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Escape from New York(1981)
In a world ravaged by crime, the entire island of Manhattan has been converted into a prison which houses the world's most brutal inmates. And when the President of the United States crash lands inside, only one man can bring him back: Snake Plissken, a notorious outlaw and former Special Forces war hero who, in exchange for a full pardon, descends into the decayed city and wages a blistering war against the captors. But time is short: in 24 hours, an explosive charge planted inside Snake's body will end the mission -- and his life -- unless he succeeds.
For more about Escape from New York and the Escape from New York Blu-ray release, see Escape from New York Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on August 4, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Adrienne Barbeau
Director: John Carpenter
» See full cast & crew
Escape from New York Blu-ray Review
John Carpenter and Kurt Russell warm up for The Thing
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, August 4, 2010
I remember, as a kid, thinking that the poster for Escape From New York was quite possibly the coolest thing I'd ever seen. You've got Kurt Russell, wearing a freaking eye patch and toting a massive assault rifle, squatting in the middle of a fire. You know, just taking it easy, popping a squat while the city burns around him. Non-plussed. Chillaxed. In the background, Lady Liberty's decapitated head lies in the middle of the street, her copper-green eyes staring vacantly up into a crowded, off-kilter skyline. What the hell happened, I wondered. I'd have to wait for Cloverfield to find out, because, as it turns out, that nifty piece of poster art—while summing up the film's nothing is sacred attitude and permanently establishing Kurt Russell as an icon of badassery—has no relation to the film's plot. When I finally managed to see the movie, I kept waiting for Lady Liberty's head to get blown off, but it never happened. I was a little disappointed. And in a way, that's still how I feel about Escape From New York. The premise is a near-perfect action movie set-up, and the world that John Carpenter creates has so much potential for edge-of- your-seat storytelling, but the end result doesn't fully deliver on its promise. But that's not to say that it doesn't have its moments of undiluted awesomeness.
In 1988, we're told, the crime rate of the United States jumps by 400%. The country's formerly most expensive piece of real estate—Manhattan Island—is so overridden with violence that it's turned into a containment prison, walled off and blockaded on all sides by the U.S. Police Force. Inside, there are no guards, no chains, no cells, only "the prisoners and the worlds they have made," grim societies of miscreants and underground crazies, bedlamites, cannibals, and rapists. There's only one rule here, "once you go in, you don't come out." The one-time financial and cultural capital of the world is now a dystopian nightmare, hopeless and anarchic. As a storytelling "universe," the possibilities of this new New York are endless, but Carpenter only has time, in his 99-minute film, to give us a single plot, one that only begins to explore the seedy recesses of the prison city.
Extremists hijack Air Force One, crashing it downtown in a scene that eerily foreshadows 9/11, and the president (Donald Pleasence)—who speaks, for some reason, with a slight English accent—is kidnapped by the self-proclaimed Duke of New York (Isaac Hayes), a ruffian who plans to trade the scared-witless leader for the release of all of the island's inhabitants. Police commissioner Bob Hauk, played by the always-dastardly Lee Van Cleef, offers a juicy deal to newly arrived prisoner "Snake" Plissken (Kurt Russell), a special forces soldier-turned-armed robber who just so happens to have the black-ops know-how to stage a rescue. If Snake can extract the president in 24 hours, he'll be granted a full pardon for his crimes; if he can't, an implant in his neck will explode and instantly sever his carotid artery. Ouch. With the countdown clock ticking ever closer to zero hour, Snake infiltrates the city and starts his hunt, teaming up with Brain (Harry Dean Stanton), the Duke's former right-hand man, Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau), Brain's bosomy piece of arm candy, and an avuncular cab driver (Ernest Borgnine) who knows the streets like the back of his grimy hand.
Long proclaimed as an action film cult classic, there's surprisingly little action in Escape From New York, at least, not of the Michael Bay, in your face, two explosions per minute variety, the kind to which today's Rockstar-infused audiences are acclimated. Watching the film now, nearly thirty years after it hit theaters in 1981, EFNY seems curiously slow-paced. Snake limps through the city, occasionally bopping a guy in the face, occasionally busting a cap. For being on such a strict time limit, he does an awful lot of creeping. Several action set pieces seem poised to take place—crazies rising up from the sewers on a raiding party, a car ride through a gamut of clubs and thrown rocks, a trip across a mine-strewn bridge—but they fizzle out before they really get started. Carpenter has prided himself on being a master of suspense, a latter-day Hitchcock, and while that title can certainly apply to the slow-burning terror of Halloween or The Thing, Escape From New York never feels taut, mostly because we have no investment in the characters. Brain, Maggie, and the cabbie show up, advance the plot, and are dispensed with before we ever get to know them. Not even Snake's countdown clock can heighten the tension. The events that take place in the periphery—a musical parody put on by prisoners in a former opera hall, a molestation in a dingy basement, the lives of the underground dwellers—are much more interesting than Snake's plight or the story of the president's rescue. Basically, Carpenter created a world with endless storytelling potential, but ended up picking a tale that's, well, not bad by any means, but just, I dunno, okay.
