Snake Has Never Looked So Good
♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer Simon Kennedy takes a look at the restored John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, out now on Blu Ray…
Escape from New York
Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Donald Pleasance
Sometimes you get those dream assignments. To be honest, the review of Escape From New York is second only to the board game which it inspired but hey ho. Set in 1997 after the creation of a maximum-security prison on the island of Manhattan, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell’s gravelly voice and antiheroes the antihero) is set to become enrolled as its latest prisoner. Fate steps in. The president’s plane has crash landed in New York. The president is played with chewing delight by Donald Pleasance. Governor Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cliff plays villainous like no other) tags Plissken with the task of finding the President and getting him out safely. As we know in life, it’s never that clear cut. You see Plissken hastwo explosive probes inserted into his neck. They are set to explode in 22 hours. No president, no deal. Or neck…
John Carpenter’s third best film (in my humble opinion) still is very much the best dystopian, futuristic film about a prison, in New York ever to be made. It inspired Italian cinema end of world film splurge, recast Kurt Russell as a bad arse and not a Disney manchild. So, fans of the film know about some of the things related to the film. From the 7-minute robbery sequence that appeared on a laserdisc release and hasn’t surfaced since then (to my knowledge), the sets being reused for Blade Runner, the riff on Clint Eastwood that Russell used for that gravelly voice or the inspiration that Death Wish had on the film (Michael Winner gains scant praise). Well, all of this is covered in the disc and the most important element is given a delicious upscale. I will let you guess which is most important for me. What is not covered is the remake that is currently languishing in development hell (Josh Brolin was set to star last I heard) and of course the sequel is given a wide berth. I think this is a shame indeed.
Carpenter deserves a lot of credit and Escape From New York begins a compelling argument for maturity and developing auterism. For instance, Carpenter merges his eye for tension and visual tone, with B movies aesthetics and genre conventions. Yes, he did this before with The Thing or Assault On Precinct 13 but here Carpenter directs with attentiveness as well. Finally moving away from the either slow pan and hold or the staid camera of his nods to classical cinema. He and Cundey (the film’s DOP) frame shots for aesthetic, narrative and potency purposes. This is to say that some shots tell the story, while others just look good and to hell with the story. I credit most of the film’s brilliance to their relationship. Kurt Russell also deserves major love as well. Let’s not kid ourselves. He is the antithesis of a hero, yet he pulls off a guy we all want to be. It’s like someone took Eastwood, Mitchum and a Hammer Horror monster, mixed all the elements into a blender and created a being and then gave it an eye patch.
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK has a happy distinction here. It’s better than the other 3 releases. It’s not so warm in the night scenes, has cleaned up the VFX sequences to their benefit and reduces the light noise of the DVD prints. What it does well on as well is finally making the grotty interiors of NY look what they are and should be. However I know it was filmed in St Louis.
Lots of old extras crop up here. We have seen the commentaries before. Best of these is Russell and Carpenter chatting shop. The feature Purgatory: Entering John Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK could have been a wash out. It is not actually that bad. Those who talk on the film, do give us details. However they say stuff well-trodden.
Purgatory: Entering John Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK: A brand new retrospective documentary produced by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures and featuring 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 Honor – featurette from 2005 featuring interviews with John Carpenter and Debra Hill
Deleted Opening Sequence “Snake’s Crime” with Optional Audio Commentary
Photo gallery incl. Behind the Scenes
Audio Commentary with actor Kurt Russell & director John Carpenter
Audio Commentary with Producer Debra Hill and production designer Joe Alves
Big Challenges in Little Manhatten: Visual effects featurette – from 2015, features interviews with both Dennis Skotak, Director of Photography of Special VFX, and Robert Skotak, Unit Supervisor and Matte Artist
I am Taylor – Interview with actor Joe Unger – from 2015
Audio Commentary with actress Adrienne Barbeau & DOP Dean Cundey
- Dolby Vision
- Region: 2.35:1
- Audio: 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio
Escape From New York 4K Restored is out now on Blu Ray