Despite my tender age of 44, I didn’t see Escape from New York until I was in my early twenties. My parents never talked about it, my college friends didn’t seem to care, and the Internet wasn’t nearly as prevalent as it is now. But it has become my favorite movie of all time. What’s curious is that the sequel to the film, Escape from L.A., is what introduced me to Kurt Russell and the character of Snake Plissken (and became the foundation of everything I consider to be “cool”). It holds a giant chunk of my movie heart, and I’m glad today to bring you this review of the Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray released by Shout Factory.
It is 1998, hostile forces inside the United States were growing strong. Los Angeles is ravaged by crime, and the US Police Force is formed to keep the peace. A political candidate (played by Cliff Robertson) emerges and predicts a millennium earthquake that will destroy Los Angeles in divine retribution. An earthquake measuring 9.6 on the Richter scale hits at 12:59pm on August 23rd in the year 2000.
The presidential candidate becomes President and shortly after becomes President for his life term. He relocates the capital from Washington DC to his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia. Los Angeles is no longer part of the United States. As a part of directive 17, all unfit people would be sent there indefinitely behind the Great Wall with no chance ever of retribution. Unfit people could be anybody the president decides, from criminals, murderers, to simply people based on their religion and red meat consumption. Yes, eating a steak in the 21st century could be grounds for exile.
We fast forward to the year 2013. It is a special day at the deportation center. They have caught the notorious Snake Plissken (played by Kurt Russell) for 27 moral crimes against the country. The duty sergeant (played by Peter Jason) takes Plissken around as he describes the process. He then asks the war hero if he would like to say one more thing in front of the camera before going into the compound. Plissken simply says, “Call Me Snake”, as he is pushed inside.
In the compound he is led down the hallway to several offices. A woman officer bumps into Snake on the way and scratches him on the top of his hand. Snake is placed in a room for holding, and soon Commander Malloy (played by Stacy Keach) and Brazen (played by Michelle Forbes), a young female officer enter the room. Snake takes one look at them and realizes something is not right. He knows that there is a deal and wants to hear it immediately.
The deal is explained. The president’s daughter, Utopia (played by AJ Langer) hijacked Air Force One and fled to Los Angeles. She had on her a dangerous prototype that could alter the very world as we know it. The daughter is linked to a Peruvian terrorist known as Cuervo Jones (played by Georges Corraface), and it could mean disaster for the United States and possibly the world if prototype is not retrieved.
If Snake goes to L.A. and the box is retrieved in ten hours, Snake Plissken will be a free man, and all of his moral crimes against humanity will be wiped clean. In addition, he is asked to dispose of Utopia, since she is a traitor against her own country. Snake balks at the idea but then is reminded of the woman who scratched him in the hallway. It seems that he was infected with the Plutoxin 7 virus, which will kill him within 10 hours if he doesn’t receive a cure.
The path now is simple, Snake Plissken will take a one-man submarine into the heart of Los Angeles. He will locate one of the US agents stationed there for information that will help him to find Utopia and Cuervo Jones. Snake will regain the black box and the prototype and get rid of the daughter. He will then escape from L.A. and get back home, all within ten hours, or else he will suffer from complete nervous system breakdown and die. It sounds easy, but we know that nothing is ever as it seems when Snake is fighting for his life.
I first saw this film in the theater nearly 25 years ago and have seen it probably about a dozen times in various formats. I always found it to be a solid film, full of action and adventure. Kurt Russell is amazing in the role he was born to play as the cool and rugged Snake Plissken. He owns the screen and has a solid supporting cast where every actor and actress play their parts far beyond the material given by the director, John Carpenter.
We have already mentioned the likes of Stacey Keach, Georges Corraface, and Cliff Robertson, but that’s only the beginning. We get Steve Buscemi, who plays a tour guide/agent known as “Map to the Stars Eddie”. There is Peter Fonda, playing a washed-out surfer who helps out Snake. Finally, Pam Grier shows up as Carjack Malone, I mean Hershe Las Palmas, a transgender woman who leads the rebel forces against Cuervo Jones. Don’t forget the fantastic cameo from Bruce Campbell, either.
A lot of people tend to beat up on this film citing its camp qualities, disappointing visual effects, and the infamous surfing scene where Snake rides his surfboard behind a mess of green screen and insufficient camera work. While I still think the basketball scene might be worse than the surfing, I do understand the shortcomings and criticism that the film has had for many years.
However, strip those two scenes away (or as we learn in the video section, do some great re-mastering) and we have a solid action film with a great story and satisfying conclusion. There is also some unintentional commentary on the state of the world today. Think about it — an overbearing president with leaders who want to tell us how to live our life and what we should and shouldn’t be doing. Where exactly is Snake Plissken when you need him?
The film is shown in a 2.35:1 widescreen format. Shout Factory went through an entire remastering process and did a really great job here. The film was meant to be shown as a darker film, yes partly to cover for the visual effects, but also to give the movie a true sense of environment and setting.
I went back and watched my original Blu-ray copy from Paramount and focused on a handful of scenes. The original Blu-ray comes up as nearly pasty and makes certain scenes downright cringe-worthy. Take the one-man submarine scene as Snake rips through the ocean to get to L.A. The original Blu-ray washes out the image and really exposes the effects in many horrible ways. The ocean is not meant to be that bright.
But then we get to the Shout Blu-ray, where it looks a million times more natural. Suddenly the scene becomes thick with suspense and takes on the rightful element of desperation as Snake brings the submarine to critical power levels in an attempt to shave off a few minutes of time and possibly save his life.
