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Set in a dystopian future, 2017, ex-army officer John Henry Brennick and his wife Karen are attempting to cross the US-Canada border to Vancouver to have a second child. Strict one-child policies forbid a second pregnancy, but the couple believe they are justified because their first child died at birth. Brennick is caught and sentenced to 31 years in a private maximum security prison run by the "MenTel Corporation". To maintain discipline all inmates are implanted with "Intestinators" which induce severe pain or death, for serious infractions, as a form of physical control and mental conditioning. The prison is co-run by Director Poe, who oversees Zed-10, a computer that monitors day-to-day activities and represents MenTel. The prison itself is located over a deep pit that can only be crossed by a retractable bridge, while the prisoners are kept in overcrowded cells secured by laser walls.
For more about Fortress and the Fortress Blu-ray release, see Fortress Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on February 5, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.0 out of 5.
Starring: Christopher Lambert, Kurtwood Smith, Loryn Locklin, Clifton Collins, Jr., Jeffrey Combs, Vernon Wells
Director: Stuart Gordon
» See full cast & crew
Fortress Blu-ray Review
A flimsy Blu-ray release for 'Fortress.'
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, February 5, 2013
Crime does not pay.
Imagine a future in which China's current one-child policy becomes American law, and failure to comply is dealt with harshly and swiftly. Imagine a dystopian police state future that makes the TSA look amateurish and the trouncing of personal liberties and constitutional rights commonplace. Fortress tells the tale of a couple imprisoned for the instinctual act of breeding a child and breaking a law put in place to save a fragile planet suffering from overpopulation. It's based on the sort of Orwellian stuff that could be pulled straight from the conspiracy tabloid or webpage headlines and, at least while it remains in the fictional realm in the Western world, the premise makes for a pretty good foundation for a futuristic Action/Drama hybrid flick. Unfortunately, Fortress never does ascend beyond cinema mediocrity. Nothing about the film stands out as particularly noteworthy, but nothing about it screams "awful," either. It's a fine example of general, forgettable cinema, a shame, really, considering the possibilities for something more than a movie that hedges its bets on low-end computer graphics, props and sets that barely hold together, and characters that encompass the entire range of genre stereotype.
John Henry Brennick (Christopher Lambert, Highlander) and wife Karen (Loryn Locklin, Taking Care of Business) are attempting to subvert the American one-child laws by traveling from the States and into Canada to give birth to a second child following the tragic loss of their first. Karen, wearing a protective flak jacket, escapes detection, but an eagle-eyed border agent spots the flak jacket under her outer garments. John is arrested, but Karen and baby escape. John is sent to "The Fortress," a harsh, inescapable desert prison. There, he and his fellow inmates are forced to inject a capsule that can deliver pain or, in the worst case scenario, explode to kill unruly inmates. Brennick and several other new arrivals are forced into a cramped cell already housing hardened long timers. By day, they work construction. By night, they only hope to survive and evade dreaming, an activity outlawed by the prison. The Fortress is run by Warden Poe (Kurtwood Smith, RoboCop) and a highly advanced computer system at his constant bidding. When John learns that his wife has been taken prisoner and that she's being held on another floor, he's forced to work frantically and with his fellow inmates if he's ever to see her again and his unborn baby for the first time before it's too late.
Fortress' futuristic prison-based narrative builds up some decent ideas and offers a serviceable 90 minutes of entertainment but never quite hits a full-on stride thanks in large part to bland characters, lower end art direction, and a largely thoughtless script that never constructs much dramatic heft even considering its frightening dystopian themes. Director Stuart Gordon's (Re-Animator) 1992 film works in some decent ideas but executes them questionably. Ideas on thought control, punishing "illegal dreams," and brainwashing are put into play but never explored with any thoroughness, used instead as replaceable plot devices meant to advance the story to the next action sequence and not further develop the dark world in which the action takes place. The ability to inflict pain remotely, discourage notions of hope and a future, and life under the all-seeing and all-knowing "eye" are ripe for further exploration -- and the setting and timeframe are just right to do so -- but Fortress would rather strap a big old gun to its hero's arm rather than take the time to dig into the darker world of futuristic imprisonment and centralized human control.
