Review for Demolition Man
I may have reached peak consumer. Now, if I’m in the mood to watch a DVD again, I tend to look online to see how cheap the Blu-ray is, as it’s more convenient to wait for a BD to turn up and watch that, than it is to go digging through my collection, hoping to find the DVD disc. Then again, most of my favourite films are from the eighties and early nineties, and were back catalogue when the DVD format was new. They never really got worthy transfers, certainly not the first time around when I would have bought them, and the idea of watching single layer DVDs, with ropy transfers, possibly even letterbox, on a large flat panel screen sends a shiver down my spine. I may as well plug the VCR in! So this time when I got the rare urge to re-watch Demolition Man, I placed an order first. Fortunately there was a 5 for £30 deal on somewhere, and I stocked up on back catalogue DVD double-dips.
The criminals ruled Los Angeles in 1996, and top of the tree of villainy was one Simon Phoenix, depraved and sadistic. It took one man to bring Phoenix to justice, brutal cop John Spartan, nicknamed the Demolition Man for his tendency to leave ruins in his wake. But as Phoenix was arrested, he framed Spartan for murder, and both of them wound up in prison. In the distant future of 1996, they’d perfected cryogenic suspension, and both Phoenix and Spartan received lengthy sentences as ice-cubes, to be rehabilitated by mental programming while the decades passed.
In 2032, Simon Phoenix escaped from the cryo-penitentiary, and went back to his old ways of murder and larceny. But in the pacified, crime free utopia future world of San Angeles, the police have no idea how to handle a criminal like Simon Phoenix. Their only hope is to thaw out John Spartan in the hope that he can recapture Phoenix. But it turns out that John Spartan is even more out of place in 2032 than his quarry.
You get the film in 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p format. It looks as if it uses the same source print as the DVD, with no significant re-mastering done for the Blu-ray release. That is the extent of the bad news, as on Blu-ray, Demolition Man comes across well indeed. Colours are strong and consistent, detail levels are high, and there is no sign of visible compression, aliasing, or black crush. There might be the odd moment of softness, but that may be a source issue. It’s a world away from that grain afflicted, heavily compressed DVD disc, and is a major improvement. The future world of San Angeles looks rather twee now, in a film made pre-CGI. A couple of bubble cars, and making sure the locations are clean and brand new serve to present a future world, while the actual work is done on the production and costume design. The one drawback of an HD transfer is that the matte paintings look painfully obvious now, as do a couple of the visual effects.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, DD 5.1 Surround French, Spanish and Portuguese with subtitles in these languages. The surround is put to excellent use conveying the action, and you get thrown right into the middle of things with the opening scene, the helicopter flying in the middle of a firefight, bullets and shells whizzing all around you. The effects are impressive, and the dialogue is clear, although I still can’t stand what passes for music in this film.
The disc boots to a static menu, and this time we get extras, albeit the extras that were on the original US DVD release.
You have the theatrical trailer in 480i SD, and there is the audio commentary from director Marco Brambilla and producer Joel Silver.
When I reviewed the DVD, I pretty much ripped into this film. That doesn’t explain why I keep on re-buying it with each new format, and why I keep on returning to watch it. Demolition Man is simply a guilty pleasure, I’ve decided. It’s mindless, escapist fun, a comic book movie adaptation of a comic book that doesn’t actually exist, years before comic book movies became the mainstay of the multiplex. Heroes, villains, an elaborate future world, lots of culture clash comedy, and plenty of action all make for a satisfying two hours, viscerally, if not intellectually. It’s fun, and a lot of that is down to the out of place nineties man in twenty-thirties America, and a lot of it is down to Wesley Snipes delightfully chewing the scenery as the bottle-blond heterochromic Simon Phoenix. This was back when action movies had to get the one-liners right, and Demolition Man is full of them, entertaining if not quite quotable.
Action movies tended to boil down to a confrontation between hero and villain, a one-on-one testosterone fuelled battle to the death, and normally that’s okay. But in Demolition Man it serves as a detriment, simply down to the world-building that the film accomplishes, and then squanders. You get to see this interesting, sanitised, future world, where everything bad is illegal, and it all looks tremendously pleasant, on the surface. That’s until you meet Raymond Cocteau, the architect of this future world, who will do anything to maintain and advance his vision. He’s the true villain of the piece, and those that oppose him, the Scraps, live in the underworld in comparative philosophical freedom, but have to struggle to stay alive. That’s the interesting conflict in Demolition Man, but it doesn’t sustain to the end of the film, with Cocteau exiting early from proceedings. It has to be the stars that carry the climax, but I find that my attention always seems to drift for Spartan vs. Phoenix in the cryo-prison at the end. The rest of the film is a whole lot of fun though.
I will occasionally have an urge to watch Demolition Man; it’s quintessential nineties action, a whole lot of fun and not requiring a great deal of thought. This Blu-ray is the best way to watch it, and if you’re a fan of the film and have stuck with the DVD up till now, I’d urge you to double-dip, as the difference is like night and day.