ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK
Film review by Gordon Justesen
Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Season
Hubley, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau
Director: John Carpenter
Audio: DTS HD 5.1, DTS HD 2.0
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Shout! Factory
Features: See Review
Length: 98 Minutes
Release Date: April 21, 2015
“I swear to God, Snake, I thought you were dead.”
“Yeah, you and everybody else.”
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 apocalyptic future.
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 a disaster. Left to it's own care, NYC would need to hire a serious maintenance team to get in there for cleaning services. You would need a dedicated cleaning service there night and day to clean up the mess in Escape From New York.
Enter Snake 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 ever committed.
Snake’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.
Although not the ultra superior upgrade we were all hoping for, Shout! Factory has done a terrific enough job with getting this move to look as good as it will ever look on Blu-ray. The new 2K transfer does boast some nice image quality, in particular the look of NYC at nighttime. Grain is kept in tact at the right spots. Overall, this is truly decent job of an 80s era classic given the HD touch!
Viewers are now given a choice of a 5.1 mix or that of a 2.0, both of which are now enhanced by way of DTS HD. The results couldn’t be more remarkable, especially when Carpenter’s classic music score kicks in at the opening of the movie! And the balance between score, dialogue and action is as perfect as it gets! Without question, the best this film has ever sounded on any home viewing format!
We had to wait several years after the first bare bones Blu-ray release surface until we got the fully loaded release that fans of the movie deserve. Shout! Factory has delivered a truly superb 2-disc release, combining extras from the MGM double disc DVD release with some awesome new extras as only the fine folks at Shout! Factory can deliver.
One Disc One, we get THREE commentary tracks. The first with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell and the second with the late producer Debra Hill and production designer Joe Alves (both of which have been ported over from the DVD release). The third and newest commentary features actress Adrienne Barbeau and cinematographer Dean Cundey!
Disc Two is where the jackpot of extras reside. We get many in depth featurettes, including “Big Challenges in Little Manhattan: The Visual Effects of Escape From New York”, as well as “Scoring the Escape: A Discussion with composer Alan Howarth”, which features a detailed discussion with the frequent co-collaborator on Carpenter’s scores. Next up is “On Set with John Carpenter: The Images of Escape From New York”, which includes an interview with still photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker, in addition to “I Am Taylor”, an interview with actor Joe Unger who played Snake’s co-hort in the un-used opening sequence, and “My Night on Set”, an interview with filmmaker David DeCoteau. Rounding out the extras are bits from the earlier DVD release: the featurette titled “Return to Escape From New York”, the aforementioned Deleted Opening sequence (with optional director commentary), Trailers and Photo Galleries!
Escape From New York remains a kick butt ride more than thirty years following it’s initial release, and this Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory is the best package this flick has gotten to date. Once again, this trip to the Big Apple is one worth taking!