The Writer of "Demolition Man" on the Predictive Power of His 1993 Movie
April 16, 2020 6:54 AM   Subscribe

Demolition Man may have been intended as a goof about restrictions on behavior and language, but it plays differently from a sheltering-in-place 2020 perspective.... It’s a portrayal of how normalcy can change, and of people who are uptight because upheaval is still a close enough memory that they have trouble bringing themselves to relax, no matter what the oblivious ’90s action hero in their midst might urge. And so, in the light of Demolition Man’s accidental coronavirus relevance, Vulture spoke to the movie’s writer, Daniel Waters — also of Heathers, Hudson Hawk, and Batman Returns fame — about being back in the news.
posted by Etrigan (19 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
This interview is only barely about The Current Situation, and Waters tells some amusing stories about the movie and its wake.
posted by Etrigan at 6:54 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


I will say, though, that the FPP framing is the first time I’ve ever considered that movie as actually having something valuable to say beyond action hero platitudes. Or the first time I ever considered the repressed citizenry in the film as something other than risible.

Particularly this phrase:

“It’s a portrayal of how normalcy can change, and of people who are uptight because upheaval is still a close enough memory that they have trouble bringing themselves to relax...”

That’s real, right there.
posted by darkstar at 8:06 AM on April 16


"I will say, though, that the FPP framing is the first time I’ve ever considered that movie as actually having something valuable to say beyond action hero platitudes."

You really didn't pick up on any of Demolition Man's social commentary predictions about the future?
posted by jordantwodelta at 8:37 AM on April 16


When I saw Demolition Man in the theater, only 1/4 of the audience understood it was a comedy.
posted by kerf at 8:38 AM on April 16 [4 favorites]


This would be a good time for the three seashells.
posted by head full of air at 8:42 AM on April 16 [4 favorites]


I'd love to see that sequel trailer he pitched (although I'm not sure it would actually make me want to see the sequel).
posted by straight at 8:45 AM on April 16


The futureshock in Demolition Man is not a very high bar. It's not Bladerunner or even Minority Report. It is what it appears to be: an action-comedy for Stallone and Bullock and Snipes. It lightly taps into angst about the HIV epidemic and creeping corporatism, and has some good lines. But it's mostly concerned with the one-liners.
posted by bonehead at 9:05 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


I'm kind of with bonehead on this, Demolition Man seems very concerned about its one-liners much more so then its social commentary. But I'm willing to be open to the possibility of a greater social commentary in there that some people seem to read. One thing that struck me as interesting in the interview is this:
Wesley Snipes plays Simon Phoenix, a dangerous career criminal who, after having been incarcerated in California Cryo-Penitentiary, is thawed for a parole hearing and mysteriously released, prompting the San Angeles police to release John Spartan in an effort to thwart Phoenix’s evil plans. has a line that’s like, “You can’t take away people’s right to be assholes,” which feels like it sums up the fight we’re having right now over people wanting to, say, still go on spring break.

Yeah. That was one of my favorite lines to write, but now it’s like, “Less assholes isn’t that bad.”
I find this is an interesting attitude because for me it describes something, as a non-American, I kind of never understood about American culture. There's a willingness to value the "assholes" (I'd describe them as destructive shit heads but same difference) as some kind of rugged individualist / truth talker that's more valuable than someone working for inclusion and parity. For me, “Less assholes isn’t that bad” has always been something we should strive towards. More assholes just means more shit to clean up for the non-assholes (as in the spring break example mentioned in the interview).
posted by Ashwagandha at 9:22 AM on April 16 [6 favorites]


“Do you want to find out, or what?”
That's pretty much how all the trouble I've ever gotten in started.
posted by Mitheral at 9:26 AM on April 16 [5 favorites]


I saw this movie in the theatre and pretty much the only thing I remember is the gag about how the only restaurant left was Taco Bell, because that for me would be a “the living envy the dead” situation.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:59 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


