The year is 1997, on the way to a 3-way summit between the U.S., the Soviet Union and China seek a peaceful resolution, and plan to meet about bringing to a close of World War III, Air Force One and the president are hijacked by a left-wing revolutionary organization known as the National Liberation Front of America. The President (Donald Pleasence - Halloween ) is placed in an escape pod and survives. Crashing into the giant maximum security prison created in 1988 known as Manhattan. Inmates find and take the president hostage which leads to Unites States Police Force Commissioner Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) offering a special forces/criminal named “Snake” Plissken (Kurt Russell - Death Proof, Poseidon) a deal of a lifetime - retrieve a cassette tape that contains important information on nuclear fusion, rescue the president and get a full pardon. Snake must complete his mission before 24 hour. He must face the self-proclaimed Duke of New York (Isaac Hayes) who is determined to free Manhattan’s prisoners or kill the president. As an added incentive Plissken is injected with two microscopic pills that will explode and kill him, so any attempt at escape is futile. Snake must find the president and tape cassette and…….Escape From New York.
The script by friends and co-workers John Carpenter (The Fog, The Thing, Halloween) and Nick Castle (Actor - Halloween, Director - The Last Starfighter) is tight and enjoyable. Set with a deadline intact and a disastrous future (which is almost always interesting at the very least) make this film’s story enjoyable and keeps the suspense alive even when the action onscreen slows, which isn’t often. Frankly, Snake Plissken is an antihero way ahead of his time. Characters like this didn’t become popular until 1986 and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns was unleashed upon the world and set the comic book and movie world on a dark path that still influences both mediums. Unlike the sequel, (Escape From L.A.) this film at least attempts to take itself serious in it’s dark world which is a huge nod to the superior script.
The film is just plain fun with a nice Carpenter soundtrack to boot! The movie wouldn’t have had much suspense without the early Carpenter sound effects enhancing almost every moment. Rear speakers are used for things like the helicopter blades and occasional gun-fire, though most of the action is in the front speakers. The soundtrack is pretty dated and cheesy, but still has the trademark Carpenter sound from films like Halloween & The Fog, this is more action-oriented than those films so there is less of a spooky theme. The best thing about the soundtrack is it’s atmospheric theme. The feeling of isolation that Carpenter is perfect at, resides here.
The film is an action movie, but compared to today’s standards there is very little action here. Even PG movies now have way more action than is seen here. One of the best scenes comes near the end of the movie where Snake Plissken and his group including the president, Brain, Maggie and Cabbie all attempt to cross the bridge that is filled with explosive mines. Carpenter’s suspense here is great as the group seems to be on the home-stretch, but most of their fates are pre-determined as was briefly mentioned earlier in the movie.
Actor Kurt Russell creates a compelling action-hero character in Snake Plissken. His attitude is over-the-top and could be seen by some as hamming-it-up, but is surprisingly endearing for a character probably not meant to have such depth. He is one of the first anti-heroes outside of Eastwood’s Dirty Harry and Man With No Name. Given that this film turned into a cult classic, Russell’s performance as cocky and cocksure Snake, who kicks ass and takes no names, makes this film enjoyable in repeat viewings. As with the Dirty Harry character Eastwood perfected and made his own, Russell brings to the table a unique anti-hero that is ahead of his time. Donald Pleasence plays a president who seems full of himself and relatively ungrateful (despite offering Snake anything he wanted, he seems as if his saving is due to him). Pleasence is far from the character of Dr. Loomis here, but he adds to the quality of a pretty underrated and enjoyable ensemble cast. Ernest Borgnine is the cab-driver who’s a big fan of Snake’s known as “Cabbie” really hams it up the most out of the cast and is enjoyably silly to watch in his performance. Isaac Hayes is the self-proclaims “Duke” of New York and turns out a quite entertaining role that puts most movie-pimps to shame. Check out his cars and try and say he wasn’t “pimping” his rides! Adrienne Barbeau (Carpenter’s wife at the time) plays Maggie a bit of a loose woman, girlfriend to Harold “Brain” played by Harry Dean Stanton. Stanton plays the sleazy “Brain” to perfection, betraying Snake and Duke as easily as he breathes.
While Escape From New York isn’t a great movie in the vein of Carpenter‘s best works, it has that special charisma that makes it a cult classic for the ages. Not one of Carpenter’s best films (Halloween, The Thing, The Fog are all better) Escape still has something going for it that makes it a memorable film. With a nice ensemble cast and a dark futuristic/apocalyptic tale it is still enjoyable, though extremely dated, after all these years.
Overall, this is much better than the sequel Escape From L.A. which didn’t attempt to take itself seriously in the least, Escape From New York is a film for fans of Sci-Fi, apocalyptic films. It is a nice step up from the DVD release, though lacks any extras which means if you already have a Special Edition DVD you will want to hold onto it, but this is very much worthy of a buy to have it on Blu. Not highly recommended for a mainstream audience, rent it if you haven’t seen it, this is highly recommended for Sci-fi geeks and fans of futuristic movies where the world is dark and sinister!
This Blu-ray release also contains a DVD copy, but neither have any extras.
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