Happy Anniversary: Demolition Man is 20 Years Old Today

Released on October 8th, 1993, Demolition Man turns 20 years old today. While it’s perhaps not what you’d call a “great film,” it’s one of those movies that I’ve found myself watching every time it comes on TV, full of endlessly quotable minutiae and anachronistic cultural touchstones. I can’t tell if it’s brilliant, stupid, or both, but I love the hell out of it. Until Gravity came out this week, it was Sandra Bullock’s best movie.

Why It’s Worth Remembering

I don’t know if it’s specific enough to be called a theory, but I have an inkling that if a movie presents a unique enough vision of the future, the plot almost doesn’t matter. Demolition Man is a lot like The 5th Element in that you can overlook its flaws (and sure, it has lots more of them than The 5th Element) simply because they did such a great job building this strange, cheesy (and occasionally insightful) future.

My Favorite Details

  • Number one on the list has to be “every restaurant is Taco Bell.” According to Demolition Man‘s future, Taco Bell was “the only restaurant to survive the Franchise Wars,” so “now all restaurants are Taco Bell.” I love the weirdness of this, but also the transparent product placement – which is also hilarious, because if you watch the scene, Stallone’s character is still sort of baffled by the idea of having a fancy dinner at Taco Bell. So that, even in a moment of pure corporate product placement, even Taco Bell had to basically admit that their food is way too shitty to be taken seriously as something you’d eat at a fancy dinner.

Additional trivia: In foreign versions, “Taco Bell” is dubbed over with “Pizza Hut,” who had a bigger market overseas. I saw this version once in Australia and it seemed so much more wrong to me than it probably should have.

  • In the future, the most popular radio station just plays old commercial jingles. This is not only weird and funny, but actually kind of insightful. I still think about it every time I see people taking great pride in knowing Disney or Apple trivia. Also, the guy singing “Jolly Green Giant” behind a grand piano in the Taco Bell scene is Dan Cortese, which is just goddamn amazing on so many levels.
  • The Three Sea Shells. I mean, obviously. That people in the future don’t wipe their asses with paper anymore, but instead employ a never-explained-by-the-movie system known simply as “the three sea shells” is so beautifully strange. It’s evocative while remaining totally mysterious. I consider this the “rectum? damn near killed ’em” of Demolition Man. That punchline where you have to fill in the setup yourself.
  • “Safety Foam.” Air bags were still kind of new in the early nineties, and Demolition Man tried to go one further, inventing “safety foam,” where your car fills with packing material when you crash. It’s one of those perfect, fictional futures that could only be invented at a specific moment of the past.
  • The invented vernacular. I’m simply not interested in your future if it doesn’t include some future-speak that’s hell on the actors.
  • The “Schwarzenegger Presidential Library.” Kind of amazing that they made this joke 10 years before Schwarzenegger became California governor.

What People Thought at the Time

Though not as irksome as “Last Action Hero,” “Demolition Man” is a similar kind of film: a noisy, soulless, self-conscious pastiche that mixes elements of sci-fi, action-adventure and romance, then pours on a layer of comedy replete with Hollywood in-jokes.Variety critic Emanuel Levy.

Demolition Man is sleek and empty as well as brutal and pointless. It feels computer engineered, untouched by human hands. A real pod movie. -Peter Travers

Yes, this film is worse than Cliffhanger, Stallone’s last venture into chaos. And, while I’m not one to leap forward and extol the limitless virtues of Total Recall, that motion picture is a masterpiece in comparison to this one. -James Berardinelli

Random Trivia

According to some accounts, Wesley Snipes’ hair was the reason Dennis Rodman started dying his, after seeing the film twice in a row.

Demolition Man was director Marco Brambilla’s first feature. He made only one more, Excess Baggage, starring Alicia Silverstone. I think I sprouted my first pube during that scene in Clueless where you could kind of see her underwear.

The love interest was played by Sandra Bullock, who dropped off the face of the Earth after this, never to be heard from again.

In any case, happy Demolition Man day, everyone. I’m proud that I got to introduce this film to our youngest writer Evan this week. Make sure you find a younger person to make watch this movie, or else there may come a day when no one gets our three seashells references.

[banner cap via HDBlitz]