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'Demolition Man': How they did those special effects

The story behind Sylvester Stallone’s deep freeze

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Suspended animation in the movies is usually a soothing, sleepy experience, says Demolition Man director Marco Brambilla. But, he says, when John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) is unwillingly sealed into a water tank and frozen into an ice cube, ”I wanted to make it as violent and scary as possible.”

Getting the scene to look scary was deceptively simple: The crew just put Stallone in a clear plastic tank and filled it up. At first, the liquid was glycerin, a viscous fluid that looks already frozen. For subsequent shots, Stallone held his breath underwater, trying to match the pose of a mannequin built to represent him after the Big Chill. Computer graphics later supplied the aurora-borealis zap that quick-freezes Spartan.

The director says that the poses of the nude, muscular cryoprison inmates were inspired by the photos of Robert Mapplethorpe. With some exceptions: For the scene in which Stallone stands in the tank before his punishment, Brambilla used a mist machine to obscure the view. ”I wanted to show a lot of Sly almost naked,” he says, ”but there were certain things I didn’t want to see.”