Release: 26th November 2018
The year is 1997 and in a police state future the island of Manhattan has been turned into a maximum security prison. The rules are simple: once you’re in, you don’t come out. But when the President of the United States (Donald Pleasence) crash lands an escape pod into the centre of the city after fleeing a hijacked plane, a ruthless prison warden (Lee Van Cleef) bribes ex-soldier and criminal Snake Plisskin into entering the hazardous Manhattan and rescuing the distraught president from the twisted world of New York and from the demented clutches of its new ruler The Duke (Isaac Hayes) in John Carpenter’s cyber-punk, action, suspense spectacular.
Escape From New York would simply not work in today’s world. The fact remains that should the current President be lost amidst the grasp of a city besieged by criminals, not a finger would be lifted to save him. Consequently, when Frank Doubleday’s Romero gives soldiers to the count of 30 to leave or they will execute POTUS, most would tell him to skip the first 29 seconds and be done with it. Alas, this was not the case when Carpenter directed his most audacious picture to date. So as ludicrous as the set up for Escape From New York might be, its themes and politics have been echoed time and again from The Wire’s Hamsterdam subplot to Neil Marshall’s super crappy Doomsday.
Through fate or false coincidence, Escape From New York was released the exact same year as Mad Max sequel The Road Warrior. Although the films are different enough in plot, there definitely seems to be a sense that sci-fi was moving away from the glossy space race and more towards the dusty wastelands of tomorrow. It seems the Jimmy Carter’s presidency had the world prepping from a truly apocalyptic future. It would be tempting to look at Snake Pliskin and look at Max Rockatansky and call surface level comparisons, but like their respective films, they truly are different beasts. One is a punk rock outpouring of anthropological distain, while the other is a blue-collar reflection on the revolving issues of domestic politics raised by the Vietnam war. In essence, only America could have produced a film such as this.
Like most of Carpenter’s work in the 80’s, Escape has aged poorly. I might look slick in this stunning 4K scan, and Snake might be a timeless ode to the uber cool of Kurt Russell, but The Duke remains a rather underwhelming excuse for a villain and his band of hopped up rejects from Robocop have about as much menace as a petulant 5-year old. Still it is a fun ride, and is possibly the silliest Carpenter would get outside of Big Trouble in Little China. But where China got away with its comic book shenanigans, Escape carries the burden of trying to be meaningful, whilst remaining utterly ridiculous. I mean come on, a bomb splits a car neatly in half! It also, on reflection, has a lot of scenes where Kurt Russell is just running around empty streets. Hardly the bustling action adventure I remember as a kid. But you’re not reading this because you want to know if the film is any good. The only people that will purchase Escape From New York are the people who already know and love it. The truth is, you won’t find a better reason to invest in a new copy of the film. This 4K scan brings a new depth to the colour palette, the soundtrack is great, and the is an added texture to the image.
One complaint from purists might be that the grading has been updated, so it DOES look like a slightly different film. However, this grade was overseen by the film’s original cinematographer Dean Cundey, and although this New York might look a little different, it is just as valid a depiction as that crappy old copy you’ve kept on Laserdisc since 1983. But best of all, those grimy blacks you’ve endured for so long are now a thing of the past. Which means that watching the film in this new format could potentially feel like watching it again for the first time.
To learn more about the cinematic re-release of Carpenter’s 4K restorations. See https://www.johncarpenter4k.co.uk/
Film Grade: B-
A run of Commentaries and some re-hashed Documentaries will provide little excitement for season fans who’ve seen and heard it all. But the new Retrospective is a nice addition to rekindles some old stories and sheds some light on the odd anecdote or two. In short, it is a decent spread that will be reason enough to purchase the disc beyond the film.
Special Features Grade: B
He might be missing an eye, but Snake never ‘looked’ so good. Will a nice offering of special features to bulk up the second disc, you’d be hard pressed to find a better presentation than this.