Fortress

  • Reviewed by: Jeff Kleist
  • Review Date: Feb 11, 2013
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Director

Stuart Gordon

Release Date(s)

January 27, 2013 (Best Buy exclusive until May 7)

Studio(s)

Echo Bridge/Miramax

Review

Stuart Gordon has been a “master of horror” since he made the horror classic, Re-Animator.  Since then he’s made some… interesting choices for his projects, including the amazing sci-fi epic Robot Jox.  Thinking he had his trip back to the top, he signed onto Fortress, a futuristic high-budget prison epic starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Or so he thought.

Arnold dropped out of the project, probably in favor of Terminator 2, and the big budget went bye-bye.  What was a potential summer tent pole became an end of summer dump at a quarter of the budget.  Highlander’s Christopher Lambert took over the role of the barely intelligible future foreigner John Brennick, who gets caught with his second-time pregnant wife trying to cross the border to escape population control laws.  Placed in the nearly inescapable Fortress prison, he has to deal with a cyborg warden (and his mind-reading computer) and find the way out.

Fortress originally came out on DVD back at the dawn of the format and has never been reissued until now.  The DVD looked like exactly what it was – an old 4:3 open-matte laserdisc master.  Since there was no alternative, we pretty much just had to deal with it.  Now the rights have passed into the Miramax catalog and, through their partnership with Echo Bridge, Fortress is finally available for the first time in a 16:9 version with a new HD transfer.  Amazingly, it looks great.  Blacks are inky, grain reduction isn’t excessive, colors are good and it probably looks way better than it did in the theater in 1992.  There’s a surprising amount of detail here.  I almost hate to say it, but Fortress looks better than many of its contemporaries on Blu-rays from major studios.  It should be noted that this disc is the U.S. theatrical cut and not the slightly extended (by 30 seconds, but with violence censored) European version.  I have a bunch of Echo Bridge’s deep catalog BD releases in my collection, and I can say without reservation that this is far and away the best looking disc I’ve ever seen them put out.  The DTS-HD Master Audio stereo track sounds right from the theatrical mix.  It’s clear and concise but nothing special.  Note that the disc has zero extras, not even the trailer that was on the DVD.

Fortress came out the summer I discovered that the movie theater near the major suburban bus hub in Philadelphia didn’t card for R-rated films, so I saw all kinds of movies I wasn’t supposed to, especially the indie releases like Fortress that they seemed to get almost exclusively.  It had a cool sci-fi premise, good action and, to this day, remains a very guilty pleasure from a nostalgic time.  It did well enough on video that Sony later released a higher budget sequel, but it lacked the cheeseball charm, the great performances by talented character actors like Kurtwood Smith and Jeffrey Combs, and the gratuitous violence that made the original so memorable.  Fortress on Blu-ray is exclusive to Best Buy until May – you can order it from their website or get it in store for about $5.99, so it’s a no-brainer for anyone with even a passing interest in the movie.  After that time it should be widely available.

- Jeff Kleist

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