Escape from L.A.
U.S.A. / 1996
Directed by John Carpenter
Starring
Kurt Russell
Stacy Keach
Steve Buscemi
Color / 100 Minutes / R

Format: DVD / R1 - NTSC
Paramount Home Video
Music from the film
Main Title Theme
MP3 format - 3.9 MB
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6
    5   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by Troy Howarth
Los Angeles, 2013: the city is reduced to rubble by an earthquake registering 9.6 on the Richter Scale. As if that's not enough, a doomsday device is now in place, and it's up to Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) to reluctantly go in and save the day...
    John Carpenter's Escape from New York (1981) remains on of the great sci-fi actioners. A clever, imaginative and witty flight of fancy, it proposed the idea of New York City being transformed into a maximum security penitentiary in a world of escalating violence and brutality. Though the film did only lukewarm business upon its original release (apart from Halloween and Starman, few Carpenter films have done very good box office business), it quickly developed into a major cult favorite and fans were not long in asking for another Snake Plissken adventure. In 1996, Carpenter and his favorite leading man, Kurt Russell, finally bowed to fan pressure and delivered a follow-up. Though the finished film is burdened with a number of flaws, it is not without merit.
    Once again, Plissken is put in the position of having to save the world
a task he really couldn't care less about. With his world-weary demeanor, he is in many respects an even darker anti-hero than he had been in the first film. Clearly modeled on Clint Eastwood's laconic "Man with No Name" in Sergio Leone's revered "Dollars Trilogy" (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad & the Ugly), Snake cuts a striking figure as he glides through a post-apocalyptic landscape, driven by the urge for self-preservation rather than a desire to help a world he has absolutely no use for or place in.
    The screenplay by Carpenter, Russell and producer Debra Hill works in a lot of social commentary
if They Live (1988) is the director's critique of the Reagan era, then Escape from L.A. is his take on the Bush (I) administration. While the president in the first film (played by Donald Pleasence) was meekly ineffectual and unfeeling, however, this time the president (played with religious fervor by Cliff Robertson) is an all-out nutjob who lucks into predicting the quake and is, therefore, sworn into a lifelong term in office. Anything remotely "crude" is banned people caught being foul-mouthed or littering or breaking any of the Ten Commandments are sent to prison. As in They Live, Carpenter's tongue is clearly wedged firmly in his cheek, so the political commentary angle never becomes overly heavy-handed. The emphasis, rather, is on action and adventure. Sadly, this is one of the areas in which the film fails to match the original. Numerous action set-pieces a tidal wave sequence, a glider sequence that evokes The Wizard of Oz, etc. are undone by ludicrous digital effects. One gets the impression that Carpenter was trying to maintain a stylized feel to the effects, but they feel less stylized than shoddily done.
    This leads into the film's other major problem: it's too much of a rehash of the first film.
    Carpenter has acknowledged this flaw in interviews, saying that he and Russell were too taken with nostalgia for the first film when they sat down to write the script. The basic setup and structure of the movie is identical to the first, and even the gimmick of Snake's encounters with various bizarre characters along the way feels unduly connected to the first film
for example, you can virtually swap Steve Buscemi's hustler and George Corraface's wannabe dictator with the characters played by Ernest Borgnine and Isaac Hayes in the first film. While this doesn't detract from the film's entertainment value, it does end up giving one a sense of deja vu when it really shouldn't.
    Carpenter has maintained in interviewers, furthermore, that the film was rushed through post-production to meet a holiday release. This certainly shows in the film's editing, which vacillates between slick during some scenes and unduly slack in others. It's also conceivable that some added time would have allowed him to tweak the effects. Since the director has voiced a desire to go back and tinker with the movie a little more, this would be a rare case when such post-release shenanigans could actually work to the film's advantage.
    But having detailed where the film goes wrong, let's turn our attention to some of the good things. The cast is a B-movie wet dream. Russell dominates the proceedings, but the supporting cast sparkles thanks to the likes of Stacy Keach, Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, Bruce Campbell, George Corraface and Cliff Robertson. Everybody enters enthusiastically into the satirical tone of the proceedings, including more 'mainstream' performers like Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs) and Valeria Golina (Rain Man). Carpenter revamped his memorable Escape from New York title theme for the film, also contributing some effective synth cues, but the score suffers from more pretentious pieces by Shirley Walker.
    Carpenter's last film to date to be shot on any kind of medium-to-large budget, Escape from L.A. died quickly at the box office and got mostly blistering reviews. Nevertheless, it was championed by Roger Ebert (who is normally not so kind to the director) and seems to be developing a small cult following of its own nearly 10 years later. While far from the best work its talented director has ever done, it is still much better than the average post-apocalyptic action extravaganza.

Paramount's release of Escape from L.A. needs an upgrade. The 2.35 framing is essential in appreciating the movie (Carpenter's use of Panavision cannot survive the panning and scanning process), but the image is not anamorphically-enhanced. Print quality is good, with strong color and detail, but there is some grain evident in darker shots. Sound options include 5.1 surround and Dolby surround tracks, both of which have a lot of punch, depending on your audio setup. Both tracks are clean and clear, and unburdened by distortion or background hissing. Extras are limited to a theatrical trailer. 2/16/05
UPDATE A Blu-ray edition of Escape from L.A. was released by Paramount in 2010.
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