DEMOLITION MAN. Excellent science fiction entertainment
A caption appears, indicating that it’s Los Angeles in the year 1996 – reminiscent of the opening seconds of Ridley Scott’s famous Blade Runner, and this is not the last reference to the earlier works of the Tenth Muse that Marco Brambilla included in his directorial debut. Demolition Man is primarily well-thought-out action cinema, a rampage in the old good style, devoid of any computerized interference.
Demolition man is set in the 2040s, with a very evocative presented world; futuristic vehicles roam the streets, modern architecture of buildings, and interior design style authenticate the place and time – San Angeles in the year 2032, and futuristic fashion trends complete the illusion that we have just transported ourselves 40 years into the future along with the characters. It is impossible not to notice the costumes, mostly a blend of monk robes, togas, and kimonos; in one shot in Dr. Cocteau’s office, a Japanese woman briefly appears, putting the finishing touch when the viewer correctly associates the attire with influences from the Land of the Rising Sun. Costumes, attire, clothes… Demolition Man is a rare example of action cinema where clothing plays one of the most important roles (it is truly surprising that there is not even a nomination for an Oscar in the “best costume” category), and although the future police uniforms are elegantly tailored and make the heroes look simply good, the spotlight here is on what Wesley Snipes is wearing.
That black actor (known from the Blade trilogy or the mentioned Passenger 57 by Will Smith and Martin Lawrence) created an unforgettable character of a maniac-madman-psychopath-killer-terrorist in Demolition Man, which decidedly overshadowed John Spartan, played by the then fading superstar Sylvester Stallone. The fact that Simon Phoenix is a very colorful and distinctive character is owed to the enormous charisma that Wesley Snipes exudes on the screen throughout, creating an unpredictable, loud, and confident psycho. Snipes was certainly helped in creating this extraordinary, distinctive role by the change in hair color to bleached blond, as well as the colorful, fancy clothes that set him apart from the crowd; jackets in yellow-black checkered patterns, overall pants + fiercely orange T-shirt, or finally, a massive-looking pseudo-armor acquired by Phoenix during his first visit to the ‘sewers.’
The character of Simon Phoenix is skillfully outlined by Elliot Goldenthal’s electronic, at times incredibly twisted, music. Synthesizer-played fragments of an unstructured (seemingly) score brilliantly illustrate Phoenix’s fight scene with the police officers at the ‘information booth,’ where the sounds of the music seem to obey the movements and blows of the villain, creating a coherent, synchronized whole with sound and music. Therefore, although Sylvester Stallone played the titular role quite interestingly, with distance to his own screen image and injecting a fair dose of friendly self-irony (the ability to crochet), Snipes shamelessly and in a quite charming way stole the movie from under his nose, reserving almost all the best ‘one-liners’ that can be heard during the screening for himself: “Is it cold here, or is it just me?”, “Simon says…”, “I’d lose my head if it wasn’t attached” and others (*), leaving Stallone with only one excellent one-liner that his character could deliver in Dr. Cocteau’s office, which sounded “Be Fuck!”, constituting a response to the polite “Be Well.” Against the backdrop of the main characters, Sandra Bullock and her awkwardly recited lines from the 20th century, which in her mouth became an unintended parody of herself, faded quite pale.
Let’s go back to Stallone and Snipes; although Phoenix won against Spartan in the categories of ‘best attire’ and ‘best lines,’ the actors’ clash had a completely different outcome on the script pages, but it is obvious that Sylvester Stallone had to win, escaping from the scene of the obligatory, grand explosion with the standard cry on his lips, thus demolishing huge buildings.
The battlefield of the two screen antagonists is initially Los Angeles at the end of the 20th century, where both end up in the cryogenic prison chamber ‘as punishment’; one for terrorist activities, the other for a mistake in art, the so-called ‘collateral damage,’ side losses incurred during the hunt for Phoenix. The idea of a frozen prison was a bull’s-eye, and the thawing of our heroes’ backsides 40 years later provided an excellent field for showing a contemporary man in the future world, his confusion and disorientation among new, rigid, and very conservative (and naive) rules. In a reality that is candy-like, amid touchless greetings, penetration-less sex, in times when the most exciting task for the ossified police forces is to fight graffiti artists, and the dream of the ruling elites is to create a utopia… in these calm, polite, and violence-free circumstances, like a bull in a china shop, the greatest outlaw of the 20th century wakes up, Simon Phoenix, and a moment later, the mega-lawman John Spartan. The demolition of the future can begin!
