Monday, January 25, 2016

MR John Carpenter's Escape from New York

Movie: Escape from New York, Escape from NY or sometimes also alternatively known as New York 1997
Directed by John Carpenter
Release date 1981
Genre Science-fiction/Dystopian/Action film
Country USA/United Kingdom

Sometimes a character can become a pop culture icon on his own right and leave a bigger mark than the piece of work he or she originally came from.

Specially when it comes from an obscure 1980s action film in a decade that gave us dozen of iconic action film classics.

And you don't get more obscure cult movies than most of John Carpenter work, a brilliant film director, one of my all-time favorites, who's always worked on the fringe of big Hollywood studios.

If you're a fan of Carpenter like me, chances are you heard of Escape from New York, no doubt. It's one of his earlier films and a cult classic.

The film was co-written by Carpenter and Nick Castle, a writer who his probably best known for having portrayed Michael Myers in Carpenter's previous film Halloween.

The film was an American/UK co-production, released in July 1981 through AVCO Embassy Pictures.

Our story is set in this dystopian alternate reality "in the near future" of 1997. Which makes this another one of these classics film at the time that were set in near futures that didn't look that far from our reality, the likes of Predator 2 or RoboCop. Like in those films, America is now a crime-ridden country.

Crime in New York City has increased over 400%! To face this dangerous situation they built this 50-foot wall erected surrounding the area and turned the island of Manhattan into a strange super max prison where criminals roam free in their own recluse little world apart from society.

An important peace summit is set between the US and the Soviet Union.. but along the way Air Force One is hijacked and the plane crashes in the middle of the sealed Big Apple. The army tries to send some forces in the city but fail to locate the missing President of the United States. Someone has to be sent to find and extract the President and the briefcase he's handcuffed to, which contains an audiotape describing a powerful new bomb as a sign of good faith between both nations. But who will be sent on this dangerous suicide mission, time is running out?!

Enters this new transfer prisoner, an ex-soldier named Snake Plissken. Snake is given 24 hours to find the captured president and get him outside on time for the summit. Through his journey Snake will have to hide from the various gangs, encounter some oddball characters including this cabbie guy (simply nicknamed "Cabbie"), some pimp and also this "Duke" character who's trying to unify the various gangs.

Yes. That is just as awesome as it sounds. And it's the closest we ever got to a retro arcade game scenario on the big screen!

John Carpenter had actually written this film as early as the mid-70s, after the big politic scandals at the time. He wanted to make it following his work on the 1974 film Dark Star. With the immense success and recognition that came with Halloween, he could finally produce this long dreamed project. After Halloween Carpenter signed a contract with  producer Debra Hill for a two-picture deal. The first one he made was The Fog. He was going to make the 1984 science fiction film The Philadelphia Experiment as his next film but that project ended taking up too much time so he was able to go back to Escape while director Stewart Raffill ended taking that project.

Escape from New York sees a much more brutal and cynical John Carpenter still early in his career. No studio wanted to make this film at first, since it was far too violent and brutal for an action/science-fiction production.

The film is inspired by the classic film Death Wish (the original one). It was going to be a straight action film, but with help from Nick Castle they ended turning this into a much more original product.

The film features a great supporting cast aside from John Carpenter's regular Kurt Russell in what is perhaps one of his most unique and defining roles. We also have Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, the always fantastic Donald Pleasence just off his work on Halloween too, Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, the great genre regular Tom Atkins and the always lovely Adrienne Barbeau.

Fun fact, the film also features Jamie Lee Curtis as the uncredited narrator in the prologue!

Escape from New York is a provoking tale. Giving a troubling image of a semi-destroyed and decayed vision of New York City.

But it's also a film that wants itself funny, with plenty of dark humor.

Carpenter was able to give us a really impressive world, all things considered. This destroyed NY was built on screen on such a small budget. They were able to film the story in old buildings. They found these old city blocks, old bridges, etc. It was a dangerous film production at times, but it's well worth the final result.

