Iím sure the criminal character on The Simpsons is named after the original arsekicker Snake Plissken from this standout early Ď80s SF classic.
I loved this film from the moment I saw it way back when I was but an impressionable 14 year old (I saw it in 1985). Iíd dress in my leotard-tight black and white dacks with gumboots on and a leather jacket and chase my sisters around the backyard throwing bricks at them. That is until they got smart and ambushed me with cans of paint, but thatís a story for another time.
In this classic (Iíll keep saying Ďclassicí so get used to it early on), New York has been converted to a prison since 1988. Manhattan Island anyway, and itís been bricked in with a 50-foot high wall around it. All the old bridges have been mined and the worst criminals just get dumped in there for life. Sweet.
Itís now 1997 (from memory a fairly futuristic year). The Presidentís plane just crashlanded into New York and is being held captive by The Duke, the bad-arse mofo self-styled ruler of downtown. With no options, the Head Warden, Hauk, sends in Snake Plissken, a renegade ex-military type who has a certain notoriety amongst the criminal underworld. All he has to do is get the Pres out and he will regain his freedom. And to ensure this, he has nano-explosives injected into him (against his wishes of course) that will detonate within 23 hours. He has to be back with the President to get the booby-traps disarmed. Much carnage then ensues as Snake kicks arse and takes names on the other side of the wall to get the Pres and get out.
What I loved most about this film Iím not sure I can say, but I did like the idea of the rogue anti-hero who goes in and just takes out anyone who pisses him off (and surprisingly, thatís nearly everyone). Director John Carpenter was really starting to get a great feel for directing in this earlier effort and this first film remains far and away better than the atrocious attempt to sequelise it back in 1996 with Escape From L.A. While the idea wasnít a bad one and no doubt Carpenter wished to make use of the rapidly growing computer technology available, there was just too much importance placed on it. And this, as we know, has become all too familiar these days with films like Independence Day, the Star Wars follow-ups and even the recent The Day After Tomorrow, in which the technology of computer animation, while looking extraordinary, greatly overshadows the limited plot and character development.
Not so here in New York. This is balls-out filmmaking of the old school where grisly makeup, real car crashes, gunfire and genuine stunts were all played out. Not to mention fight scenes in which nobody has a bloody clue what kung-fu is, let alone wire-fu. Itís a refreshing reminder of a time when movies had a kind of child-like charm to them in their obvious yet so determinedly made special effects. Today the special effects all look the same and we have rapidly become so spoiled by available technology that we can easily pick most quality CG enhancement. Not to mention the impossible placement of cameras that just wholly gives away the special effects angle. In that instant of realisation, just like that, we are removed from the effect and see it as just that. At least in films like New York the effects are genuinely on the character. The lighting is genuine, the explosions and sparking gunfire are real and the fights, while still pulling punches and over-dramatised, are thankfully clear of gravity-defying nonsense.
Escape Ffrom New York is a film trapped by a future date that has since been and gone, but that doesnít stop us still getting a genuine feeling of a totalitarian society in which human beings are swept under the rug and essentially forgotten. Letís consider it a parallel universe or alternate time track or something and just sit back and enjoy what has today become a true classic.
Iíve never seen this film in such a great looking format. Granted us in the huge 2.35:1 widescreen format with 16:9 enhancement, Escape hasnít looked so good or so huge since it graced cinemas screens last. The print is practically artefact-free and even the ones that appear fit with the theme anyway. Colours are okay, regardless of the fact the majority of the film occurs during night time (though some chronology may defy that). Shadow detail isnít always great, but some is and some isnít. Blacks also remain true only about 30 percent of the time, the remainder becoming a deep green which also fits with the theme of a garish and used future. There is only one real transfer artefact I picked up on and this occurred at 36:09 with a line of unread code for a couple of frames. Otherwise this is just as you remember it on the big screen, if you were lucky enough to catch it on one.
This classic SF film still remains as an inspiration today and is among John Carpenterís best films (if not his best). A decent cast of supporting actors all have fun being Mad Max-like freaks running around like loonies and that adds a buoyancy to the fun of the film. (Our fearless leader here at DVDnet, Amy, even has her fictional brother play the part of 'Drunk', just as she does so eloquently herself).
Forget the crap sellout sequel from a few years back, it has nothing on this classic original. Itís a big disappointment in not having at least a trailer to enjoy as an extra, but the film has been cleaned up nicely and transferred in awesome fashion. No doubt this looks better than it ever has since release and for that alone itís heartily recommended.