While Stallone and a bunch of other action greats are working on providing us with another nostalgic 'splosion-fest with The Expandables 2, in the meantime, why not watch one of the genre's best from the 90's? Demolition Man has finally made its Blu-ray debut, and if you've been a fan of the Stallone/Snipes sci-fi beat 'em up since its theatrical release, you already know what a milestone in the film's history this truly is. The last home video release we were treated to came in an old DVD snapper case, and being such an early release on the standard-def format, unsurprisingly looked pretty horrid - Contrast and black levels were poor, the image was soft, and digital artifacts and edge enhancement were rampant. Last but not least, the picture wasn't even anamorphic. Needless to say, fans of the film have been waiting for a proper re-release for what seems like an eternity. Despite the fact that double and tripping dipping practically became the format's business model, Demolition Man still didn't get the digital love it deserved. That sting is finally being lessened to a degree now that one of Stallone's highest octane film's is making the jump to HD... but considering how little attention has been paid to this popcorn action classic, everyone wondered if the transfer would greet us with a 'be well', or a 'be fucked', instead.
If you've never seen Demolition Man before, the plot is basic enough that if it waited a few more years for the 'wanna make a name for myself' critics of the internet to pan it, the film most likely would have met an early demise - Comparisons to Timecop, Total Recall, and possibly even The Terminator would have been inevitable. The critics wouldn't have been wrong mind you, but smarmy 'know-it-all' critics have a tendency to look at films in a formulaic way for their reviews as opposed to, you know, taking their actual entertainment value into consideration as well.
Basically, John Spartan (Stallone) is a cop that specializes in busting the toughest criminal heads in an apocalyptic Los Angeles, circa 1996. His ability to take down criminals with guns blazing and bombs raging has earned him a nickname with the media - The Demolition Man - and the top brass is getting tired of making up excuses for a cop that ends up causing more damage than the criminals he's after. But, in a world that's gone mad, Spartan is the man to turn to when results are an absolute necessity. There's only been one criminal that's ever been able to escape Spartan time and time again - Simon Phoenix. So, when Spartan learns that Phoenix is holding a bus-load of passengers hostage, he takes it upon himself to bring the villain to justice once and for all. After determining via heat signature scan that only 8 of Phoenix's goons were inside the building, Spartan goes in to beat a little sense into his arch nemesis. The altercation ends with Phoenix setting off charges and leveling the building to the ground... but when questioned by police after the fact, Phoenix accuses Spartan of blowing up the building and killing the hostages. No sooner than Spartan can say "the hostages weren't inside," someone on the scene reports that 20 or 30 bodies were found in the rubble.
Successfully framed for the murder of the bus passengers, Spartan is given a sentence similar to Phoenix - To spend the better part of the next half-century cryogenically frozen, while simultaneously being rehabilitated to become more peaceful members of society. In 2032, Phoenix somehow manages to escape from his parole hearing and goes on a killing spree... with nobody to stop him. The society of the future hardly sees any form of crime anymore, so the police are unequipped to handle such blatant violence and rage. With nowhere left to turn, the San Angeles Police Department (the utopian Los Angeles of the future) thaws Spartan to apprehend the criminal the only way he knows how - By kicking a whole lot of ass. Of course, things are always easier said than done, and it seems practically everyone is against his inhumane methods of obtaining justice, especially the utopian lifestyle mastermind, Raymond Cocteau. The only person that's on his side is a spunky, action-seeking police officer (Bullock) that's obsessed with the 90's and bored of an eventless 2032. Given the ultimatum of 'get Phoenix under control or we're turning you back into an ice cube', Spartan takes the only friend he seems to have in the future and sets out to put Phoenix back on ice.
So, yeah, the story is basically a big excuse to have a balls to the wall action flick take place in a futuristic setting, all while ensuring the personas of the two main characters stand out as much as possible. On paper, this sounds rather boring and uninspired, and I'm certainly not going to argue with any of you on that. It's a shallow premise that only needed a 90 minute format to get off the ground, but instead, Demolition Man needlessly tacks on additional plot elements to artificially bloat the runtime to 115 minutes - Freedom is the price that's paid for Cocteau's utopian society, and some of San Angeles' citizens weren't willing to give up their rights for a sense of false security, so they built an underground society to live a life that still offers freedom and choice. Sure, they're now labeled as outlaws, but free nonetheless. In theory, such a plot point really could have served this futuristic action film well, but unfortunately pushes the film's impressive futuristic vision into feeling sillier and more artificial than it already is.