They also relied on a lot of old school matte paintings. A lot of gorgeous backgrounds were painted for the film, done by noneother than James Cameron himself (back when he used to work on special effects).

Escape from New York follows pretty closely your typical old west formula. In fact you could say Snake's an archetypal western protagonist. That's why this character works so great on screen, he basically acts like Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name from Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy. He's a man of few words. He gets stuck in this situation, saves the day and basically tries to leave at the end to move on something else.

The film is really fun and has quite an iconic vision of New York. The gladiator-like fight alone is such a great brutal scene, it's kind of an early attempt at what Carpenter would explore again in the semi-realist alley fight in They Live.

Some people dismiss this film, not considering as good as John Carpenter's other classics. Personally I find it just as fun and original as, say, Halloween, The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China. It's just as fun, unique and original. And it's pretty enjoyable. It certainly has a lot more action than horror, which is probably why some people prefer those other films over it usually. It's kind of following a similar trend of films at the time which saw the likes of Mad Max 2 and Blade Runner. Only here it's done on a much smaller budget.

It's certainly not entirely post-apocalyptic or cyberpunk, but it does feature some similar ideas to those bigger scifi films, which would get popularized over the years.

It's a cult film. A very fun B-movie take on the genre. The time limit in the story does give it a slightly unique edge.

What really sells the film in my eyes is without an hesitation Kurt Russell's performance as Snake Plissken. He always has a lot of presence on screen. And here he's just this badass figure with his trademark eye-patch and only shouts a few lines. Snake has a great charisma. At the end of the day, the film is probably mostly fondly remembered for its main character, when you think about it. Snake really makes the entire film in my eyes.

While like most Carpenter films have often been made on pretty small budgets (this one of about only 6 million USD), Escape form NY would go on to become a really huge success both domestically and internationally. It is now considered a cult classic, for a good reason.

The music is once more fantastic and very atmospheric. The musical score was once more composed by John Carpenter himself, with additional help from Alan Howarth. It's easily one of his most memorable's.

Overall, Escape from New York is such a fun and unique film. In a way, it's a fairly original retelling of your typical western films transposed to a more "scifi" modern setting. Instead of being forced to clean a crime-ridden small town in the mid-west, a lone wolf ends trapped in this city-prison to save the US!

Easily one of Carpenter's best, a cult classic.

The character of Snake Plissken has now become part of our pop culture, and he's now considered a famous archetype. There's been so many references to the film, the story and the character over the years. One well known example, video game director Hideo Kojima has been a fan of the film for ages and he has been making continuous references to the film and the character through most of his work, specially the Metal Gear series. The character of Solid Snake and Big Boss are boss based on Snake Plissken as you can see from both their design and names. In fact Metal Gear Solid 2 uses a lot of elements from Escape through the story.

Escape from New York has spawned all kinds of tie-in products over the decades, from the novelization to games, as well as several comics from Marvel Comics to CrossGen and more recently BOOM! Studios, as well as an anime project at one point!

This wouldn't be the last we would see of Snake Plissken. Escape from New York would be followed by a direct sequel in 1996, Escape from L.A. With Kurt Russell now also acting as producer and co-writer for the film.

More recently, there's also been talks of a modern remake, which I kinda hate personally. Like I said above, most of the success of the film stands on Kurt Russel's shoulders. Losing both Russel AND Carpenter as director would mean getting the basic idea behind Escape rehashed nowadays. And while the story was still fairly unique and original at the time, it's kind of generic by today's standards. All kind of names have been attached to the remake, with first talks about Scottish actor Gerard Butler taking over the role of Snake for New Line Cinema in 2007. Then we got names like Len Wiseman or Brett Ratner attached, until names like Jeremy Renner for Snake in 2010 along Joel Silver. Since then the project has apparently evolved into a whole trilogy of films for a tone closer to the Batman: Arkham games. At the moment it's apparently 20th Century Fox who has obtained the rights. Let's see how this disaster turns out...

I give it:
2.5 / 3 VaultBoys!

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