Certain Lenina Huxley (played by Sandra Bullock – for some reason nominated for a Razzie for this role) is responsible for introducing Spartan to the ‘present’ times, a young, inexperienced, eager police officer living with thoughts of the 20th century, seeking action and a proper dose of adrenaline, which cannot be provided by issuing a ticket for using foul language. Lenina’s office is cluttered with relics from the past; a poster of Lethal Weapon 3 hangs on the wall (which was made a year before Demolition Man and was the work of the same producer – Joel Silver), and on the shelf, there is a small Joker figurine from Batman. In Lenina Huxley’s collection, there are also video tapes of TV programs from the 20th century, among them, documentaries on actions and ‘post-actions’… of John Spartan, whom our brave policewoman turns out to be a devoted fan of. It is worth mentioning that in the movie clip from the past, John Spartan-Sylvester Stallone has long hair – exactly the same hairstyle he wore in the Rambo trilogy – a friendly nod to the actor’s past.
In addition to many memories of the past (Lenina Huxley boasts that she learned to fight from Jackie Chan movies), there is also a prophetic dialogue in Demolition Man regarding the President Schwarzenegger Library and an explanation that in the early 21st century, the 61st amendment to the US Constitution was introduced, allowing individuals not born in the United States to assume the highest office in the country. In reality, Arnold Schwarzenegger became the governor of California, and there was talk of amending the Constitution to allow him to become the president of the most powerful country in the world. Why did the conversation about Schwarzenegger specifically come up in Demolition Man? Well, it’s a kind of cinematic game that Sylvester and Arnold started playing, introducing humorous inserts about each other or self-ironic lines or scenes about themselves in their films. Schwarzenegger more often made fun of and referred to Stallone (laughter at the sight of a poster with Stallone in Twins, through Stallone’s face on the billboard advertising Terminator 2 in Last Action Hero, to the line ‘I married Rambo,’ uttered by Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies), while Stallone referred to his Rambo role in Tango & Cash with the line ‘Rambo is a wimp’ and to Schwarzenegger specifically in Demolition Man with the aforementioned conversation about the Library and the way of reloading a grenade launcher, which he clearly borrowed from Terminator 2, made two years earlier.
Returning to the cast, Demolition Man welcomed Jesse Ventura (the bald brute with a beard who ultimately kills Dr. Cocteau), known for roles in Predator and The Running Man (both films with Arnold Schwarzenegger – what a small cinematic world), and in one of the police roles, we have Rob Schneider, who ‘a few years later’ (hehe, a line straight out of Back to the Future) created a comical duo with Sylvester Stallone in the film Judge Dredd. Going back to the conversation between John Spartan and Lenina Huxley (whenever I watch Demolition Man, I feel like she will turn out to be Spartan’s daughter…), it takes place in the car while driving to dinner at Taco Bell – according to Lenina’s explanation, it is the only restaurant chain that survived the Franchise Wars. Another example of clever and unobtrusive product placement in Demolition Man is the Oldsmobile company; first, the characters look at a model from 1970, standing in the underground where the revolutionaries hide, only to emerge a moment later, smashing the impressive establishment, which turns out to be, of course… an Oldsmobile car dealership. And one more example of product placement – the Marlboro company (in today’s politically correct times, this wouldn’t pass), whose products Simon Phoenix smokes. The positive character, John Spartan, also asks for… Marlboro upon awakening, using the term ‘cigarette’ only when faced with the incomprehension of the environment.
This unconventional, imaginative, and very enjoyable film with a stellar cast, a plethora of movie quotes and references, with plenty of action and humor, remains somewhat underrated to this day. It’s a shame because it offers 110 minutes of excellent entertainment at a high level, and considering the fact that it is the directorial debut of someone who didn’t shy away from working with such action cinema giants as Stallone or Snipes, extra applause is due for not wasting the opportunity.
(*) During the thawing of the prisoners, the computer announces the unfreezing of a certain Jeffrey Dahmer – to which Simon Phoenix reacts with the words: ‘I love that guy!’ Originally, this scene did not make it into the film because the name and surname Jeffrey Dahmer were borrowed from a real-life serial killer who died in a real prison before the premiere of Demolition Man, making the line uttered by Phoenix somewhat… tactless. In the current DVD release, the name Jeffrey Dahmer is, of course, mentioned, as well as Phoenix’s ‘loving’ confession.