In addition, the darkness to the overall film doesn’t lose a bit of the detail and this is one of the those instances where brighter is not better. The night is king, and this Blu-ray shows us what happens when the black levels are absolutely perfect.
The audio tracks are 5.1 DTS-HD and 2.0 DTS-HD both in English (no French or Spanish from the original BD sorry). The original track from the Paramount Blu-ray was coded in TrueHD and was far from horrible, but never quite had the punch I remembered from the theaters. Well, this DTS-HD track has got its groove back. The bluesy, swanky soundtrack picks right up where it should and gives a jolt to your speakers. The action packed scenes work well with your surround speakers, and there is some nice separation, particularly in the final firefight scenes.
At the same time, the dialog is not lost, and every word is easy to pick up even at low volume levels (or when Kurt gets extra gravely on his Snake voice). The audio track improves on the original pretty decent track from old and really provides some oomph. Subtitles are provided in English only (the other subtitle tracks including French, Spanish and Portuguese from the original BD are also missing). The only knock against it is that Shout doesn’t do bookmarks properly and will not keep your subtitle or audio setting between sessions.
Note: for those like me who really enjoy the soundtrack to the movie (both the score and musical numbers), there are two separate soundtracks for the film. One for the score, and one for the hard rock, industrial metal fusion numbers like White Zombie and Gravity Kills. Interesting to note if you are a collector and have some cash: there is a limited edition CD for the score (made in 2014) that adds back in tracks that were deleted from the final cut. However there were only 1500 made, and they tend to go for roughly $70 a pop. Unfortunately, I’m not cash-rich these days, so the original two soundtrack CDs that I bought twenty years ago will have to suffice.
A Little Offbeat – Interview with Stacy Keach 7:55: All of these interviews are actually new interviews conducted by Shout, including this one. Stacy goes into how he came to work with John Carpenter and Debra Hill. He also goes into character work, his relationship with Kurt Russell, and how he had difficulty with various scenes (which eventually led to dual knee replacement).
Beverly Hills Workshed – Interview with Bruce Campbell 9:10: This is the only phone interview of the bunch but Bruce is his usual wonderful self. He tells us how he got the part and the background behind the role. Apparently, it took five hours to do the makeup alone (and another hour to take it off when he was done). He talks location of the shoot as well as Russell and Carpenter. Too bad there was never a Escape from Earth, or else we could have yet another wonderful Campbell cameo.
Part of the Family – Interview with Peter Jason 25:55: Peter Jason is one of those actors who has a ton of credits to his name (263 according to IMDB) and does these amazing bit parts as he tells us how he got into acting. He dives into multiple stories here and is incredibly candid on how he got certain parts in John Carpenter films such as Village of the Damned and Prince of Darkness.
Miss a Shot, You Get Shot – Interview with Georges Corraface 14:37: Georges talks about his time as the one and only Cuervo Jones and the cult-like status of the film. We also get information about his lead ins to acting and how his career came to be.
One Eye is Better than None – Interview with Special Effects Artist Jim McPherson 17:58: This feature is a little different from the rest as we get a few exclusive photographs from the set of how Jim did his work, particularly with the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills scene. In this very interesting interview, he talks about the various issues he had on the set, particularly of how he kept receiving women (when he had pieces of men) for the plastic surgery pieces because he was told that only women get plastic surgery. Eventually that was rectified as he explained, but it certainly made his work more challenging as a result.
The Renderman – Interview with Visual Effects Artist David Jones 19:04: Finally, we get to the man responsible for most of the criticism when it comes to the visual look of Escape from LA. David actually takes high road and apologizes for some of his sophomore efforts and wishes he would have done a few things differently with the picture. He also goes into his early influences on his work including the Apple II computer. Thankfully, he would learn from his mistakes and go on to produce much better effects for films such as Hollow Man, The Ring, and Bad Boys II.
Theatrical Trailer 1:34: The original trailer for this film.
TV Spots 2:26: Four TV spots are provided here. The third one is probably the most interesting as it weaves clips from the movie and the White Zombie video “The One”.
Still Gallery 7:31: A collection of pictures which include black and white lobby cards, full color pictures from the set and production, movie posters, and even some pictures that were distributed in other countries.
Notes: In the first production run of this release, the Blu-ray comes with a wonderful slipcover. The cover on the case is reversible with the backside showing the same cover from the original Blu-ray release. This edition also came with an 18″x 24″ poster using the art from the slipcover/case which was limited to the first 800 copies through Shout Factory. Unfortunately this was sold out a month before release. I do hope to update this space once I get that poster framed. Stay tuned.
This film was ultimately considered a bomb with a budget of 50 million dollars and only getting half of that total back as box office receipts. However, I would venture to say that in those twenty plus years since then, it has sold plenty of copies on every format from Laserdisc to DVD and now Blu-ray. Just maybe by now it has actually turned something close to a profit. It certainly has cult-like status and is appreciated by many people for its high adventure and iconic character. As much as I enjoy Escape from L.A., I have always seen it as a movie that rested solely on the back of Kurt Russell. A passion project as it were, and given John Carpenter’s distaste of sequels, it never got the level of attention perhaps it should have.
The Blu-ray release is fantastic with wonderfully remastered video, a powerful soundtrack, and a real attempt at some meaty extras. OK, it doesn’t have the Kurt Russell/John Carpenter commentary track that every fanboy including myself wanted, but it does have some interesting interviews from the solid supporting cast. This release of Escape from L.A. gets a strong recommendation and should bring smiles to every action and dystopian film enthusiast. Welcome to the Human Race. Enjoy.