Escape From New York is one of those all-time classics I haven’t seen in a good few years, prior to watching this remastered Blu-ray, and just hearing the classic theme tune practically gave me an orgasm. 😀
This was later followed, again by writer/director John Carpenter, with his 1996 sequel, Escape From L.A., both with Kurt Russell in the lead role of Snake Plissken.
The premise is that in 1988, the crime rate in the USA rises 400%. To curb the rampant violence in the streets, the once great city of New York becomes the one maximum security blockade in the entire country. A 50-foot containment wall is erected, completely surrounding and isolating Manhattan Island. All bridges and waterways are mined. The US Police Force, like an army, is encamped all around the prison while helicopters circle overhead incessantly. There are no guards inside, only the prisoners, left to live on their own in a place where lawlessness reigns supreme and there is only one rule: once you get in, you don’t come out!
It’s now 1997, and the plane conducting the American President (Donald Pleasance) to a summit meeting of world leaders is abducted by terrorists and crash-lands in New York. Before the Police Force can reach him, he’s taken hostage, and the only way to rescue him in time for the decisive conference is to have a prisoner infiltrate the dark bowels of the penal colony.
Snake Plissken is picked because he’s a tough-as-nails veteran of the Siberian Front in World War III, sentenced for robbing tghe Federal Reserve bank. In exchange for his freedom, Snake is given 23 hours to bring back the President alive – and if he needs a reason not to go AWOL, it’ll be the two lethal injections implanted in the arteries in his neck, set to go off if he doesn’t return home in time…
Kurt Russell equips himself perfectly as the hero with witty one-liners and a devil-may-care attitude, although he has the determination to see the job through – then again, faced with the alternative…
When I last saw this, I noted the passing of three main cast members, Lee Van Cleef (Bob Hauk, the man charged with assigning Snake the unenviable task), Ernest Borgnine (the fast-talking cabbie, and a role later reworked by Steve Buscemi in the sequel) and Donald Pleasance as the President.
Since then, we’ve lost Isaac Hayes as the evil ganglord of New York known as The Duke, as well as later best being known in a role that’s just as smooth – the voice of the singing chef in South Park as well as Harry Dean Stanton, who’s made so many movies in his time including Alien, Repo Man, Wild At Heart and his last lead role, Lucky.
Plus, there’s no way Snake could now land on the top of the World Trade Center.
Revisiting this after almost 20 years, it’s notable how many films these days are made with lazy CGI, while John Carpenter went to great trouble wih him and his team making models of New York for Snake to fly over.
The film is presented in the theatrical 2:35:1 widescreen aspect ratio and in 1080p high definition, and there’s a little bit of an shimmering effect on the image that detracts slightly, but I expect this is down to the source and not any remastering relating to this release. It’s something that most people won’t even notice, however.
The sound quality, in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, is superb too – mainly for incidental music, not least the classic theme tune, but also atmospheric music some of which is used to pinpoint key moments and a number of directional effects including Snake’s fight in the ring and his foray into Broadway with his colleagues. The whole thing comes across very clearly.
The stack of extras are as follows, and there’s three audio commentaries on disc one, with all the other extras on disc two:
- Purgatory: Entering John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (52:35): A brand retrospective new documentary with no Kurt Russell, no chapters (same as all the other extras), and no new stuff from Mr Carpenter – just archive chat.
However, it does feature interviews with writer Nick Castle, cinematographer Dean Cundey, composer Alan Howarth, production designer Joe Alves, special visual effects artist/model maker Gene Rizzardi, production assistant David De Coteau, photographer Kim Gottleib-Walker, Carpenter biographer John Muir, visual effects historian Justin Humphreys, and music historian Daniel Schweiger.
- Snake Plissen: Man of Honour (15:24): A featurette from 2005, where John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill talk through the look of Snake, as well as the set design and how they shot at night in St. Louis, Missouri, as the city had just suffered a fire and had the post-apocalyptic look they needed, along with discussing the deleted scene which comes up next.
- Deleted Opening Sequence “Snake’s Crime” with Optional Audio Commentary (10:46 without commentary, 10:52 with): As JC said in the previous piece, this scene covered a whole reel. Note: You get the opening theme first, and the scene starts at 3:20, and this is presented slightly cropped to 1.85:1, but it’s better than not having it.
Upon watching it, it’s quite a slow start so it’s probably best left as a deleted scene since you get the idea from the regular movie that Snake isn’t a good guy.
Maybe I’d be thinking differently if the quality was up to scratch, the same as we have with the film on this disc, though. And if it was, seamless branching would give us the chance to watch both versions.
The Audio Commentary is with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell.
- Big Challenges in Little Manhattan: Visual Effects featurette (14:27): Although it doesn’t specifically state, this is a fairly new extra for this movie, as it was shot in 2015, and you can tell with the high quality of the interview with the VFX broters, Dennis Skotak and Robert Skotak, showing pictures of the cardboard sets of New York which were made for this.
We don’t appear to have had a Blu-ray release for this film in quite a few years, so this should therefore be a Blu-ray and DVD premiere.
- I am Taylor (8:49): An interview with actor Joe Unger, from 2015, who plays Taylor, Snake’s sidekick in the opening robbery scene. You’ll have to watch that to see how things turn out.
- Photo gallery incl. Behind the Scenes (11:51): A ton of on-set pics changing approx every five seconds. You can’t skip through them as they’re not chaptered.
- Original Trailers (2:46): The first one (1:44) shows how trailers were done in the ’80s – more concerned with the big-name cast than showing clips from the film, until the last 30 seconds. You can work out the length of the second for yourself, but both trailers are in 16:9, but then back then, you wouldn’t get 2.35:1 trailers on TV or even in the cinema all the time, as quality wasn’t considered a factor.
The initial disc menu is a bit odd as it gives you two options – France and UK. Given that the two colours which alternate between the options are blue and yellow, which is the right one I’m selecting? I thought blue, and came up with France – and, thus, French text – by mistake. Rebooted the PS4, and then selecting UK. Choose yellow.
The main menu mixes clips from the film with some graphics in a similar wireframe style to the electronic radar equipment used in helicopters.
1*CD Soundtrack), a poster, 5 artcards and a 48-page book.
Running time: 99 minutes
Released: November 26th 2018
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: DTS 5.1 HD-MA
Widescreen: 2.35:1 (35mm, Panavision)
Disc Format: BD50
Director: John Carpenter
Producers: Debra Hill and Larry Franco
Screenplay: John Carpenter and Nick Castle
Music: John Carpenter
Snake Plissken: Kurt Russell
Bob Hauk: Lee Van Cleef
Cabbie: Ernest Borgnine
President: Donald Pleasance
The Duke: Isaac Hayes
Girl In Chock Full O’Nuts: Season Hubley
Brain: Harry Dean Stanton
Maggie: Adrienne Barbeau
Rehme: Tom Atkins
Secretary of State: Charles Cyphers
Taylor: Joe Unger
Romero: Frank Doubleday
Cronenberg: John Strobel
Drunk: George ‘Buck’ Flower
Dance: Rodger Bumpass
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.