“Swear to God Snake, I thought you were dead…
Continuing the INCREDIBLE StudioCanal 4K series of John Carpenter classics restorations, up next, cruising down Dystopia Street (the complete opposite of Seasame Street) with a steel spiked biker boot swagger and chandeliers for hood ornaments (hopefully available for my bike soon), we have the supremely wonderful Escape from New York (1981).
Strutting in just a year after the also fantastic The Fog, which we covered in our previous review here . Clearly Carpenter was on a creative roll with no sign of ever slowing down, and if anything, going from strength to Plissken, which of course is strength turned up to 13.
Momentarily moving away from Carpenter’s regular murderous horror sandpit of carnage to play on the Sci-Fi see-saw, Escape was presented as a high concept vehicle, but my HOT TAKE! we all know it actually was a time travelling documentary from the past about our near future under the continuing farce that is the Trumpocalypse and Brexit.
That bit is just a joke of course (I REALLY hope so anyways), I just hope the Dick of New York hasn’t seen the movie to start using it as a road map.
The year is 1997 and things have ever so slightly got out of hand in the (not so) good auld USA. There’s been a wee bit of tension about, a smiggin of crime, an increase of rapscallions and wot not, that has resulted in Manhattan Island being turned into one big giant maximum security prison, and all run by the new militarised police force (just like today). There’s no more playing on the massive piano that was in Big, instead Tom Hanks would have to dance in one of the daily fenced ring fights to the death.
Once someone is sentenced to the island, that’s it, for life, which isn’t going to be for long given the appetite of the locals. That’s not such great news for the President of the United States (Donald Pleasance), who thankfully for the plot happens to be in a spot of bother as his plane is about to crash into Manhattan. ‘Luckily’ he jettisons in a emergency pod, and it slams him gently into peril.
Being a true no man’s land, the police know they would have to go to war, that they wouldn’t win anyways to try and get the President back. Instead, stealth is required. A coerced solution is prepped with a checklist that involves strength, cunning, intelligence, combat training, ‘terrible’ tattoos, an eye patch, cool name and dresses like a member of East 17 years before they actually happen. Though it is set in 1997 remember…
It would also be really great if said UBER MAN solution could have been the love child of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood (who was one of the original hopefuls for the role), so it made perfect sense to give the role of one of the most iconic and bloody COOL named anti-heroes EVER, Snake Plissken, to a dude who had just played Elvis in a TV movie that Carpenter had just directed.
Like a bucket of Viagra, Kurt Russell more than rose to the occasion, turning in one of the most memorable and giddy erect tongue in check masculine roles of the 80s, and subsequently became one of Carpenter’s muses doing a number of successful genre movies with him.
Despite the beautiful and knowing ridiculousness of the whole adventure, it is a phenomenally well made movie, that hugely surpasses the budget it had (there’s much to be said about practical effects), where it looked like many more millions than were actually available. The script written by Carpenter and Nick Castle attracted a stellar cast including Harry Dean Stanton (Brain), Ernest Borgnine (Cabbie), Adrienne Barbeau (Maggie), Lee Va Cleef (Hauk) and the one and only Isaac Hayes playing The Duke who runs the island. All distinctly defined characters, everyone is clearly having a fantastic time diving deep into their roles.
Shot predominately at night, and in very low light, the cinematography (Dean Cundey) is outstanding, as are the costumes, set design and graphics and of course the score by Carpenter (again) and Alan Howarth.
It all of course looks and sounds amazing in this 4K restoration, but the real added glee is the multiple documentaries, interviews and extras that are on the extras dvd. For a movie that I have watched countless times over the decades (after seeing it’s INCREDIBLE poster in the local vhs library, I HAD to see it, FOREVER!), I never really grasped what had gone into making it, and how these stunning visuals where made. A small note to mention, that a young James Cameron was one of the special effects crew, where you see some of the incredible matte paintings he made. Of course he went on to make movies that most of humanity have seen.
Escape From New York is a pure cult classic, in every sense of the word. Brilliant, intelligent, unique, iconic and infinitely quotable, it’s all a bit Shakespeare and a whole load of Mad Max, what’s not to LOVE?
10/10 Escape From New York is out on iconic 4k Collectors Edition Blu-ray from 26 November. There are also special unmissable cinema screenings from 22 November, check www.johncarpenter4k.co.uk for details.