Review by Troy
= Highest Rating
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 —
go in and save the day...
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.
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.
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.
into the film's other major problem: it's too much of a rehash
of the first film.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
A Blu-ray edition of Escape from L.A.
was released by Paramount in 2010.