Saturday, 17 September 2011

Blu-ray Review: Demolition Man

The unmistakably 90s action/sci-fi cult classic arrives on Blu-ray to inspire us all with joy joy feelings!

The Film

In the horrific, nightmarish near-future of... 1996... Sergeant John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) faces off with psychotic crime lord Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) in a final explosive confrontation that seemingly results in the deaths of innocent hostages. As punishment, Spartan is sent to a newly introduced CryoPrison and placed in cryogenic storage alongside his nemesis.

Almost forty years later, Phoenix is thawed out for a parole hearing, during which he escapes into the futuristic “paradise” of San Angeles, where crime has become virtually non-existent, seashells have replaced toilet paper and Taco Bell is the only restaurant to survive the “franchise wars”. With his lethal nature proving too much of a challenge for the gentle police force of the time, plucky young Lieutenant Lenina Huxley (Sandra Bullock), who takes a great deal of interest in the late 20th century, suggests that they awaken John Spartan – The Demolition Man – for a chance at redemption.

What follows is a deftly handled mix of action, sci-fi and comedy. Those first two elements complement each other the most effectively, with the futuristic setting presenting a number of creative opportunities for the various action set pieces. And there is a lot of action – Spartan and Phoenix encounter each other several times and the result tends to be chaotic. The best gags come from watching Spartan getting to grips with all the annoying surprises the future holds (such as the machines that charge you for swearing in public), as well as Huxley’s hilariously broken attempts at replicating the vulgar language of yesteryear (which I don’t dare spoil here).   

Perhaps the biggest attraction here is getting to see Stallone and Snipes heading the cast in opposing roles. After watching him play dark, brooding heroes like John Rambo and Marion Cobretti, it’s great to see Sly as a much lighter protagonist. John Spartan certainly doesn’t shy away from delivering tough justice, but it’s nice to see him do it with a smile and a one liner in tow. Meanwhile, Snipes is a real treat. Pumped full of manic energy, he clearly enjoys playing a complete lunatic such as Phoenix, and is effortlessly able to switch from being hysterically over the top to downright menacing should the occasion call for it. Both characters could have easily been ripped from the pages of a comic book.

It’s all very silly, but with a clearly ironic approach to the daft proceedings, not to mention a degree of genuine originality, I’d say Demolition Man is one of the more inspired films to be produced by action cinema, and a definite highlight in the careers of its two stars.          

The Disc

I last saw Demolition Man on a VHS recorded off TV. So to say I was impressed by the Blu-ray would be an understatement. Warner Bros have clearly put some effort into this transfer, as it’s one of the best catalogue releases I’ve seen.

Firstly, I did not pick up on any digital noise reduction. There’s a very fine layer of grain covering the image throughout, lending a nice and filmic quality to the picture. Close-ups display an excellent amount of facial detail, especially on Stallone and Snipes, but even on the smooth-faced citizens of San Angeles (a futuristic makeup choice, or so I am led to believe). While there are more than a few soft shots here and there, the overall level of quality is pin-sharp. You might just be able to make out the small print on that Lethal Weapon 3 poster in Huxley’s office.

I also did not detect any edge enhancement; and even if there is some then it must be barely noticeable. Black levels also appear well resolved, with plenty of clear shadow detail.

My only real boggle with the picture quality would be its skin tones. For most of the film, everyone appears overly tanned (orange, even). But I’m not sure if this is more to do with the source material than it is a fault with the Blu-ray transfer, so I may be fretting over nothing. Otherwise, colours are strong throughout.

Demolition Man’s DTS-HD 5.1 audio track doesn’t disappoint either. Elliot Goldenthal’s score benefits appropriately, while the various sonic qualities appear to be correctly balanced. Gunshots and explosions pack an audible punch, hand-to-hand combat sequences are satisfyingly meaty and dialogue is perfectly clear (or, in the case of Stallone, as clear as it can be). Nothing is lost in the overall mix.

As for extras, Warner Bros weren’t quite as generous in this department. All that’s included is the original theatrical trailer and a director/producer commentary ported over from the DVD which is sadly lacking the presence of the movie’s stars. I’d love it if Stallone and Snipes got together to record a commentary one day, but I won’t get my hopes too high.


The film is nothing short of entertaining, and the high definition transfer is exceptionally strong for a release of this calibre. If you’re an action fan, and unless extra features are a deal breaker for you, then I highly recommend this Blu-ray.

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