Sylvester Stallone had already dabbled in comedy, co-starring and riffing with Kurt Russell in the underrated Tango & Cash (1989) before returning to the Rocky franchise for the fifth time, and then bouncing to a pair of poorly received comedies – Oscar (1991) and the horribly titled Stop or My Mom Will Shoot (1992) – before returning to the action genre in Cliffhanger (1993).
Demolition Man (1993) gave Stallone an opportunity to play a fish out of water – not just a character awoken 30 years after being cryogenically frozen in a big clear-goo hockey puck, but an action star surrounded by wimps, wannabes, and novices – and the real key to the film’s success is Daniel Waters’ first draft, which incorporated a lot of absurd moments which riffed on pop culture, politesse, and in some cases proved rather prophetic, notably Arnold Schwarzenegger’s political prominence in the ‘near future’ and technology being simplified as portable aids, such as the ‘how to apprehend a non-compliant perp’ using a digital tablet.
The story of a cop (Stallone) unfrozen to pursue a villain (Wesley Snipes) modern society is unable to handle is a sound sci-fi premise, and Demolition Man is surprisingly well-balanced with comedy, cartoon, sci-fi, action, and style, considering it was Marco Brambilla’s first feature film, and the script was much more tongue-in-cheek.
Brambilla, who dominates the DVD and Blu-ray’s commentary track, notes the script’s subsequent revisions (presumably by credited co-writers Peter Lenkov, who wrote the TV movie Parker Kane for Silver, and Robert Reneau), and his own influence which extended to sets, colours, costumes, and the film’s overall look of a futuristic but rather sedate San Angeles city after a giant quake turned Los Angeles and its environs into flaming rubble.
Producer Joel Silver (who appears for less than a half hour on the commentary before vanishing) did his usual job of making sure money was well spent on explosive sequences and practical destruction, and the film’s loaded with tongue-in-cheek references (a Lethal Weapon 3 poster hangs in Sandra Bullock’s office), and bit parts played by Silver regulars, including Grand L. Bush as a pilot (agent Johnson in Die Hard) and Steve Kahan (Captain Murphy in the Lethal Weapon franchise), and Jesse Ventura (Ricochet) whose role was considerably hacked down in the final script and film to a virtual bit part.
Brambilla also mentions a number of small scenes and a subplot involving Stallone’s character meeting his daughter, now considerably aged since his freezing, that were trimmed or entirely deleted, as well as a scene initially shot with Lori Petty playing Stallone’s female sidekick and love interest before she was replaced by Bullock.
Stallone’s role of an ‘independent minded’ cop who uses his own tactics to single-handedly arrest scum is, certainly in the prologue, a retread of the grocery store hostage sequence in Cobra (1986). Instead of a car, John Spartan arrives by helicopter, and instead of a gun, Spartan uses brute force to apprehend evil Simon Phoenix before an entire factory is blown to bits (another real building blown up by Silver, as done in the just-completed Lethal Weapon 3).
The name Demolition Man really has no bearing on Stallone’s character, since he doesn’t actually blow up things; technically, he helps demolish things, but they’re the end-result after Phoenix refuses to comply with an arrest. Whether the name was spun from a Police song or was always present in the first draft, the name apparently necessitated the use of the song over the End Credits, where Sting’s name isn’t credited just once – the industry norm – but three times (“Demolition Man Performed by Sting,” “Demolition Man Written and Performed by Sting,” “Demolition Man EP By Sting on A&M Records”), because his ego apparently demanded it.
(Elliot Goldenthal’s score didn’t’ use the main campaign art, whereas Sting’s single was repackaged with unrelated concert extracts in an EP CD, which like the triple credit thrust, was the result of a persuasive agent.)
Warner Home Video’s Blu-ray replicates the DVD’s extras, and as dry as Brambilla’s commentary becomes, it’s still mildly interesting for details on the practical locations and camera tricks. Pity he didn’t focus more on cinematographer Alex Thompson (Alien 3, Cliffhanger, The Krays, Legend), and the script’s development, but one suspects most of Silver’s films are the product of endless rewrites, making it hard to trace the development of a gem idea.
The image quality is sharp, the subdued, metallic colours quite beautiful, and the sound quite punchy.
Brambilla, who hailed from music videos, directed the romantic action dud Excess Baggage (1997), episodes of Dinotopia (2002) and a segment of Destricted (2006), but has otherwise stayed away from feature films.
Waters had scored a career high with Heathers (1988) before spending a number of years doing rewrites on major Hollywood productions, including Silver’s underrated The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990), and after Demolition Man, Waters took a long rest before coming back with Happy Campers (2001) and the sly Sex and Death 101 (2007), both of which he wrote and directed.
Snipes was already developing himself into an action star, having already gotten the bug in the ‘Fly Hard’ riff Passenger 57 (1992), and with rare exceptions, he tended to favour playing cops or agents, peaking in 1998 as a vampire in Blade.
This title is part of a 4-film Stallone Blu-ray wave, including Assassins [M] (1995), Cobra [M] (1986), Demolition Man (1993), and The Specialist [M] (1994).
© 2011 Mark R. Hasan