Going wild with the concept of a futuristic prison, Fortress is an entertaining B science fiction movie. Something that’s not surprising considering that the director is none other than Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, King of the Ants, Stuck)! Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and with a hefty budget of $50 million this was quite an ambitious project. However, after they lost Arnold, the budget was cut to $15 million and Christopher Lambert of his Highlander fame stepped in as the lead. The supporting cast is also great with Jeffrey Combs, Clifton Collins Jr., and Kurtwood Smith as the sadistic warden. With well-developed characters, our crew had a lot to work with and the end product is a pretty good prison movie. It’s similar to all those nineties prison movies like Lock Up and Tango & Cash.
What sets Fortress apart from those movies is the bleak and creative vision of the future. A future that seems like a libertarian’s worse nightmare with bar codes on hands and one-child policies. Not to mention the forcible injection of tracking chips. And if you think you’re at least safe in your own thoughts, no, you’re not. Although, when you think about it, our prison system today is just as fucked up like this one. However, don’t think this is some philosophical slow-moving thriller. The action is nice and juicy and pacing fast. Sure, the story is formulaic and predictable but it has a certain charm to it. However, entertainment is the key word here, and entertained you shall be.
John Brennick and his wife Karen are a bit nervous as they’re about to cross the border into the USA. The reason for that is the fact that Karen is pregnant with their second child, something that’s punishable by a big prison sentence. They almost make it through but one of the guards notices that Karen is wearing a vest to protect her from the full-body scan. A fight ensues and John gets captured while Karen manages to get away. Soon, he finds himself in a bus traveling to the state-of-the-art, privately-owned prison. Happy that Karen got away, he doesn’t know what awaits him in this high-tech hell.
Fortress announces the big technology boom of the nineties, building on science fiction movies of the eighties. It’s a high-concept movie and I’m certain that at least some of its grim predictions will sadly turn out to be true. It spawned one sequel, released some eight years later, also starring Lambert. However, this time he will need to escape from a prison that’s in outer fucking space. The star of the original apart from the masterfully crafted prison is the kinky and troubled warden Poe. His character is the most intriguing one, while almost all the others are standard-issue action movie guys. Gordon will further explore some of the same themes in Space Truckers, with Charles Dance playing a version of the same character.
Finally, if you’re looking for similar movies check Wedlock, Absolom, and Lockout. And we can’t be talking about futuristic prisons without the Cube franchise and Spanish masterpiece The Platform. Enjoy.
Director: Stuart Gordon
Writers: Troy Neighbors, Steven Feinberg, David Venable, Terry Curtis Fox
Cast: Christopher Lambert, Kurtwood Smith, Loryn Locklin, Clifton Collins Jr., Jeffrey Combs, Vernon Wells