In the 90's, Stallone was catching a lot of flak from critics that accused him for settling into mindless films with little or no substance behind them. Rocky V was a failure, Oscar was nominated for a Razzie, Stop or My Mom Will Shoot! seemed to be a byproduct of a torturous parallel universe, and even though Cliffhanger was generally given positive reviews, it was still nominated for Worst Picture. Much like Cliffhanger, Demolition Man failed miserably at hiding what it truly is - a popcorn action flick, and nothing more. And yet, for some reason, it still manages to entertain from beginning to end. Whenever Stallone and Snipes aren't blowing up the screen in an action sequence, satire and witty dialogue more than make up for whatever inadequacies the film possesses. Lenina Huxley (Sandra Bullock) constantly attempts to impress Spartan by sharing her 'expertise' of common catch phrases from the 90's... and fails miserably. "You really licked his ass!" Combining Sandra's personality and surprisingly effective comedic timing with Stallone's typical 'macho' approach, actually goes a long way in providing the audience with a relationship they actually care to see blossom. Furthermore, there's quite a few laughs in seeing what predictions the writers had for the future - Taco Bell is the only restaurant that's been deemed healthy enough for human consumption, Schwarzenegger is said to have served term as President of the United States (before even becoming interested in politics in real life, mind you), cursing is illegal and a fineable offense, and instead of toilet paper, there's this little shelf that has three seashells on it instead... ick. In the end, Demolition Man is saved from its ability to blend intense action with light and humorous tones throughout, all without making the film seem like a roller coaster that isn't fit for the track it's careening on. Considering the fact that the film features some major plot holes and as uncreative a story as it gets nowadays (not to mention the fact this film was supposedly 75% plagiarized from a book), that says a lot about the cast, director, and producers, as they were able to turn what potentially could have been a disastrous film into something extraordinary for its time.
Don't get me wrong - If you're going to enjoy Demolition Man, you're going to have to enjoy it for what it is - An excuse to give us cheesy dialogue and some hard hitting, gratuitous violence around every turn and then some. As I said, this is nothing more than a mindless popcorn flick... but it's popcorn action at its finest, and probably stands as the one film from the 90's I would pick to represent the genre in the 90's. One could argue that title to go to Terminator 2, but I feel that film stands in a class all by itself, and doesn't accurately represent the Hollywood action cheese that permeated that particular decade. If you want something that's more complex and carries depth and character development, and aren't interested in 'merely' having fun, then you might as well save yourself your time and money. However, for my money? This is probably one of my favorite Stallone films of all time, and furthermore, I would argue that if you're not a fan of Demolition Man, you plain don't like 90's action. Period.
It's official - You can take that ole' DVD, and shovel it. This 1080p, AVC encoded disc (2.40:1) not only blows the standard-def offering out of the water (which, let's face it, wouldn't have taken much), but actually looks impressive for a catalogue release overall. Really, I was expecting this Blu-ray to have poor contrast and ugly color boosting, while also being 'enhanced' with DNR. Imagine my surprise when I actually watched this and found no errors glaring enough to make me say, "Wow, I hope they fix that and re-release this sometime in the next couple of years." Now, this flick utilized a filming method that reduced grain quite a bit, as it enhanced the 'clean' and 'peaceful' look of the beautiful utopian society that is the future. There was a very fine amount of grain that remained however, and that's been preserved for this release, so put those DNR fears to rest. Clothing often looks immaculate, and facial/skin textures are as pristine as they're likely to ever get. Colors are bold and vibrant, if not ever so slightly oversaturated, and although contrast and black levels are mostly impressive, black levels have a tendency to crush just a tad at times. Don't worry though, it's not enough to really draw a whole lot of attention to itself. There are shots throughout the film that are softer than others, but overall, edges are sharp enough without having any edge enhancement applied. The only other minor complaint for this release is some noise in a few dark spots, but again, nothing worth getting worked up about. This is a pretty solid video presentation for a film that's looked like it's been dragged through the mud and chewed up by a pitbull on its last digital outing, and even though there are some minor issues that keep this from looking perfect, this is the release of Demolition Man everyone has been waiting for.
I wish I could be as kind to the audio performance on this release, but the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track just doesn't do the film justice. It's not so much that the audio isn't faithful to the source, it's just that a movie this over the top should have a lot more 'oomph' behind it. A lot of films from the 90's, especially the early 90's, have mixes that don't come anywhere near the powerhouse soundtracks of today. Some films do a great job at throwing directional audio at us from every angle but severely lack anything on the low end, while others feature semi-front heavy mixes, also with little to brag about in the low end. Demoliton Man is somewhere in between, but probably closer to the latter here. There are moments in the film where the surrounds really kick into high gear, but there are other times where they're definitely not utilized as much as they could have been. Gunshots and explosions are 'loud', but there's no 'power' behind them. This is definitely a huge step up from the DVD, but the mix leaves a bit to be desired nonetheless.
Commentary with Director Marco Brambilla and Produce Joel Silver - Brambrilla provides a lot of excellent information throughout the commentary, and Silver has some things to say early on, but the longer this commentary progresses, the more Silver seems to let Brambilla take the reins. The commentary is informative overall, as it covers everything from accomplishing the practical special effects, choosing the perfect locations for filming, wardrobe and pretty much anything else you want to know... but it seems these two could have bounced off of each other a bit more. It certainly would have made for a far more engaging track. Even more disappointing? The fact there's so much talk about a bunch of deleted scenes... yet none of them appear on this Blu-ray in the extras. Actually, this is the only real extra on this release...
For me, Demolition Man is the embodiment of what a 90's action film truly is - A wild ride with as much action as can be squeezed within the film's runtime, while providing us with the cheesiest, most awfully predictable one-liners a writer can't help but throw into the script. Despite the fact the action is amazing while the plot is weak, Demolition Man has a cast that works well together, and provides plenty of fun, and funny entertainment with its satirical predictions on what the future might have been. If you're looking to sit down and watch pure 90's Hollywood 'turn your mind off' popcorn action, then this is a film you need to see immediately. Even if you have already seen it, then there's nothing like watching it for the first time in HD - This Blu-ray has impressive video quality considering the film's track record on home video, although a more engaging mix and some additional extras would have been nice. Recommended.