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Escape From New York Main

Escape from New York Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

Written by Robert Gold

Blu-ray released by Scream Factory

Escape From New York Large

Directed by John Carpenter
Written by John Carpenter and Nick Castle
1981, 99 minutes, Rated R
Released on April 21st, 2015

Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken
Lee Van Cleef as Commissioner Hauk
Ernest Borgnine as Cabbie
Donald Pleasance as The President
Isaac Hayes as The Duke
Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie
Harry Dean Stanton as Brain

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In 1988, following a four-hundred percent spike in national crime rates, the city of Manhattan was turned into a Federal maximum security prison. Sealed by a fifty-foot wall that surrounds the island, there are no guards, there’s no electricity and prisoners are left to their own devices. The only rule is once you go in you do not come out. Now, in 1997, extremists have brought down Air Force One into the metropolis and the president is being held captive by the self-proclaimed Duke of New York. Commissioner Hauk recruits former Special Forces war-hero-turned-notorious-outlaw Snake Plissken to rescue the president in exchange for a full pardon. As insurance, Snake is injected with an explosive device in his neck and has twenty-four hours to complete his mission.

The adventure begins with Snake landing a glider atop the World Trade Center and following the president’s tracking device into the theatre district. The hostage is not there and Snake ventures deeper into the city, avoiding roving gangs of violent marauders. He seeks the guidance of a man named Brain with whom he has history and together with Brain’s squeeze Maggie and an eager-to-please taxi driver named Cabbie, they seek audience with the Duke in hopes of working out a deal. Time is running out and the obstacles keep piling up as Snake is forced into several deadly confrontations leading to a pursuit across the heavily mined 69th Street bridge in hopes of an escape from this living hell.

In Escape from New York, director John Carpenter (Assault on Precinct 13) takes you on an adventure through a dystopian future based on the ingenious idea of turning Manhattan into an island prison. Working from a script he co-wrote with Nick Castle (future director of The Last Starfighter), Carpenter explores the dark side of urban blight with a reluctant protagonist set upon on all sides with life and death consequences. Kurt Russell (Big Trouble in Little China) sheds his skin as a Disney performer and assumes the role of tough guy anti-hero Snake Plissken, a man of few words, a lot of attitude and no time for bullshit. Russell delivers in spades with a nuanced performance that is reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name “character. Snake is the ultimate badass whose reputation precedes him, but he feels no need to prove himself. He excels at getting himself out of trouble, which always seems to find him.

The supporting cast is filled with familiar faces, including such notables as Lee Van Cleef (The Good, the Bad & the Ugly) as Commissioner Hauk, a tough-as-nails authority figure who is used to being in command. Van Cleef brings a gravitas to the role that matches Russell’s and you want to see what happens when these two face off. Ernest Borgnine (Willard) plays Cabbie, the most pleasant taxi driver in New York. His good nature and dependability offer a reprieve from the chaos and violence that permeate the city. The always-welcome Harry Dean Stanton (Repo Man) co-stars as Brain, the man who specializes in information. He and Snake share a troubled history, but he’s reliable when needed. Maggie is Brain’s girlfriend and in the skilled hands of Adrienne Barbeau (Someone’s Watching Me), she is just as strong and capable as her male counterparts.

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Donald Pleasance (Prince of Darkness) plays the president whom Snake must rescue. He lends a touch of class to the character who is hopelessly in over his head. The man who threatens to steal the show is the one and only Isaac Hayes (Truck Turner) as the Duke of New York. His imposing size and booming voice make him quite the adversary. Carpenter manages to work in space for a few of his family of regulars, including the great Tom Atkins (Halloween III) as duty officer Rehme; Charles Cyphers (The Fog) as Secretary of State; and the affable Buck Flower (They Live) as a homeless person. Jamie Lee Curtis (Terror Train) provides an uncredited voiceover narration for the intro. Other memorable actors include Season Hubley (Vice Squad) as the “Girl in Chock Full o Nuts”, who is the first person to help Snake, and Frank Doubleday (Nomads) as the creepy spikey-haired henchman, Romero.

In addition to being beautifully written and wonderfully cast, Escape from New York is blessed with a fantastic team of artists working behind the camera. Cinematographer Dean Cundey (Psycho II) brings a sophisticated visual style to the picture with his exciting camera work and masterful lighting design. Coupled with the equally impressive production design by Joe Alves (Jaws), it looks like Snake is walking through the urban streets of Hell. Longtime Carpenter producer Debra Hill (Halloween) is on hand to keep the tightly budgeted picture on track. The visual effects are dated but hold up well with terrific use of matte paintings and miniatures. Carpenter once again composes the driving score for the feature, joined by frequent collaborator Alan Howarth (Christine).

