A DVD REVIEW: DEMOLITION MAN (Warner Bros.) [Archive] - Audio & Video Forums


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09-12-2005, 10:34 AM

I realize this is an awfully back-catalog title to be reviewing, but let me explain: after watching the recently-bought New Jack City Two-Disc Special Edition for the second time since owning it, I was simply in the mood -- right after that -- to see Snipes in another "bad guy" role.....and what better way to experience that than in his wise-cracking, sarcastically over-the-top performance as the criminal "Simon Phoenix" in Marco Brambilla's Demolition Man, which is already being hailed as "the most entertaining futuristic action film since the first Terminator." The film has undoubtedly become somewhat of an "action classic" depending on how you personally take into account the term "classic," and the teaming of bad-ass cop Sylvester Stallone and bad-ass criminal Wesley Snipes almost makes this film a comic-based hero vs. villain tale, with all the hand to hand combat scenes these two endure through the picture. As a fan of the film, I personally think it's time for the WB to go back and reissue this title in some kind of special edition because the bare-bones, snapper-cased version we have now simply does not cut it, in the audio or video departments -- nor extras department, for that matter.

Pulling this kooky, offbeat futuristic cop-chasing-ultimate-criminal tale off my shelf the other night because I happened to be in the mood for a Wesley Snipes-as-a-villain marathon, it struck me just how many stars adorn this marquee: onboard for the somewhat offbeat Demolition Man are (yes, of course) Stallone, Snipes, Sandra Bullock, Rob Schneider, Nigel Hawthorne, and even a tantalizing, eye-popping performance by the ever-funny Dennis Leary. The film opens in what we are told is Los Angeles, 1996, where a ruthless criminal Simon Phoenix (Snipes) has supposedly taken hostages from a city bus and hid them in a factory containing tons of explosive C-4 material; sent in to apprehend this crazy criminal (but not really authorized by the L.A. police to do so) is Detective John Spartan (Stallone), otherwise known as The Demolition Man as each mission he goes on ends up with a catastrophic devastation of property. But this is a personal war between Phoenix and Spartan -- two arch enemies along the lines of Spider-Man and the Green Goblin or Superman and Lex Luthor -- and that's what makes this film such a fun ride, the anger and hostility between these two men and their willingness to kill each other no matter what the cost. It seems Snipes (sporting creepy looking contact lenses for this role as Simon Phoenix along with a color-dyed short haircut) has set Spartan up in this opening sequence of the film, making him believe the hostages were actually somewhere outside of this building rigged to blow with explosives, but in reality, while Spartan has apprehended Phoenix during a hand to hand combat scene and both of them escape by a thread of their lives as the building blows into a million pieces from the loads of C-4 impregnated there, Phoenix informs Spartan and his police chief that the hostages were indeed in the building which just exploded, somehow making Spartan an unintentional accomplice to murder.

The police justice system during this time has evolved to the point where criminals are frozen for rehabilitation and then "thawed out" years later for parole hearings; Spartan (Stallone) is sentenced and frozen via cryogenics for his unintentional involvement in Snipes' murder plot (as Phoenix is frozen as well) and the plot then takes a futuristic turn, as the year becomes 2032, where Los Angeles is no longer Los Angeles, but a "metroplex" of sorts after huge earthquake rocked the state, merging the cities. Society has become much different here -- people are peaceful, benign sheep and there is no longer criminal activity on the streets. It is at this time that we are exposed to Simon Phoenix's parole hearing which has come up during this year, and somehow, with mysterious greater strength than when he went in, he manages to escape from the parole hearing chair he was strapped into and kill every guard around him and even the warden himself. With this violent criminal on the loose, the "San Angeles Police Department" is not equipped or ready for such a man; officer Sandra Bullock, who is fascinated with the 21st Century from which Phoenix comes, is bored of this serine lifestyle they are all living here and wishes for "some action" -- that action comes when Phoenix escapes from cryo-prison and kills at least three people or more in the process, alerting the police who are simply not prepared in this futuristic society to deal with Phoenix and his violence. As they track him on city wide cameras, it seems Phoenix has been given "special abilities" as he was thawed from his cryo-cell, accessing computer systems and blessed with unbelievable physical strength -- the reasons why this is have not been made clear to us yet but will be. The man responsible for creating this peaceful futuristic society instructs the chief of police to do everything they can to stop this madman. It seems there is only one answer: they must thaw out Detective John Spartan (Stallone) as it seems he is the only one who can stop Phoenix. Against the police chief's wishes, Spartan is thawed from HIS cryo-cell and "reinstated" to the San Angeles Police Department for the job of apprehending Simon Phoenix because the cops of this century cannot do it alone.

The film takes some funny turns here, as we watch Stallone attempt to "fit into" this new futuristic society which does not allow cursing (something Spartan does with every other word out of his mouth) and citizens are "fined" with "credits" for each vulgarity used; it becomes humorous because Stallone can't stop cursing. He is also made aware of other "changes" in this future -- many being no red meat, smoking, salt, no physical sex between men and women (which he discovers in a most humorous way with Sandra Bullock) -- pretty much anything deemed "bad for you" has been deemed "illegal" in this society, and Stallone doesn't like it. But he is stuck in this situation because if he does not comply to this term: that is, apprehend Simon Phoenix, he will be returned to cryo-prison where he will be frozen again for G-d knows how many years. Not many people get a second chance.

