Fortress

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Fortress
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Fortress (1992)
Action, Science Fiction, Thriller
Davis Entertainment, Miramax
September 3rd, 1993
Release length: 1:35:00
Most eigties to early nineties Science Fiction films are starting to hit the date they are set in. One of those films is a little gem titled Fortress. Shot in 1992, the film saw a release in early September of 1993 and has earned a pretty devout following since, though one that you might not consider along the lines of cult considering the mild success the film has found over the years, as well as the matching critical praise. Eventually, this Davis Entertainment production found a home through Miramax, and is now readily available, with a version recently appearing on an eight film Action DVD set you could find at your local chain store for five US dollars. But, does this tale of a dystopian birth control ruled future something that still stands the test of time, or is Fortress something that is best left to the dump bins of America?

Set in the now not-too-distant future of 2017, the world is under a law that each couple can only have one baby due to overpopulation. What’s more, the world is governed by a large company called the Men-tel (Get it? Men-tel? Mental? Seems to be a play on words…) corporation, who provides high and lethal security to the prisons around the world. Having more than one child is now a crime, and if you are found to be pregnant again, you are arrested, and the child becomes the property of the company. John Henry Brennick (Christopher Lambert) and Karen B. Brennick (Loryn Locklin) are now expecting, and in an attempt to flee the regulation, are swept up when a security officer catches them trying to escape their city posing as a childless husband and non-pregnant wife. After a brief battle, the two are brought to a remote desert fortress to serve out their terms, a prison facility operated under the order of Prison Director Poe (Kurtwood Smith) and the robotic security system named Zed-10 (voices by Carolyn Purgy-Gordon).

Within the confines of the prison, each inmate is subjected to screenings, and is eventually implanted with a device that would allow a computer named Zed-10 to inflict harm in hopes to restore order, or death if it cannot, causing an eruption within the stomach of the individual. Inmates cannot move towards the green lines or the will suffer immense pain, which is highlighted by one civilian who has claustrophobia and makes a break for it out of fear, eventually crawling towards the red zone that sets the charge off, causing his stomach to explode outward. Lethal colored lasers are used as the bars to prison cells, as well as for isolation, which is just a small circle of them jutting upwards, used more to make the prisoners talk for fear of death the longer they remain awake in one. But, one of the most useful, to the prison and the storyline, are the automated cameras that can map out the brain and see the dreams of the prisoners. Unauthorized dreaming is also an issue, leading to John having a jolt for dreaming of sex with his wife while locked away. This event is something that spirals the obsession aspect of the plot involving Prison Director Poe, leading him to not only use Karen to bend John to him every whim, but also fall in love with her himself.

As the film continues, the supporting characters are introduced, starting after the first inmate fight sequence. Among them is Abraham (Lincoln Kilpatrick) who is just trying to serve his term and get back to his family, D-Day (Jeffrey Combs) who was turned in by his fellow thieves after an explosion he creates blew up the money they were trying to steal, the “bully” of the jail named Maddox (Vernon Wells), his accomplace Stiggs (Tom Towles), and a man named Nino Gomez (Clifton Collins Jr.). With John’s help and persuation, the group does decide to stand up and try to break out of the prison, doing something no other inmates have done before in the history of the fortress, leaving many to be their own strong supporting cast with decent character development, especially with D-Day and how helpful he eventually becomes when they try to remove the bombs inside them, as well as read the schematics of the prison on the crystal that Abraham discovers and sneaks out of the control room thanks to Karen’s help.

The time that elapses in the film is quite long, but very well paced within the film’s roughly ninety-five minute length. Karen goes from a meer noticable bump to birth, putting an approximation of at least six or seven months to the events taking place. While there, John continues to just try to survive and work out the sentence, his job to help construct the new levels of the prison, as well as taking part in stylish eighties Science Fiction hand-to-hand combat similar to, but a lot more restrained in comparison to films like Big Trouble in Little China. John has to go up against Maddox at one point after a dispute that follows him breaking up a man on man rape attempt, which causes Nino to become a loyal friend. It eventually spills onto a walkway that begins to move towards a sealed door, showing off the humanity of John himself, and the nihilistic, murderous intent of Prison Director Poe in his attempt to maintain order.