I always thought the creators of this movie were some kind of hardcore conservative assholes because it's a conservative's fever fantasy: in the future everyone is a liberal ultra-PC pussy who have destroyed all fun and freedom. When a scary black man comes along, they have to turn to a Real Man to kick his ass and restore being an asshole to its rightful place. Also weird libertarian rants by Dennis Leary.
posted by star gentle uterus at 10:38 AM on April 16 [6 favorites]


Taco Bell’s been sold out of seashells for weeks tho
posted by Huffy Puffy at 11:07 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


Ever since I heard the comment made in a podcast I got pointed to in a previous thread about this movie I've really wanted to see the movie that Demolition Man is the Sequel too. The opening action sequence that starts the movie is clearly the end to an EPIC action movie.
posted by VTX at 11:29 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


I will say, though, that the FPP framing is the first time I’ve ever considered that movie as actually having something valuable to say beyond action hero platitudes.

How is this possible? Do you own Taco Bell or something?
posted by Sys Rq at 11:51 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


I always thought the creators of this movie were some kind of hardcore conservative assholes because it's a conservative's fever fantasy: in the future everyone is a liberal ultra-PC pussy who have destroyed all fun and freedom. When a scary black man comes along, they have to turn to a Real Man to kick his ass and restore being an asshole to its rightful place. Also weird libertarian rants by Dennis Leary.

I always read it this way too, but the below quote is really interesting and feels like a plausible starting point:

" There’s this place in Universal City called CityWalk, and the initial instinct was like, what if all of L.A. became CityWalk? It just snowballed from there. I only worked on it for two and a half weeks. Then I ended up getting first credit on the screenplay because I had changed it [so much]."

The distance between real imposed corporate sterility and perceived liberal restrictions of rights is a dynamic that is right at the center of American society. I can see how a movie that accidentally probes this distance is still relevant and how making a movie about the former can easily be presumed to be about the latter.
posted by q*ben at 12:23 PM on April 16 [4 favorites]


Fun fact: the director of Demolition Man, Marco Brambilla, never made another feature film. He now makes surreal animated digital tableaus (Civilization is a good example) and installation art. He also did Power for Kanye West.
posted by oulipian at 12:46 PM on April 16 [7 favorites]


The distance between real imposed corporate sterility and perceived liberal restrictions of rights is a dynamic that is right at the center of American society

I was trying to parse what you mean (a lot), but honestly I disagree. But I will say it depends on what you consider the 'center' of American society. I mean, at least half of society wants corporate sterility imposed upon the rest of society, with all the restrictions of rights that implies (Hello HOAs in suburbs). Also generally the rights 'liberals' want to restrict aren't the same as those imposed by corporate standards. I mean corporations are (currently) at the forefront of allowing certain 'liberal' civil rights because they represent paying business customers, not real specific personal ideologies.

So I'm just saying that you have to have surgical precision when lampooning 'imposed corporate sterility' vs 'liberal restrictions' or they come off as the same, and Demolition Man doesn't even come close to surgical precision.

Not even Robocop, which tried, comes close. It simultaneously wants to be 'boo corporate takeovers of police', but Robocop spends most of the movie dealing with murderous drug dealers and rapists rather than 2/3 arresting smokers not in their designated areas, poor-looking blacks, and serving eviction notices.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:58 AM on April 17


To be a bit more clear, the 'enforced corporate sterility' vs 'liberal vs conservative laws' are completely different groups with different beliefs and you cannot parody them collectively.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:04 AM on April 17


The_Vegetables, I totally agree. That was the point I was attempting to make (poorly). The blanket definition of "rights" and "liberty" in this country is a pretty bad heuristic when you're attempting to separate these two things, and popular culture generally makes a hash of it. The thing that I find interesting is the repeated failure, of writers attempting to say one thing and communicating something else entirely. I'm not convinced that in a broad comedy format like Robocop or Demolition man you have the precision to parody only one of those categories, even though they're largely separate.
posted by q*ben at 9:25 AM on April 17 [1 favorite]


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