Escape from L.A. Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by John Carpenter, Debra Hill and Kurt Russell
1996, 101 minutes, Rated R
Released on May 26th, 2020
Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken
Stacy Keach as Malloy
Steve Buscemi as Map to the Stars Eddie
Valeria Golino as Taslima
Peter Fonda as Pipeline
Pam Grier as Hershe
Bruce Campbell as the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills
In the year 2000, a massive 9.6 earthquake rocked California, devastating Los Angeles and submerging the surrounding terrain. Effectively cut off from the mainland, the island of Los Angeles was soon declared no longer part of the morally conservative United States. The city became a deportation point for undesirables stripped of their citizenship. Now, in 2013, when the president’s daughter goes rogue aboard Air Force 3, demanding open borders, she steals a top secret black box and takes it to Cuervo Jones, the most notorious crime lord in L.A. Inside the box is a doomsday device capable of mass destruction and the government is desperate to get it back.
Enter Snake Plissken, one-time war-hero, turned outlaw, who famously rescued the former president held captive in New York City back in 1997. Forced once again into service against his will, Snake is ordered to enter Los Angeles and retrieve the box at any cost. To properly motivate him, Snake is infected with a fast-moving virus that gives him less than ten hours to live. If he successfully completes his mission, he will receive the vaccine and a full pardon for his more recent “moral crimes”. On his adventure he crosses paths with a number of colorful characters and faces off against some dangerous lowlifes. The clock is always ticking, so he must keep on the move if he is going to escape this island of the damned.
Director John Carpenter (In the Mouth of Madness) struck gold with his dystopian urban thriller Escape from New York (1981) with its high concept idea and brilliant execution. With Snake Plissken, he created a wildly popular anti-hero who rebels against authority and holds much of society in contempt. His journey leads him through a dangerous world and places him in a series of life-threatening challenges. The film was well-received and went on to enjoy cult status. Exploitation was too tantalizing to resist, so as the film’s fifteenth anniversary approached, a sequel was set in motion.
Escape from L.A. reunites Carpenter with producer Debra Hill (Halloween) and star Kurt Russell (The Thing), all of whom handle writing duties this time. The plot is minimal with Snake being sent into the city to retrieve a mystery box, but the reason to revisit the material is to spend some time with the character on a whole new adventure. The sequel is more upfront with its social commentary, as it takes a darkly satirical look at the City of Angels and its ability to eat people alive. The original film is used as a structural blueprint with many of the story beats playing out in a familiar manner. What’s different this time is the tone which is considerably lighter and over-the-top peppered with a darkly sardonic wit.
Russell’s gruff performance makes the film worthwhile, as he effortlessly steps back into his signature role. For Snake’s dramatic introduction, Russell reportedly wore the original wardrobe as he did fifteen years ago and looks remarkably the same. He’s in great shape and delivers on all counts for the duration. Snake remains a sociopath full of attitude, disgusted by society’s rules and behavior, making him the perfect image for a new generation of disenfranchised youth. Russell is clearly having a ball and it’s a welcome return to form.
Carpenter populates the world with a terrific array of familiar faces filling out the supporting cast. Stacy Keach (Road Games) plays Malloy, head of the deportation center who sends Snake on his mission. He is the face of authority and is therefore immediately at odds with our protagonist. Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs) is the opportunistic Map the Stars Eddie, a man unfamiliar with the term loyalty. He comes across as a huckster who will say or do anything it takes to save his skin. Stepping into the role of antagonist is George Corraface (Christopher Columbus: The Discovery) as Cuervo Jones, the revolutionary who runs the city.
The great Bruce Campbell (Army of Darkness) turns up briefly as the deranged Surgeon General of Beverly Hills, a man consumed by plastic surgeries giving him a striking appearance. Peter Fonda (Easy Rider) plays a surfer who teaches Snake to ride a tsunami wave and Pam Grier (Bones) is an old acquaintance of Snake’s who lends a hand in the final act. Cliff Robertson (Obsession) plays the cowardly president and A.J. Langer (The People Under the Stairs) is his rebellious daughter who sets everything in motion. Valeria Golino (The Indian Runner) pops up long enough to offer assistance while an unrecognizable Robert Carradine (Body Bags) plays a bald street thug.
Carpenter once again provides the music, this time working in association with Shirley Walker (Ghoulies), creating a rocking score that combines synthesizers and guitar licks. Frequent collaborator Gary Kibbe (Vampires) serves as cinematographer with stylistic lighting and energetic camera work and Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London) performs the make-up duties for the plastic surgery patients in Beverly Hills. Despite their best efforts the film stumbles with its over reliance on green-screen shots and subpar computer animation that pull viewers out of the experience. The impressive miniatures and matte paintings of the original picture are sorely missed in the mid-‘90s early digital age. Escape from L.A. tries really hard to recapture the magic of its predecessor, but the tongue-in-cheek approach to the material undercuts this goal. It’s worth checking out for Russell’s performance, but is little more than a carbon copy and die-hard fans will want to remain on the East coast.
Video and Audio:
Escape from L.A. first appeared on Blu-ray in 2010 with a so-so transfer that left much to be desired. For this new Collector’s Edition, Scream Factory has ordered a new 4K scan and restoration of the original camera negative. Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, picture quality is vastly improved with stronger colors and richer detail. Black levels are more consistent and flesh tones appear natural throughout.
Music cues benefit greatly from the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track which is energetic and satisfying. There’s plenty of action spread across the rear channels and dialogue levels are always clear and understandable. A DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo mix is also offered for those inclined and optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Whereas its first Blu-ray release was bare bones, this new edition comes loaded with six new interviews. Sadly, John Carpenter and Kurt Russell are absent, so we are denied another fun commentary. What we do get is somewhat generous.
Actor Stacy Keach reflects on his character in A Little Bit Offbeat (8 minutes) and shares his memories of working with Carpenter and Russell. He’s a likeable guy and seems happy to look back on the work.
In an audio interview titled Beverly Hills Workshed (9 minutes), Bruce Campbell shares his love of the original film and the joy of being invited to work with Carpenter. He offers insight into his character and details the process of getting into the make-up. Some behind-the-scenes photographs offer a look at the design.
Peter Jason (Prince of Darkness) has a long history of appearing in Carpenter films and in the segment Part of the Family (26 minutes), the actor takes a look back at his lengthy career. He shares some entertaining anecdotes from the various projects, including this one in which he briefly appears as a duty sergeant who brings Snake to the men in charge. He knows how to tell a story and, like Keach, appreciates the opportunity to do so.
In Miss a Shot, You Get Shot (15 minutes), George Corraface tells of his time as an international actor performing on stage and screen. He points to his breakout film role as Christopher Columbus and goes on to share his thoughts on his character in this picture. He found the experience positive and has kind words for Carpenter and Russell.
In a long-winded interview titled One Eye is Better than None (18 minutes), special effects artist James McPherson details his experience working on Rick Baker’s crew. He provides some lengthy background of how he got into the industry before settling on this production. He recovers nicely with a story about the difficulties of fitting the actors with make-up for the Beverly Hills sequence. Behind-the-scenes photos of the appliances are included.
The Renderman (19 minutes) is a candid discussion with visual f/x artist David Jones, who begins with some biographical information and his early experience working with digital effects. He takes the blame for the less-than-stellar CGI, particularly in the surfing scene and the animated submarine sequence. Despite the limitations of the time, he remains positive and is proud of the film.
The theatrical trailer and four TV spots offer a look at the marketing campaign.
A photo gallery (8 minutes) presents a collection of lobby cards, publicity stills, behind-the-scenes images, print ads and international poster art.
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