Monday, March 14, 2016

MR John Carpenter's Escape from L.A.

Movie: John Carpenter's Escape from L.A., Escape from Los Angeles or sometimes also alternatively known as Los Angeles 2013
Directed by John Carpenter
Release date 1996
Genre Science-fiction/Action film
Country USA

If like me you're a big fan of John Carpenter films, chances are you probably wished for sequels for some of his films besides the Halloween series.

Strangely out of all his (non-slasher) classics The Thing, They Live or Big Trouble in Little China, only Escape from New York somehow received a proper direct sequel!

And the 1981 film only received its long-overdue sequel just short of 15 years later!

Once more directed by Carpenter, and this time co-written and produced with Kurt Russell and long time partner producer Debra Hill for Paramount Pictures.

The sequel takes count of the time that passed since in real life between both films. And since this episode was filmed in 1996, the story now takes place in the "futuristic year" of 2013!

Following a terrifying earthquake in 2000 that destroyed most of Los Angeles with floods and whatnot, California is now an island separated from the rest of the USA. Some religious zealot jumped at the occasion claiming the sinful city of LA was being punished by some act of god. And the government was able to seal it off with these huge walls, now using this no mans land as a place to banish people that don't conform into their new moral laws. Who is not considered moral? Anyone that use stuff like drugs, tobacco, alcohol... people that enjoy firearms, red meat, sex and even atheists (!!), they don't care how old you are, everyone gets deported to Los Angeles no matter what! Although to be fair they also give you the option to repent yourself and choose death by electrocution instead.

Does this remind you of anything? Well it sure sounds fairly familiar to one ex-soldier, Snake Plissken. After having escaped from New York and some other adventure in Cleveland (read the comics!), Snake is brought in to prevent the apocalypse of human civilization as we know it - again!

The US President's daughter Utopia was seduced by the leader of some rebel forces that stole the "Sword of Damocles" super weapon from Air Force One - a remote control that is able to take control of the various satellites hovering above our heads to literally destroy anything, anywhere, on Earth! The US Army wanted to use it to destroy any enemy force around the world, now the bad guys can use this on Americans!!

Snake is forced to enter the desolated city of Angels to locate the president's daughter, find the remote controller on time to prevent a new world war and he's exiled into the island. If he's able to complete the mission they will grant him full pardon if he succeeds. If not... well, they just infected him with a deadly virus that will eventually kill him within 10 hours!

After giving Snake a new wardrobe, he's sent into the city via a small submarine. Now left all by himself on the most dangerous place on Earth, Snake must locate the bad guys, kick anyone's ass that comes into his path while taking names. This might turn out a far more complicated journey to escape from...

The film sees Kurt Russell return as Snake Plissken! One of his own most favorite roles according to his own words. Playing alongside a pretty fun Steve Buscemi, Stacy Keach, Peter Fonda, Georges Corraface, Cliff Robertson, Michelle Forbes and most notably Pam Grier and a surprisingly creepy and unrecognizable Bruce Campbell as this terrifying surgeon in Beverly Hills!

The film was in development for quite a while all things considered.

A first script for a propose sequel was written as early as 1985, but Carpenter found story a bit too light and boring. It was forgotten aside until 1994, after the 1992 Los Angeles earthquake brought back some memories to Carpenter. He then proceeded to write a new screenplay with Kurt Russel and producer Debra Hill.

You might thank Kurt Russell for the film, he was the one with the most passion for the project. He loved playing the character the first time and always wished to reprise the role.

The film was then quickly shot in 1995, to be released a mere year later in 1996.

If the entire films feels familiar it's because it sticks pretty close to the original Escape from.., the story offers simply more of same.

The only real different between both films is that the sequel trades the gritty and bleak look of the first one for a more campy over-the-top tone.

Once more, Carpenter uses the film to talk about his concerns. Once more we see the further destruction of America, slowly turning into this weirdly off-putting unnatural place (a similar but opposite topic as seen in They Live). Instead of a submissive controlled population, people are forced into this clean post-apocalyptic utopia, a world with no booze, no smoking, no sex and no red meat! (The first signs of the rise of a vegan movement?)

At the same time he even gets to mock the people of Hollywood which caused him so many issues while making his films over the years. The unrecognizable Bruce Campbell and his "mannequin" starlets only caring about their appearance don't realize how all these facelifts and botox turned them into these grotesque monsters.

Where the film kind of loses its audience is in the execution. Both sort of off-putting and way too reminiscent of the first film.

