'Demolition Man' may very well be the first action film I fell in love with. It's my ultimate guilty pleasure, a mix of hard hitting fight scenes and humorous futuristic depictions that have held up from the day the film was released. There are no metallic costumes, funky haircuts, or extremely ridiculous technology. It all makes sense. Eighteen years after its release, portions of the film have even been validated!
1996 Los Angeles is a hellhole. It's also that way in 'Demolition Man's opening act, and it's there that we meet Wesley Snipes as the ultimate urban terrorist, Simon Phoenix, a man who knows no boundaries, and is as close to the Joker from 'The Dark Knight' as any other character in film has been. His reign of terror was stopped by one man, John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone), a supercop dubbed the demolition man due to his propensity to cause mass destruction and property damage. But there's no happy ending for Spartan, as he is blamed for the death of over twenty hostages in his act of taking down Phoenix.
Sentenced to 70 years of cryogenic stasis, with behavior modification through synoptic suggestion, Spartan's life is just about over, as his wife and child will be dead before his sentence ends. But in 2032, the unfreezing of Phoenix for a parole hearing goes awry, and the criminal mastermind is unleashed into a future that is heavily regulated and harmonic. In order to catch a maniac, the police send another one to hunt him down, as Spartan now must navigate the politics of his conditional release as he attempts to bring down his mortal enemy, once and for all.
Tell me that doesn't sound awesome. Go on. You can't deny it, can you? This isn't 'Timecop.' This is an actioner with brains to match its braun, with a fantastic mix of science fiction, comedy, and ass kicking to go along with the cautionary tale of a society that neuters itself to the point of impracticality. You have the ultimate good guy, who cares more about the end result than the means of getting there, and the epitome of chaos, a man who would be his perfect foil, if he didn't share the destructive nature. Thrown into the mix for good measure is Sandra Bullock, before she was a superstar, as a policewoman obsessed with 20th century culture, who mixes up her lingo so frequently that her every attempt to relate to Spartan and sound tough comes across as crudely sexual. "Let's go blow this guy!" Truer battle cries have never been spoken, Sandy.
The Los Angeles portrayed in 'Demolition Man' is eerily prophetic. It's no secret the comments about Arnold Schwarzenegger holding great political office coming true, and being quite a hilarious joke turned true, but there's also the hidden mention of Scott Peterson. Up for parole the same day as Phoenix, this film has a man who, a decade later, would kill his wife and unborn child, by the same name. How spooky is that shit?! And what about Snipes' run ins with the law? Did the government sic the real Sly on his ass for tax evasion? Sure, for every fun, relevant vision there are failures, but they work in the context of the film. The fast food chain wars ending? Unlikely. Guns and graffiti disappearing from Los Angeles, with no murder for 22 years?! Yeah, sure. A frozen Jeffrey Dahmer? That...that can't happen. A massive earthquake in 2010? Not in LA there wasn't! The voyeuristic Police Department able to track your every move, fining you for misbehavior such as vulgarity in your own home?! Well...that one may turn out to be the truth someday soon...
The two fish out of water, looking like barbarians to the more socially advanced citizens who underestimate their determination, it doesn't get much better than that. The way the Phoenix character is fashioned, with his cryogenic brainwashing being tampered with is intriguing, and his mission once thawed is quite simply one of the most intelligent things in an already smart film. The class separation between meat eating independent thinkers and those considered civil, and the attempts to kill the "scrap" leader? Genius. Using a terrorist to take down a "terrorist," in a film where a maniac is sent to take down a maniac. It's just layers of awesome. Throw in dialogue like "You're going to regret this for the rest of your life...both seconds of it!", and it's hard to not love this film. Hell, even Dennis Leary is present, with his anarchist character resembling his No Cure for Cancer comedy routine ironically, ranting and raving like a madman, who just so happens to be right, selfish as he may be.
To this day, there are still mysteries about 'Demolition Man.' Where did Spartan and Phoenix find all the ammo for their archaic weapons? Why don't the stun rods clobber those strapping them to them so sloppily? How exactly do the three seashells work?! ?! Has there ever been a more bad ass hero in film who could also knit a sweater? It boggles the mind. 'Demolition Man' is, easily, one of the smartest action flicks possibly ever, and it doesn't even seem like it tried to be. It just worked out. With Phoenix and Spartan seemingly willing to duel until eternity, there's every element needed for a fantastic action romp present and accounted for. Science fiction trash, as it may be, it's still an action gem.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Demolition Man' arrives in America, after virtually every other country in the world that makes Blu-rays got theirs, on a Region A/B/C BD25 disc as a part of a larger Sly Stallone wave of catalog titles. Like the European discs, there is no pre-menu content, and just a static screen sans audio on the menu itself. Navigation of said menu is identical, though there is a change in language options between discs.
