Demolition Man (1993)

*. I think the last time I saw Demolition Man was back when it was released, and to be honest I wasn’t expecting much seeing it again. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that it’s held up reasonably well. It was never a great movie, but it was entertaining enough in 1993 and I think it still is.
*. It was a time when action films were entering a stage of self awareness. Schwarzenegger’s Last Action Hero came out the same year, sending up genre conventions in a tongue-in-cheek way. Demolition Man was a similar comic turn for Stallone, poking fun at the cartoonish violence of his previous roles by projecting his character (John Spartan, no less) into an irenic future society where a man with his particular set of skills is soon in demand.
*. So the premise is clever enough (though I should note that a Hungarian author, István Nemere, claimed it plagiarized his work). And producer Joel Silver was sticking pretty close to his bread and butter (note the poster for Lethal Weapon 3 in Huxley’s office). I know it’s a cliché to speak of how much the steroid-age biceps-and-bullets heroes looked like toy figures, but Stallone really does look like he’s made out of plastic here. Sandra Bullock is cute as a fangirl of vintage action movies. Denis Leary is pitifully underused, never even getting a chance to be funny. There’s a theme song at the end with lyrics like “Don’t mess around with the Demolition Man.” Oh, those theme songs. Can’t say I miss them a bit.
*. Director Marco Brambilla, helming his first film, doesn’t seem that into it. He didn’t go on to do much in Hollywood. I think he was more into art projects. It’s interesting to hear him talk on the commentary about what his visual references were. The look of the city, for example, was inspired by Tati’s Playtime. I hadn’t thought of that, but I guess it’s there in some of the colour schemes. I also hadn’t thought of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus for the scene where Stallone is revived. And even after being told that was the reference I still don’t see it.

*. Of course it’s Wesley Snipes who really stands out, playing the manic punk terrorist Simon Phoenix. I thought he was doing a Dennis Rodman, but on the commentary it’s said that Rodman actually borrowed Snipes’s look. I don’t remember now who came first.
*. It looks a lot like Total Recall or Judge Dredd. The plot, however, is even more slapdash. Whatever happens to Jesse Ventura and the other reawakened convicts? Apparently it was explained in the novelization, but isn’t here.
*. It’s a movie of its time to be sure, but it’s interesting how that time has come around again. The early ’90s were the crest of what I call the first wave of political correctness, which was definitely one of Demolition Man‘s targets. After that things cooled down for a couple of decades, but thirty year later PC came back in a big way for its second wave. I say that not to take a side in the culture wars, but only to point to how these things tend to go in cycles. Demolition Man has dated in a lot of ways, but its tweaking of PC culture hasn’t. Is it time then for a remake? Would a new John Spartan be a hero or a comic dinosaur? Probably, as here, a bit of both. I’d like to see what they’d come up with.

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