ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK
Directed by John Carpenter
Produced by Debra Hill & Larry Franco
Written by John Carpenter & Nick Castle
Director of Photograpy Dean Cundey
Music by John Carpenter
Cast: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Isaac Hayes, Ernest Borgnine & Donald Pleasence
1981/99 mins/Color/5.1 DD
2.35:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the MGM Home Entertainment DVD
While all of us probably have lengthy cult-movie DVD "wish lists", one must admit that the film's of John Carpenter have been well-represented on DVD, and several of them are available as impressive special editions. Following their disappointing bare-bones release from 2000, MGM Home Entertainment has now set things right with the new 2-disc special edition of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK DVD, which will most likely justify a "double-dip" for most of us.
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is set in 1997, where the United States Police Force has been created to combat crime and Manhattan Island is now a maximum security prison. A plane carrying the President of the United States (Donald Pleasence) crashes inside walls of the prison. Newly arrested felon and ex-solider Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), who is about to be incarcerated inside the prison, is recruited by warden Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) to rescue the President. Snake is given 22 hours to complete this mission, or he will die. Snake flies a glider into the prison and soon finds himself amongst the strange denizens of New York. With assistance from an old accomplice, Brain (Harry Dean Stanton), Brain's "woman", Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau), and an old cab driver (Ernest Borgnine), Snake tracks down the President and realizes that he must snatch him from the hands of the evil Duke of New York (Isaac Hayes).
As John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN kicked off a series of knock-off slasher films, so ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK influenced many (mostly Italian) "New York City in ruins" movies, but it not only remains the best example of this odd sub-genre, but one of the best sci-fi/action films of the 80s. ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK works because the film is a successful sum of all of its parts. First of all, the idea of a future in which New York City is a prison is sheer genius. I've read reviews which called this idea unoriginal (?), but even today, I find this concept to be very clever, as it creates a setting which is at once very familiar and quite alien. Secondly, Snake Plissken is simply a great character. Kurt Russell does a fine-job playing this outlaw bad-ass. And while we shouldn't like Snake, as he's a criminal, one can't help but admire his tenacity. (And I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking, "I'd like to be like that.") Snake is supported by an interesting group of characters, with The Duke of New York and The President both being quite memorable. The story may be a bit simplistic towards the end (get the President and get out) and some of the special-effects do look very dated today, but ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK has definitely stood the test of time and continues to be a great action film.
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK scales the wall onto DVD from MGM Home Entertainment. For this new Collector's Set DVD, the film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. This release easily eclipses the previous DVD. The image is very sharp and clear, although there is still visible grain in some shots, especially the special effects shots. Those who are familiar with the film know that much of the film takes place in very dark places, and this transfer handles those scenes beautifully, as the image is never too dark and the action is always visible. There is very little color in the film, but the fleshtones look very realistic and true. There is a minor amount of noticeable edge-enhancement, but not enough to be distracting. This DVD carries a newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. One of the trademark aspects of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is Carpenter's score, and it sounds fantastic here. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects, and offers no hissing or distortion. The stereo effects are strong, but the surround and subwoofer effects aren't as powerful as many recent action-film releases. Still, what is there certainly adds atmosphere to the film.
This 2-disc Collector's Set offers several interesting extras. Disc 1 features two audio commentaries. The first features director John Carpenter and star Kurt Russell. This is the same commentary which appeared on the New Line laserdisc which arrived in 1994. (This is why some of the commentary sounds slightly dated.) This is the best Carpenter/Russell commentary and they have a great time watching the movie. This was the first commentary that really demonstrated to me how films were shot in various locations. Carpenter and Russell share many memories and they say some outrageous things, such as Russell's odd comment at the 1:08:05 mark. The second commentary features producer Debra Hill and Production Designer Joe Alves (who worked on the first three JAWS films). Be patient, as the talk suddenly starts at the end of the opening credits, and the two participants don't start out by introducing themselves. This commentary is nowhere near as entertaining as the Carpenter/Russell talk, but it is in depth and they share a great deal of information about how this low-budget film looks so good. I'm not sure when this commentary was recorded, but Hill refers to HALLOWEEN: H20 as being made "last year".
Disc 2 features the rest of the extras. The "Return to ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK Documentary" is a 23 minute making-of featurette. While the segment contains no behind-the-scenes footage, it does offer interviews with John Carpenter, Kurt Russell, co-writer Nick Castle, producer Debra Hill, Adrienne Barbeau, Harry Dean Stanton, Isacc Hayes, production designer Joe Alves, and cinematographer Dean Cundey. These icons share their views on the film and have nothing but good things to say about their experiences and how the movie has become a classic. This is followed by the rather pointless "Making of John Carpenter's Snake Plissken Chronicles Comic", which is a text and photo feature which outlines the production process behind the Snake Plissken comic-book. An exclusive 16-page John Carpenter's Snake Plissken Chronicles mini-comic book is included in the DVD package, and is actually pretty good. The "Snake Bites" Trailer Montage is a 2 1/2 minute montage segment that serves no clear purpose. I'm still not sure what this is supposed to be. "Missing Reel #1" features the original opening sequence to the film, and with credits included, last about 11 minutes. This features the legendary scene in which Snake robs the Federal Reserve and attempts to get away via subway with his accomplice Tanner (?). This scene is letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the video quality if quite poor. The scene can be watched with or without audio commentary from Carpenter & Russell. It's very interesting to finally see this scene in its entirety (I can finally dump my old laserdisc which only contained snippets from this scene), but it's quite clear why it was cut, as it would not have made for an exciting opening. The original theatrical trailer is included here (looking quite bad), as are two teaser trailers (both of which are anamorphic). The extras are finished off with three still galleries; behind-the-scenes, production photos, and lobby cards.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2003. ©