Now, before we even get to the video and audio portions of the review, some may already be concerned if they look close enough, as the BD50 disc is now a BD25. There are some differences in the discs aside from the language options, though none are pertinent enough to force anyone to import. The chapter selection thumbnails looked absolutely awful on the import disc, with a weird graininess not found in the film that would get worse if that chapter were highlighted, while the American disc has nice, finely detailed miniature pictures. The chapter breaks are all found at the same spots. There is no difference in run time, either, as both clock in at exactly 1:55:02.
The differences in video between the French disc and this domestic version from Warner Bros are minimal. Again presented in 1080 using an AVC MPEG-4 encode, 'Demolition Man' looks as average as ever! The same strengths and weaknesses are there, with this solid one minute, somewhat poor the next disc. To quote the review of the import:
The picture can be overly bright, which causes some bleed, tainted black levels, and just an abnormal color scheme that saps some detail away from the picture, particularly in daytime exterior scenes. Interior shots, they're quite fine. Detail levels get an obvious boost for the majority of the film, where textures finally become clear and defined, which is a plus. The grain levels aren't tampered with, edges aren't tarnished, and there is no sign of DNR. Noise pops up in a few screens, but never in the rest of the film.
Now, to clarify what little differences there are in the picture (and they are minimal, folks), the Taco Bell sign looks so, so much better than the crude Pizza Hut one in the exterior of the restaurant scene, but that's production, not disc. I did notice some moments where the USA disc was a little darker, obscuring some detail; one fine example would be the vest Stallone is wearing in the "sex" scene. In the French release, it is regularly wavy and constantly reflecting some kind of light, while in the USA disc, there are more than a few moments where said detail is gone, and the article looks like just a simple black shirt. Issues like this are somewhat few and far between, and there is hardly enough difference to make a change in the scoring for this release. I'll say it, yes, the French disc does look a little better, but that by itself is not enough reason to pay double or triple the price. The difference is borderline negligible.
On the subject of the audio, on the other hand, I have to give the clear advantage to the French import. Again presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 'Demolition Man' has a bit less butt kicking ability here in America. Must be all that Taco Bell he's chowing down on...
Most of the points brought up in the French review remain, though there are a few important differences. The track is still pretty straight forward, with very little to cheer for. Bass elements were hit or miss, and rarely beefy before, but now they're just weak, lacking the "power" found in some spots in the French disc; the sequence where the thawed criminals discuss their game plan next to a pool table covered in pretzels (ah, classic set decor...) has far less thump to it in the background. Some sequences have an added element of static in the background when I was viewing chapter to chapter back and forth between releases, in what may be the most annoying difference. The film is fairly front heavy, though a few effects find their way to the rears. Discernibility in action sequences remains questionable, at best, while the lack of high range is still obvious.
Is it ok for me to say that the "sex" scene is still the disc's highlight moment for audio? It is? Good. Is it ok for me to say that it is borderline hilarious when viewed in slow motion, with the random zooms on Sly's face in a bizarre mix of torture and pleasure? That belongs elsewhere? Damn. What if I say that the audio here reminds me of Sly's weird facial expressions in that sequence, that it's a step down from what I'm used to? Yeah? Sweet. Now the image of Sly in tantric bliss is stuck in all your heads. Enjoy!
Same extras this second time around, no more, no less.
In my review for the French import of 'Demolition Man,' I stated that it should be viewed as a preview, of sorts, for what we'll see from the USA release, which was still three months away at the time. Well, I was mostly right. The obvious change in language options is no shocker, but the change from a BD50 to a BD25 most certainly was. The end result? Video that's almost as good, just with a few small moments that aren't as clear, while the audio is a noticeable step down in this domestic release. Now the question has to be asked: buy it for cheap here in America, or import and pay at least double due to shipping charges? It's your call, really, and I'd say the video alone isn't enough to worry about, but the audio, compared side by side, it's small but definitely easy to tell apart.
No matter what, import or domestic release, just be sure you check out 'Demolition Man.' Films packing this much brain behind its veritable muscles are few and far between. It's funny, it's relevant, it's quotable and oh so very interesting, with more than a few good fight sequences. Will the future look like this? Doubtful, but I know the present is so much better with this film in regular rotation!
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.