As the film goes on, these fight scenes do end up limited with much of it focusing on the constricted plot through the course of those many months, as well as gunfire up to and including flame throwers. Thankfully the plot of the film is very well executed. You can begin to watch Prison Director Poe start to lose his focus on his job, and when Zed-10 intervenes, leading tod for him and his lack of an existence when you learn more about his past. While he is still manipulative towards the very end, you can begin to feel sorry for what Karen and Abraham had done to him, despite how necessary it all became. This does lead to the discovery of what happenef to the illegally conceived and born children in this new world. This is further pushed during the escape when the more militant members of the staff are unmasked. Much of this madness begins when John is sent to have his memory wiped clean, and the love Karen has for him is shown by her own deception, and sticking by the Director in order to keep an eye on him and make sure he’s still safe, as well as restore his memories.

Overall, the plot is there to make this a rather memorable Science Fiction film, and the cast does a wonderful job of telling it. There are plenty of believable characters, and some that do go a bit over the top such as Tom Towles when he watches the Maddox verses John fight with his reactions really standing out as overly dramatic and highly comical. Karen, does a superb job of the concerned wife for her husband, being calm enough to fool the Director, but not necessarily anyone else. Lincoln Kilpatrick was the perfect choice for Abraham as well, and his cool demeanor throughout the film makes you really make his predicament far more realistic. However, the main problems lie within two of the bigger name actors. Jeffrey Combs does a good job in this film as an explosions fanatic, but the thing is that this released followed the success of Re-Animator, leading to D-Day to simply be this film’s futuristic version of Herbert West. On top of that, Christopher Lambert rarely talks outside of that low, intimidating rhasp approach, which leads to obvious studio dubbing later down the line that one in a while doesn’t quite line-up with the mouth, and is much louder than it should be.

The sets are gorgeous and rather believable as well. The prison gives off a rough, gritty atmosphere amid a sleak appearance typical for the time the film was shot. The only problem, however, is the lack of literal grime. Even in the areas where the inmates have to work, it all seems way too clean to the point of nearly impossible. Another issue becomes the special effects. While nicely done for their time, some issues such as the inmates looking at the diagram on the crystal through one of the laser bars of the cell, John and others start pointing at the schematics rather closely and don’t end up hurt, while D-Day’s glasses start heating up the longer they are held against it. One could argue the cell lasers won’t hurt the people inside, but shortly after one grazes the lower most beam and is hurt in more of a shock manner, showing that going near should cause damage. The ending of the film also is enough to let out an audable groan, as Zed-10 herself physically attacks using one of the transporting vehicles in a setting that instantly makes you think that this is all some kind of Christian “pro-life” story, leading you to expect the three wise men to happen upon them, but luckily doesn’t happen to be the case, but rather a quick punch out ending that fades to black.

Fortress does have it’s moans and groans from time to time, but overall it’s an enjoyable film that takes a look at the very real issue of overpopulation in a manner that one can see as probably in the future, but perhaps not to the overly dramatic and violent manner that this interpretation of a resolution predicts. The concept is simple and bludgeoned into your skull from start to finish: “Crime does not pay,” and in this plot the simplest of things can cause big business to step in and control your life, including taking your own child away from you as property. It’s an ominous plot that seems to become more believable every day, making this a tale that does still hold its own in this day and age. If you haven’t seen Fortress yet, now is the best time to check it out as you can find it pretty cheap in various stores, or can probably even view it legally on-line for free. If you enjoy the Action films of the eighties to early nineties and the style they carry, then there’s no question that this flick should be on your must watch list at some point in the near future.

Overall Score: 8/10
 still shot
 still shot
Physical review copy of this release provided by personal funds.