterous but fun old sci-fi action flick with Christopher Lambert. The movie is recommended but not this new edition - which is basically the old 1999 pan and scan Artisan release of the movie with a new slipcover. Rent it, if you're interested. If you own the old Artisan DVD, there's absolutely no incentive to buy it over again from Lionsgate.