Films that told the future 003: Demo­li­tion Man

A cryogenic prison, self-driving cars, and some solid gold forecasting that not even the highest calibre sci-fi came close to predicting.

1993 was a great year for film. It was so good Daniel Day Lewis starred in two movies that year.

And then there was Demo­li­tion Man. Sylvester I AM THE LAWL!” Stal­lone plays John Spar­tan, an LA cop on a mis­sion to cap­ture bleach-topped crime lord Simon Phoenix (Wes­ley Snipes). Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Spartan’s unable to get any­where near his rival with­out destroy­ing every­thing, earn­ing him the no-doubt hilar­i­ous in the office nick­name of Demo­li­tion Man“. Lol.

When one par­tic­u­lar­ly ill-fat­ed episode of destruc­tion cul­mi­nates in sev­er­al inno­cents being killed, Phoenix is cap­tured but both men are con­demned to cryo­genic prison (sci fi: stop try­ing to make cryo­genic prison happen).

36 years lat­er and, quelle sur­prise, Phoenix escapes the cryo clink, con­tin­u­ing on his reign of ter­ror in a utopi­an, vio­lence-free soci­ety that’s done away with bad things such as smok­ing, alco­hol, meat, swear­ing, guns and deli­cious salt.

Phoenix’s mad lad ten­den­cies are for­eign to the police force who soon realise they need some old-fash­ioned mus­cle on their side, so they set about defrost­ing Spar­tan. Fish out of frozen water-based action hilar­i­ty ensues.

In terms of pre­dict­ing the future Demo­li­tion Man pig­gy­backed on some prag­mat­ic future tropes. Tablet com­put­ers exist in 2032 (2001: A Space Odyssey did it), peo­ple are fer­ried around in self-dri­ving cars (even The Jet­sons did it in the 60s), and video con­fer­enc­ing is com­mon­place (Fritz Lang did it in Metrop­o­lis).

There is, how­ev­er, some sol­id gold fore­cast­ing that not even the high­est cal­i­bre sci-fi came close to pre­dict­ing. The most impres­sive was fore­see­ing the polit­i­cal career of Arnold Schwarzeneg­ger. While Demo­li­tion Man envi­sioned Arnie becom­ing Pres­i­dent, its ref­er­ence to an amend­ment change that would allow for­eign­ers to run for the pres­i­den­cy was spot on.

The film’s depic­tion of a future din­ing land­scape is a near hit, too. Taco Bell (Piz­za Hut for non-Amer­i­can audi­ences) is the only restau­rant to have emerged from the Fran­chise Wars”. In real­i­ty we have at least five fran­chis­es to choose from, but if Jamie Oliver’s recent demise isn’t indica­tive of an ongo­ing fran­chise war I don’t know what is.

Demo­li­tion Mans biggest bets are soci­etal. In its depic­tion of a future soci­ety nan­nied to extremes, there’s dra­mat­ic income inequal­i­ty, and the cen­sor­ship of speech and thought has reached an absurd lev­el. We’re not there yet, but there are wor­ried mur­murs. Look at the reac­tion to Greg­gs’ veg­an sausage roll announce­ment to wit­ness some wild­ly mis­placed con­cerns about los­ing meat, because of the man, man!

While Demo­li­tion Man plays its pre­dic­tions for comedic effect, it makes for an inter­est­ing take on erod­ing per­son­al free­doms. The film ends pos­i­tive­ly, con­clud­ing that soci­ety needs to achieve a bal­ance between order and chaos in order to func­tion suc­cess­ful­ly. All thanks to Sly!

Will it take a non-non­sense macho fig­ure to kick some of mod­ern society’s mol­ly­cod­dled mass­es into shape? No, but the rise of fig­ures such as Trump, and Piers and Alex Jones would indi­cate that many peo­ple think otherwise.


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