Saturday, May 4, 2013

Blu-ray Review: FORTRESS (1992)


Rating: R
Region Code: Region FREE
Duration: 95 Minutes
Video: Widescreen (1.78:1) 
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 
Cast: Christopher Lambert, Kurtwood Smith, Loryn Locklin, Lincoln Kilpatrick
Director: Stuart Gordon

Stuart Gordon's lo-fi sci-fi actioner Fortress (1992) offers up some early 90's Dystopian future fun, a very basic film with a minimalist storyline featuring Christopher Lambert (Highlander) as ex-war hero John Henry Brennick whom along with his wife Karen (Loryn Locklin) are sent to a hi-tech maximum security prison called The Fortress buried underneath the burning sands of the dessert. Their crime? Attempting to flee to Canada to have a second child, their first having died during childbirth, which hardly seems offensive but whatya gonna do, that's what happen in one of these dystopian future films, right, big brother's gonna get ya. 

The prison is a privately operated facility operated by the MenTel Corporation and is overseen by Director Poe (Kurtwood Smith, Robocop) and an artificial intelligent piece of software called Zed-10 who keeps watchful eyes on the inmates at all times with 24-7 video monitoring. They can even see your dreams, and if it's something they do not approve of you get "intestinated". What's that you might ask, well the prisoners are implanted with "intestinators" which are small detonators that can cause great pain or even death if you act-up. If you cross the yellow line it means pain, cross the red line and it's death. Early on we get an example as an inmate, having a claustrophobic fit, crosses the line and is detonated, it's splattery piece of grue, fun stuff. Also keeping the peace at the facility are turret drones and Strike Clones, enhanced cyborg combatants which I wish we got to see more of, those were pretty awesome. 

Inside the fortress John befriends several inmates including fidgety newbie Gomez (Clifton Colins Jr, Rules of Attraction), an older inmate approaching parole named Abraham (Lincoln Kilpatrick, The Omega Man) and a tech-savy demolition expert D-Day (Jeffrey Combs, The Frighteners). Also in the picture is a real son-of-a-bitch named Stiggs (Tom Towles, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) and his menacing strong-arm Maddox (Vernon Wells, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior). It's a great cast, everyone brings something to the table here, this low budget actioner is firing on all cylinders when it comes to casting and Lambert might be a little bit out of his depth here, but he does alright for himself. 

John at first believes his wife Karen had escaped capture but comes to find out she too is imprisoned at the Fortress, worse yet, Director Poe has taken a sensual interest in her and threatens a "mind-wipe" of her husband if she does not agree to co-habitate with him. An altercation with Maddox and the resulting punishment, which leaves the other man blown to pieces, enables John to find one of the intestinators amidst the guts strewn on the floor leading to daring and pretty exciting prison escape. 

There's a lot to like here, Gordon does the most with what must have been a tiny budget, the concrete bunker used for the prison set does it's job, it's visually impressive for the time, if not exactly doing a great job of world building outside of the prison walls. I was a bit annoyed that you never really get a feel for the dystopian aspect of what's going on outside in greater society but the story is small scale and does what it does quite well, think of it more a sci-fi prison film than a broader dystopian view.

We definitely need more Stuart Gordon on Blu-ray, in the UK labels like 88 Films are releasing The Pit and the Pendulum (1991) and Castle Freak (1995) on Blu-ray and I was some more Gordon love here in the US! I seem to recall Full Moon planning Blu-ray editions of both sometime in the near future. 

Blu-ray: More films from Stuart Gordon on Blu-ray is always a good thing! We've had recent Blu-rays stuffed with extras from Lionsgate (Re-Animator) and Scream Factory (From Beyond) and now Gordon's sci-fi actioner Fortress gets a Blu-ray from  Echo Bridge Home Entertainment with an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 16:9 widescreen (1.78:1). The print looks quite nice but the A/V is not a huge upgrade from the previous DVD edition, the modest 1080p upgrade does afford it some improved clarity and minor depth. While there is a fine layer of film grain present the fine detail is lacking and colors are muted and rarely pop the way you would hope for. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 is serviceable with some stereo channel separation but it's not exactly gonna set your surround system on fire by any means, but dialogue, score and effects come through quite adequately. 

Unlike either Re-Animator or From Beyond we get squat for extras, there are no subtitles or special features, it's very bare bones with a very basic start-up menu offering only the option to play the film or select a scene, not even a trailer. My Artisan DVD at least offers a trailer and production notes and cast and crew filmography. 

Verdict: A fun futuristic sci-fi actioner set in a prison, it reminded me of a low rent Total Recall (1990) or Robocop (1987), it definitely had a Verhoeven feel to it at times. Echo Bridge's A/V presentation leaves a bit to be desired but I'm quite pleased to have 1080p widescreen edition of Stuart Gordon's Fortress on Blu-ray. 3 Outta 5