The real plot of Demolition Man then begins to unravel, where we discover why Snipes was given these "special abilities" upon thawing out for his parole hearing in 2032; it seems the man responsible for creating this peaceful society of the future feels threatened by the man leading a gang of rebels underground who won't conform to this peaceful way of life (played by Dennis Leary) and he has programmed Phoenix, out of cyro-prison, to kill this Edgar Friendly (Leary) who leads the rebels under the surface of this futuristic peaceful world. Of course, the San Angeles Police don't know this, and so their answer is to send the only cop capable of stopping such a madman in -- John Spartan, the Demolition Man. What ensues is a continuation of the anger, hatred and battles Phoenix and Spartan left off with in Los Angeles of 1996, with once discovering both of them are in this future, they begin the game of cat and mouse to try and kill each other once again. But Phoenix's job is not to kill Spartan, rather to eliminate Edgar Friendly (Leary) the man leading the revolt against this peaceful society.

Along the way, we learn certain things about this 2032 future: all restaurants, because of "the franchise wars," have become Taco Bells, complete with valet parking and horrible lounge singers; also, Stallone learns that during the cryo process, an inmate is given a rehab program but something has gone horribly wrong with his and Phoenix's programming: it seems Phoenix, for some reason, was programmed to become some kind of super terrorist with unlimited strength while Stallone was given the ability to knit sweaters to become more passive; something is wrong here, and Stallone knows it. It is only a matter of time until Stallone figures out the plan of how Phoenix was programmed to become this super criminal just to kill Dennis Leary and his rebels; he descends into Leary's underground world, where Stallone and Bullock learn that Leary simply wants nothing to do with this futuristic "pussy-whipped" society that has developed above the surface, and him and his "followers" live down in the catacombs in rebellion against this "peaceful, controlled" society. But Stallone brings him bad news: he tells Leary that Phoenix -- a "certifiable nightmare" -- has been thawed out just to kill him. Of course, a massive gunfight ensues, and a final hand-to-hand battle breaks out between Stallone and Snipes one last time as Snipes is attempting to release multiple dangerous criminals from their cryo-prisons to help in his taking over of this futuristic world.

The film definitely plays like an almost comic-based hero vs. villain story, and has definitely become a favorite amongst sci fi/action aficionados, even if it does not contain Arnold Schwarzenegger; it does enjoy, despite its criticism of being silly, short on plot and highly stylized in wardrobe, a very loyal fan following, and as I said, I wish Warner, at some point, would go back and re-visit this title to clean it up a bit and give it better treatment as opposed to the single-disc "flipper" version we have access to now. I can see Demolition Man receiving Special Edition treatment just as fast as I can see the studio's decision to go back and give New Jack City such recognition.


Back in the day I was running a Sony 27" 4:3 screen, I always watched this title in its pan and scan side of the flipper format this disc is presented in; of course, on my 55" monitor now, I ran the letterboxed widescreen transfer and found just about the same flaws I found on the fullscreen version all these years. Let's just say this isn't the cleanest print from Warner's back-catalog vault; while I wouldn't call what runs through the image grain per se, there is video noise that litters this transfer from almost beginning to end -- nothing too distracting, but this is far from the clinical definition of a perfect video transfer. Warner can definitely go back and clean this one up if they felt up to it; for the bargain basement price the studio charges for this title in its horribly cheap snapper case package, I suppose what we have here is "good enough" for now if one were so inclined to make such a judgment. But there is something quite "unsmooth" about the transfer for Demolition Man; colors don't seem to "jump" off the screen and the whole presentation seems "subdued" with that aforementioned video noise constantly in the background scenes. I long for a remastered version of this sci fi modern-day classic of sorts.


The audio doesn't fare too well on this transfer, either, and it's one of those typical "compressed" sounding early Warner releases in Dolby Digital; the disc automatically defaults to the presentation in Dolby 5.1, but from the get go, there is a "compressed" sound to the audio---gunshots don't really come through with much clarity, and while there is surround activity, it is used sparingly. There are brief moments of LFE usage during massive explosions, but with everything that's going on during this mix, one would expect a broader, cleaner soundstage -- we don't get that here. The biggest complaint is this what I can only describe as "un-discreetness" to the mix, where audio sounds muffled in certain channels, most notably during gunfire sequences which should have sounded more crisp and alive; this may all have to do with audio elements Warner was working with for a film of this vintage, bringing it to Dolby Digital 5.1. Don't get me wrong -- there's a lot going on here, audio-wise, especially during the very end sequence where Snipes is attempting to kill Stallone in the cryo-prison, and that laser gun he fires at him is destroying everything in sight; this is a noisy, aggressive scene with all channels working to bring you into what's going on -- it just seems the quality of the audio could have been improved as these scenes don't pack the crystal "punch" of modern day DTS and Dolby Digital tracks.

I think I can speak for other Demolition Man fans when I say Warner should at some point re-visit this title with some remastering efforts on its video and audio characteristics as there IS room for improvement here, no doubt, and there is indeed a small underground cult following of this title that would double dip in a heartbeat given the option. The only special features on the disc were production notes and a theatrical trailer.

Thanks, Warner.

09-13-2005, 02:01 AM
Loved the "Schwarzenegger Presidential Library" line. Did somebody know something?

09-13-2005, 08:51 AM
Loved the "Schwarzenegger Presidential Library" line. Did somebody know something?

Hahahahahhhahaha-----forgot to mention that in the review, Def; that WAS a funny part and you know its funny that you ask "did somebody know something?" because as I was watching that part Im thinking......did someone KNOW he was going to be ruling California in the near (then) future?


Thanks for reading the review, buddy!