Escape from New York is a futuristic Western that has earned its place as a cult classic with its iconic lead character, quotable dialogue, lean script and striking imagery. Fifteen years after its release, the team of Carpenter, Russell and Hill reunited for the more satirical Escape from L.A. with mixed results. While it is nice seeing Snake back in action, do yourself a favor and stick with the original – it’s a trip well worth taking.

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Video and Audio:

The original camera negative has received a 2K scan and restoration with pleasing results. Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the image is sharper and brighter than the previous MGM Blu-ray from 2010. The improvements are not jaw dropping but prove to be a step in the right direction. Black levels are well-saturated and colors are vibrant while flesh tones appear natural throughout.

Audio options include the original stereo mix via DTS-HD MA 2.0 and an expanded DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track, both of which get the job done. Carpenter’s music features prominently and sounds terrific while not intruding on dialogue levels which are always clear and understandable.

Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.

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Special Features:

Disc 1: Feature Film

There are three audio commentaries, starting with the wildly entertaining conversation with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell that dates back to the old Laser Disc special edition from 1994, but remains one of the best tracks ever recorded. The two old friends are having a blast revisiting the material with plenty of laughs and great stories from the set.

The second commentary also stems from an earlier DVD (2003) release, featuring producer Debra Hill and production designer Joe Alves. This is a more nuts-and-bolts discussion that provides a lot of information about the work that went into creating the project.

The third track is a newly-recorded session (2015) with actress Adrienne Barbeau and cinematographer Dean Cundey moderated by Sean Clark. This film holds a special place for those involved and their memories are all positive. Clark steers the conversation with a series of questions that prompt interesting anecdotes and production stories.

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Disc 2: Special Features

Big Challenges in Little Manhattan: The Visual Effects of Escape from New York (2015, 14 minutes) is a highly informative segment with Dennis Skotak, director of photography of special vfx and Robert Skotak, unit supervisor and matte artist. They discuss their work designing models and miniatures and some early computer graphics. They reveal their approach to recreating the Manhattan skyline and executing the glider sequence. We learn James Cameron was part of their crew working out of Roger Corman’s studio where he contributed as an artist, model maker and matte painter.

In Scoring the Escape (2015, 19 minutes), co-composer Alan Howarth opens with a tour of his new studio and segues into discussing his contributions to the score and working with Carpenter. He is surprised by how well the soundtrack album was received and shows off various editions, including some recent revival releases. Howarth plays samples from the score and talks about performing live shows for audiences worldwide.

Still photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker (On Set with John Carpenter) presents rare behind-the-scenes images she took during production in the featurette On Set with John Carpenter: The Images of Escape from New York (11 minutes). She shares tales from her time working with Carpenter and Hill and how they helped her get into the union.

I Am Taylor (9 minutes) catches up with actor Joe Unger (Pumpkinhead II), who appears in the deleted opening sequence as Snake Plissken’s ill-fated partner. He has much respect for Carpenter and Russell and is pleased the missing scene is now available for viewing.

In My Night on Set (5 minutes), filmmaker David DeCoteau (Creepozoids) reminisces about the night Carpenter’s production came to Roger Corman’s studio for pickups and inserts and how he briefly joined the crew. The highlight of this segment is his funny run-in with Adrienne Barbeau.

Deleted Scene – The Original Opening Bank Robbery Sequence (11 minutes) is included in a non-remastered 1.85:1 aspect ratio that is in pretty decent shape. Carpenter and Russell provide optional commentary about the material and why it was cut.

The archival featurette Return to Escape from New York (2003, 23 minutes) takes a look back at the film and its legacy. This is a swiftly paced but far too short piece featuring interviews with Carpenter, Hill, Nick Castle, Dean Cundey, Joe Alves and actors Kurt Russell, Adrienne Barbeau, Isaac Hayes and Harry Dean Stanton.

Both the theatrical trailer and a teaser are included.

There are two photo galleries, the first offering a collection of promotional stills and behind-the-scenes photographs (143 images). The second focuses on international poster art and lobby cards (49 images).

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Movie: Fourstars Cover
Buy Amazon Us
Video: Fourstars
Audio: Fourstars
Features: Fourstars
Overall: 4 Star Rating

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About The Author
Robert Gold
Author: Robert Gold
Staff Reviewer - USA
Robert's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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