Fortress' eclectic collection of characters suffers from a serious lack of development; they're all specialized cutouts meant to serve a purpose rather than replicate real human beings. They're all prison movie stereotypes, and rather bad ones at that, ranging from the fresh-faced new arrival to the goateed tough guy, from the Coke bottle glasses tech nerd to the longtime inmate who has worked his way into the inside and is never granted parole. Christopher Lambert and Kurtwood Smith lend a couple of marketable names to the cast roster but don't do much with their characters beyond giving an honest go at completing the bare minimum required by the script. Lambert's John Henry Brennick is a hero only because the script says he is; Lambert injects nothing of note into the part and more or less goes along for the ride with no real sense of character beyond the requirements of the here-and-now. Smith never finds much of a deviousness or depth, though there is at least an arc that slowly reveals itself through the course of the film. Smith toys with the truths of his character in most every scene and still manage to hide much of the realities of his Warden Poe until they're fully reveled near film's end. Still, the film is largely an exercise in cinema linearity; it's mostly predictable beyond the few surprises hiding behind the prison façade which, sadly, are not enough to call Fortress anything more than a low-rent run-of-the-mill Action/Sci-Fi production.
Fortress Blu-ray, Video Quality
Fortress limps onto Blu-ray with a fairly bland high definition presentation. Echo Bridge's 1.78:1 transfer doesn't impress to start and it never really offers anything of note throughout. At best, details are serviceable; the higher resolution allows for increased stability and clarity on larger screens, but forget seeing much in the way of very fine textures or minute little clothing or facial details. The upped resolution does allow for the lower end props and set pieces to show their roughness, but otherwise most tight, intricate details are virtually nonexistent here. Colors are faded and hardly vibrant; the movie is dull by design, but the palette never really has a chance to shine, at least not until the end when even bright, sun-washed colors prove merely adequate. Blacks are heavily washed out throughout. Light grain does linger over many scenes, but the transfer does show some general wear and tear along the way. Light banding and sloppy color transitions are uncommon but present. This is by no means a horrendous transfer, but Fortress has certainly seen better days.
Fortress Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Fortress' DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 lossless soundtrack is no sonic marvel, but it gets the job done easily and admirably enough. Where the track lacks range it more than makes up for in effort. There's no shortage of wide front-end elements or distinctively placed sounds. Music enjoys fair clarity and a quality stage presence. Vehicles maneuver from side-to-side in the early going, and various general sounds within the prison walls are handled well enough. There's never much of an organic sonic atmosphere within the film, however; it's very sterile and offers little beyond music, general action sound effects, and dialogue. The spoken word does come through cleanly and without any sort of intelligibility or clarity issues. This is a nuts-and-bolts action track that delivers gunfire and other action-oriented effects modestly but effectively. It's not a memorable listen, but Echo Bridge's modest soundtrack stretches itself as far as it can go and gets audiences through the film with no major problems of note.
Fortress Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
This Blu-ray release of Fortress contains no supplemental content. The menu features only options for "Play" and "Scene Select."
Fortress Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Fortress toys with some good ideas but never makes use of any of them for reasons other than advancing towards the next action scene. The story is ripe for a deeper psychological study but instead settles for bland action carried out by stereotyped characters with no arc other than "escape." Movies like Logan's Run and The Island are much more capable of exploring darker dystopian themes while still generating plenty of action, more, in fact, than even Fortress musters. Add in shoddy-looking props and sets, a largely thoughtless script, and indifferent acting, and Fortress settles comfortably into cinema mediocrity. Echo Bridge's Blu-ray release of Fortress delivers merely adequate video and audio. No supplements are included. Considering a purchase doesn't cost a whole lot more than a cup of Starbucks coffee, it's worth adding to the collection.
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