ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK
Review by Gordon Justesen
Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasance, Isaac Hayes,
Season Hubley, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau
Director: John Carpenter
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 99 Minutes
Release Date: December 16, 2003
was an accident. About an hour ago, a small jet went down inside New York City.
The president was on board.”
not funny, Plissken.”
Boy, if there was
ever proof that an 80s classic could look and sound so good; Escape From New
York is the proof. More on that later…
By 1980, John
Carpenter had already established himself as the master of cinematic horror. In
the wake of two consecutive horror hits, Halloween and The Fog,
Carpenter took sort of brief turn into the realm of the action genre, which
wasn’t entirely new to the director if you consider his much underrated 1976
cult classic, Assault on Precinct 13. His break from horror not only
consisted of making an action movie, but a then startling account of an
Escape From New
York is easily considered
among Carpenter fans as one of the director’s all time best. Many feel it
remains a classic because of subliminal satire of government and politics, not
to mention the role of the President, who is portrayed in the story as a
cowardly wimp. The future depicted in the movie is one I’m sure nobody would
be crazy enough to consider. The island of New York City has become the lone
maximum-security prison for the entire country. New York is purely inescapable,
since the entire island is surrounded by a 50-foot containment wall, and the
water routes are thoroughly mined.
Plissken (Kurt Russell), a former soldier, and a highly decorated one, too.
Snake has been incarcerated following a failed robbery, and faces life
imprisonment, that is, unless he agrees to participate in the ultimate suicide
mission. Summoned by police commissioner Hauk (Lee Van Cleef), Plissken is
recruited for a rescue operation, one involving the President of the United
States (Donald Pleasence), whose escape pod has landed somewhere in the Big
Apple following an attempt on his life aboard Air Force One. In exchange for
completing the operation, Snake will receive a full pardon for each crime he’s
assignment, and not a simple one, is to go in and locate the President so that
he can make it to an important press conference. With only 17 hours at his
disposal, in addition to a slow-dissolving poison that has been secretly
injected into his arteries, Snake wastes no time in looking for the Commander in
chief once he goes into the island, even though he comes across as the kind of
guy who couldn’t care less if the world was going to end. Once he’s entered
New York, he gets word that the President may be held captive by the notorious
gang leader known as The Duke (Isaac Hayes).
One thing John
Carpenter does so terrifically is immerse you into the darkest of atmospheres,
and the setting in Escape From New York
is one of the best examples of this technique. Not too long after landing in New
York, he comes face to face with an assortment of bizarre characters. Among
Snake’s encounters is that of a zombie-like gang known as The Crazies, who
can’t really be seen because of the dark, but their maneuvering in the night
suggests a creepy enemy. Snake soon finds some unexpected assistance in Brain
(Harry Dean Stanton) and Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau) who sort of work under The
Duke, but are willing to join Snake’s side when he promises them a safe escape
from the island.
As far as
futuristic action movies go, Escape From
New York remains one of the bests, and one that manages to hold much
interest when watching it twenty three years after its initial release.
Carpenter’s uncompromising vision, along with a monumental performance from
Russell, in his first theatrical collaboration with Carpenter following the
television movie, Elvis, help in
making this the ultimate apocalyptic cult classic that it is.
Anyone who watched
this movie when it first hit DVD three years ago will quickly note that the
video transfer left a lot to be desired. Despite being anamorphic, the image
itself didn’t really do the look of the film justice. However, the memory of
the previous release has been erased thanks to MGM’s ultimately superb
offering in this new 2-disc re-issuing, which is perhaps the best one of the
year. The anamorphic picture will absolutely stun anyone who thought this movie
was incapable of looking so terrific in the DVD format. The entire movie takes
place at night, therefore resulting in a challenging process to make the movie
look right, and each scene has been mastered incredibly. MGM should be
congratulated for a tremendous job well done!
The same can be
said for the audio department, as the newly mastered 5.1 soundtrack delivers an
outstanding feeling of power to the movie. Everything, from Carpenter’s
classic score for the film, to the set pieces, to the action sequences have been
given a much first rate treatment. The only thing that keeps it from being a
full four star quality is a brief instance or two of the sound being limited to
the front rear. Other than that, this is one stunner of an audio transfer.
MGM took no
prisoners in the reissuing this DVD, and it’s without a doubt one of the best
packages of the year.
Disc one includes
two commentary tracks; one with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell, who are
possibly one of the best commentary pairings of all time; and a second one with
producer Debra Hill and production designer Joe Alves.
Disc two contains a
deleted opening sequence with optional commentary, a featurette titled “Return
to Escape From New York”, an exclusive comic book titled “The Snake Plissken
Chronicles” as well as a making of gallery of the comic. Also included are
linear notes by John Carpenter, photo gallery, and trailers.
packaging of this release is among the best packaged of any disc this year, for