What Escape From New York has going for it, and what gives it its cult classic status, is atmosphere and attitude. Making the most of a relatively small $7 million budget, the production design team presents a post-apocalyptic vision of New York that's eerie and hellish, the kind of place where at any minute a crazed bum might pop out from under a manhole. Carpenter matches this dystopian vibe with political ax grinding. Through Snake, a smirking anti-hero right up there with The Man With No Name of Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy, the film wears its cynicism about Reagan-era world leaders like an honor badge, proudly casting doubts about how free Americans really are. The point-making seems perhaps too obvious today, and Carpenter's choice of a MacGuffin—a cassette tape loaded with nuclear secrets—is never entirely believable, but there's something totally punk rock about Escape From New York's anti-authoritarian stance as personified in a sneering, cocksure Kurt Russell. Once a child actor and Disney movie nice guy, Russell finally reveals his inner badass here, an onscreen persona that would come to define his career. The other actors in the film are all great—Carpenter did assemble a damn fine ensemble cast—but Russell is the reason to watch. For years there have been rumors about an Escape From New York remake, but I'd hate to be the guy tasked with stepping into Kurt Russell's ass-kicking shoes. There's only one Snake Plissken.
Escape from New York Blu-ray, Video Quality
Many an anxious fan jumped the gun and imported Optimum's U.K. Blu-ray release of Escape From New York, only to find that it was a lousy standard definition upconvert, laden with heavy edge enhancement and compression artifacts. I'm pleased to report, then, that this U.S. MGM edition is an all-new high definition transfer, one that looks better in every regard and proves to be a significant upgrade from prior DVD iterations. That said, this might not be the miraculous transformation you were expecting. It's helpful to remember that Escape From New York was a fairly low-budgeted film—especially for its scale—and was shot almost entirely at night. The film has always been dark, murky, and somewhat soft, and that's certainly what it is here. The U.K. release tried to remedy this by boosting the contrast, filtering the grain, and digitally heightening the sharpness, but the end result was an artificial-looking image with little resemblance to the film's theatrical origins.
MGM goes the opposite route, with a picture that seems to have received only minimal tweaking and consequently looks much more natural. This 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer, framed closely to the film's original 2.39:1 aspect ratio and placed on a dual-layer 50 GB disc, is easily the best Escape From New York has ever looked on home video. Color is more keenly balanced, flesh tones are less ruddy, and contrast is kept in check. Grain looks healthier this time around, and though some scenes still look quite noisy, at least there's no evidence of digital smearing or edge enhancement. Still, I can see some being displeased with this release for two reasons: 1.) the picture is very dim, so much so that many of the outdoor, nighttime scenes seem cast in a wash of grayish-black, and 2.) overall clarity is generally soft. There are moments where fine detail is apparent in facial and clothing textures, but most of the time the image looks slightly unresolved. While I can imagine the film looking sharper and more defined than it does here, my gut tells me that given the nature of the film—it's budget and shooting conditions—this is probably the best version of the film we're ever going to see.
Escape from New York Blu-ray, Audio Quality
I can't say I have any real qualms about the film's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, which announces itself right off the bat with a surprisingly rich reproduction of John Carpenter and Alan Howarth's synthesizer-heavy score. For as dated and—let's all admit it—cheesy as the music seems today, it certainly sounds excellent here, with a broad dynamic range, swelling presence, and percussion elements panned between multiple channels, giving each sound separation and definition. There are also some impressively fluid cross-channel movements, mostly related to the helicopters that criss-cross the sky frequently in the first act. The surround usage tapers off a bit during the middle of the film—where most of the action is rooted up front—but you will hear occasional ambience, like water lapping and various dystopian city sounds. Yes, some of the effects sound a bit weak—especially gunshots—but I wasn't really expecting much. The only potential complaint I have is that I had to boost the volume a few times to better understand the dialogue. Otherwise, Escape From New York sounds great.
Escape from New York Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The only true downside to this disc is a complete lack of special features. No Kurt Russell/John Carpenter commentary, no retrospective documentary, not even a trailer. If you're planning to upgrade to the Blu-ray, make sure you hold onto your special edition DVD.
Escape from New York Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
MGM's Blu-ray release of Escape From New York is full of pros and cons. The image looks vastly more natural than the SD-upconvert of the U.K. edition, but the picture is still somewhat murky and definition isn't as fine as you might imagine. The lossless audio track sounds great, but there are no special features on the disc at all. Still, I can't help but feel that this is the best home video version of the film we're going to get—in this current technological generation, anyhow—and if fans can live without the bonus material, I see no glaring reasons for them to shun this release.
Escape from New York: Other Editions
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Escape from New York Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Escape from New York Remake Coming Up - March 18, 2013
Silver Pictures and StudioCanal have agreed to produce a remake of director John Carpenter's cult film Escape from New York. The film will be produced by Joel Silver and Andrew Rona and directed by Breck Eisner.
• Four MGM Movies on Blu-ray in August - May 28, 2010
According to early retailer information, MGM Home Entertainment will release four catalog titles on August 3: the feature debut of the Coen brothers Blood Simple; the sports romance Bull Durham; the John Carpenter/Kurt Russell cult favorite Escape from New York; ...
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