Here the film is not just using references from a 15 years-old film such as lines, etc. But we basically get the entire same film, going beat from beat over the same story. With only some minor aesthatic changes such as updating the electronict 80s music to loud 90s rock, the same theme song, a cool slick CGi submarine for the silly glider of the first Escape, bigger guns, more action scenes, the obligatory motorcycle chase scenes, more explosions, not another fight to the death but a basketball game instead (hey, Space Jam was pretty popular at the time!).. Making the whole film feel kind of stupid.

The film is more or less a parody of mindless big budget Hollywood popcorn action films. Things always getting bigger and bigger, and more ridiculous. Everything's exaggerated. The film has no sense of realism anymore. On the surface it might seem like a pretty dumb fun movie but there's a smart satire beneath the destroyed skyline of L.A.

The film does suffer from these excesses, there's a ton of sloppy CGi, which made me miss the simplicity of the original. It also makes the film look kind of cheap in a way, although I guess that's also part of its charm too.

Our antihero Snake Plissken is still just as fun. Having saved a different president didn't grant him any favors from the current new administration.

Snake gets into a lot of silly 90s extreme clichés, like a big surf sequence and even a sports game of death!

Snake now lives in a very different world he despises and is disgusted by. The futuristic elements serve as a great parallel to our own world, it even works better nowadays. Just thinking about it, Snake Plissken would be disgusted by our modern fascination with technology...

In a way the film is really a second take on Escape form N.Y.. Instead of recapturing the bleak tone of the original, Carpenter went into a completely different direction!

As far as Carpenter himself go, the man prefers this second film over the first one, considering it a much more refined version of the same film. Which also illustrates the film's main problem, it's mostly a bigger remake, with a better budget and means than a proper follow-up.

Some parts of the film really save it. Like the first one, it has a pretty great cast. Steve Buscemi simply steals the scene in this memorable sleazy back-stabbing role. It just lacks a decent iconic villain like The Duke was in New York.

For all these reasons the film simply feels closer to, and more like a follow-up to Big Trouble in Little China than Escape from New York. It also kind of aged due to its over use of computer effects, but it's still plenty of fun.

The film also has a lot of great music. John Carpenter always does the music of his own films, the score was again composed by Carpenter along with Shirley Walker, returning after working with him on Memoirs of an Invisible Man in 1992. The style is a lot more influence by 90s rock from that time.

Overall, Escape from L.A. is a pretty fun decent follow-up that in no means is any better than the original, but it's well worth your while. Check It Out!

It's probably the closest we've ever got to old beat 'em all arcade games on the big screen (the plot is basically the same as Two Crude Dudes' - remember that game?).

Compared to the previous film, Escape from L.A. received a much more mixed reception at the time. While some critics actually loved how the film played with the action genre, satirizing this type of big explosive blockbuster films and accepted its inherent weirdness for it, others were far more critical with the film, not liking the far more campier and cheesier approach this time. L.A. can be pretty cartoony if you take it on face value for what it is. I actually find it pretty funny and entertaining. The film has a ton more humor, jokes and can feel almost like a spoof. The action is pretty choppy. It's just not as dark as the previous film was, but it's still just as violent.

The main issue many have with the film is that it's basically just a remake of the previous film, following closely the same general plot and characters, only adding more one liners and computer-generated effects.

Following these two films several tine-in comics would be released over the years, the first one being a 1997 Marvel Comics one-shot The Adventures of Snake Plissken, taking some place sometime in between movies.

There have been several plans for a 3rd Escape film over the years. The one that came closest to fruition was Escape From Mars, a script was completed and written, following basically the same story again for a third time, only this time taking place on Mars. But since L.A. wasn't a big success at the box office it would eventually be scrapped. But the screenplay survived, it would be later revised and adapted into Ghosts of Mars (which stars Ice Cube as "Desolation Williams" instead of Snake Plissken, just pay close attention to Ice Cube's costume in the film!). There was also another famous sequel that came pretty close, Escape from Earth. Kurt Russel and Carpenter even talked about it in a few interviews around the release of Escape from L.A., mentioning Earth as the only place left to escape from.

At one point in the 2000s there were also plans for a Snake Plissken television series, but they couldn't agree with any network calling it too dark and violent. A video game from Namco and an anime by Production I.G were also planned at some point and both scrapped.

Sadly all these plans were discontinued in favor of the current rumor of an Escape from New York remake with either Gerard Butler or Josh Brolin in the role of Snake Plissken. Of course like Kurt Russell himself I sincerely think this is not a particularly good idea and wish this to stay stuck in development hell for ever...

I give it:
2 / 3 VaultBoys!

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