Action Heroes – Stallone: Demolition Man

Demolition Man you wonderful piece of early 90s action trash, oh how I love thee. Of all the Stallone films to have come out during the 90s, this feature is still by far a firm favorite of mine. For those that have yet to see Demolition Man it is basically the film Judge Dreadd should have been. With its knowing humor directed towards classic sci-fi literature along with its (still top notch) action and fight scenes, this feature has aged rather well.

With an opening sequence, that wouldn’t feel out of place at the climax of most action feature films, the film hardly slows down. Its pace is fast, fun and consistently entertaining throughout its two hour running time. After a short stint in the modern day, our hero John Spartan (Stallone obviously having fun with the material) is frozen in a cryogenic prison, due to his notorious ways. Skip forty years into the future and Los Angeles has become San Angeles, a society at the pinnacle of peace and perfection. But when Simon Phoenix escapes, it’s down to the only man who can capture him, to be thawed out and sent on his trail.

From a personal stand point, Demolition Man was (much like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon and Terminator 2) one of the first action films I was allowed to watch with my father. Obviously for years the more gruesome bits were blanked by my father’s hand over my eyes, but even back then I knew this was a fun enjoyable film.

The action sequences themselves also get progressively better as the film rolls on to its enjoyable conclusion. The museum shoot out is both funny and violent, the car chase with future car Vs. classic muscle car is still jaw dropping to watch, and the fights where Snipes gets to flex his martial arts skills still standout as some of his best work. Ranking right up there with the first two Blade films.

Barring the impressively shot action sequences it is also filled to the brim with satirical stabs at (the then current) cultural climate. Swearing is banned in the future (each swear uttered has a ticket and fee shoot out the wall), which leads Stallone’s John Spartan into moments of frustration. But it is then used to great comic effect later on after the reason behind the ‘3 seashells’ in the toilet is never explained. Spartan thinks of an ingenious idea to swear his head off and use the warning tickets issued as make shift toilet roll.

While I am on the subject of toilet habits within Demolition Man, I shall spare a quick paragraph on the infamous reasoning behind the ‘3 Seashells’. Mainly because it is never mentioned as to what it really is all about. Thankfully we as meer mortals have been blessed with the invention of the internet. Now geeks with too much time on their hands (and to a certain extent, Mr Stallone himself) have come up with their own takes on what the 3 seashells actually do. Most of which are vile, disgusting and bloody hilarious, certainly worth a check out.

It even has one of the best deaths to happen to a movie villain involving a full frozen body and a decapitation. One can’t help but think Mortal Kombat got a few ideas for later entries after seeing that visual treat.

Another knowing wink to the audience has Snipes character, Simon Phoenix, stealing a bag of guns off a museum dummy. He then unashamedly sprouts the line “Excuse me Rambo, need to borrow this”. It then cuts to a shot of Stallone walking into frame, just in case the audience forgot who he might have been talking about. One eerily spooky moment of (almost) foreshadowing also occurs when Huxley (one of the many uses of sci-fi authors names for characters) mentions the Schwarzenegger library (made after he was president). It’s scary to think that in 93’ even Hollywood screenwriters where thinking what might happen with Arnie. Very weird; although thankfully he has only been a governor.

Director Marco Brambilla only really had Demolition Man as his Hollywood calling card and has since been absent from the mainstream. That is not to say he has been inactive within the industry as anyone who saw the film anthology Destricted, will have seen his segment entitled Sync. He has also made several art installations and music videos. It’s just a shame he wasn’t given the opportunity to direct more action features as he has a keen eye for well shot sequences. The final fight between Spartan and Phoenix, echoing a fiercer and more futuristic confrontation from the film’s opening, is almost pitch perfect as an action film climax

Over the years Demolition Man as only got better with age. Sure some parts of the film have dated, the awful Sting song over the end credits and a few bad matte paints being the main culprits. But it is still full of plus points; Snipes gives one of his most fun and enjoyable performances, as it is clear he is relishing every moment. Sandra Bullock gives a naively fun performance also as Huxley (also one of her first roles), and it is filled with enough Sci-Fi film and literature references, that any geeky fan will find something to smile about.

Sit down, relax and ‘Be Well’. As this is one Sci-Fi action fest that needs to be dug out and re-watched pronto.

Dominic O’Brien

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