Kurt Russell (Stargate) stars in a high-velocity sci-fi action-thriller from director John Carpenter (co-written by Nick Castle) that sets the screen ablaze with heart-stopping suspense, outrageous stunts and imaginative special effects. Bristling with riveting chases and hard-hitting fight sequences, Escape From New York is your passport to nonstop excitement!
In a world ravaged by crime, the entire island of Manhattan has been converted into a prison which houses the world's most brutal inmates. And when the President of the United States (Donald Pleasence) crash lands inside, only one man can bring him back: Snake Plissken (Russell), a notorious outlaw and former Special Forces war hero who, in exchange for a full pardon, descends into the decayed city and wages a blistering war against the captors. But time is short: in 24 hours, an explosive charge planted inside Snake's body will end the mission - and his life - unless he succeeds!
"Call me Snake."
With those three words, Director John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell helped create a cinematic cult antihero and legend in the form of Snake Plissken, a man of few words and a low tolerance for B.S. After a disappointing bare-bones release of 'Escape From New York' from MGM back in 2010, the folks over at Shout! Factory have put together this two-disc special edition release of the movie, with a brand-new transfer, a porting over of most of the best bonus features from the 2003 DVD Special Edition, plus some brand-new material to boot.
It may seem silly to rehash the plot of the film again here, but for those of you who have been unfamiliar with this movie for the past 35 years, here's the gist of it. The crime rate of the United States has increased so much that the government has turned New York City and the island of Manhattan into a maximum security prison. However, when Air Force One is hijacked and the plane crashes inside the city, someone special is going to be needed to get the President of the United States (Donald Pleasence) out quickly, as he's carrying a cassette tape vital to the nation's future. That's where Snake comes in.
A former special forces soldier turned criminal, Plissken is given 24 hours to go in, get the President (and, more importantly, the tape he's carrying), and get out. To make sure Snake fulfills his duty, he's injected with small explosives in his neck that will rupture his arteries when the clock runs out. The only way he gets the antidote injection is if he brings the President and the tape back before time is up. The idea of the 'ticking clock' and that Snake is fighting for his own survival as well as that of the President's is what makes 'Escape From New York' such an effective sci-fi thriller.
It's been several years since I last sat down and watched 'Escape From New York' from beginning to end, and while my love of the movie remains, I also have to confess it's not a film that has aged well. It was a low-budget movie back in 1981, and the production values certainly don't hold up very well, even by 1981 standards. I think I also noticed for the first time how little actual dialogue Kurt Russell has in the movie, or how he seems to be channeling Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name.
Still, there's no denying that 'Escape From New York' is just a very fun movie to watch. Its dark sense of humor still resonates with the home viewer, and its subversive anti-government themes work just as well today as they did back during the Reagan Administration. Sure, it's still very much a B-movie, but as B-movies go, this one's an A-plus.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Escape From New York' breaks out onto Blu-ray in a standard Elite keepcase, which houses two discs – a 50GB dual-layer disc with the movie and commentary tracks, and a 25GB single-layer disc containing the remainder of the bonus materials. The keepcase slick is printed on both sides, with the new artwork on the front (which matches the artwork of the slipcover that fits over the case) and the original movie poster artwork on the flip side. The back cover side of both sides of the slick are exactly the same, with the exception of space made for the UPC code in the top right corner of the "A" side of the slick (the side with the new artwork).
There are no front-loaded trailers on either disc, which go to the main menus after brief Shout! Factory and Scream Factory logos. The main menu of Disc 1 consists of video footage of the movie on the right side of the screen, with menu selections running down the left side of the screen. Disc 2's menu is a still of the artwork that was used for the Special Edition DVD, slightly reframed so Snake is off to the right, while the list of bonus materials take up the majority of the screen.
The Blu-rays in this release are Region A-locked.
When discussing the video of this new 2K scan of 'Escape From New York', it's first important for me to note that while I've seen the prior 2010 MGM bare-bones Blu-ray, I don't own it – so I wasn't able to take screenshots for comparison purposes here. However, going strictly by screenshots of the MGM version posted online elsewhere (and my faulty memory), I don't think there's any denying that this new transfer is notably brighter than the MGM release – although it's going to be up to debate as to which the more 'correct-looking' version is.
While this transfer brightens things up, it also seems to result in the blooming of details. This isn't always noticeable in the live action shots, but when computer graphics are seen on-screen, one can notice how they seem to 'glow' instead of having well-defined edges. I'm not sure black levels are any better here than they were on the MGM version, but let's be honest, 'Escape From New York' has always been pretty dreary looking, so much of that is mostly likely due to the source material.
In terms of overall detail, don't expect much here and you won't be disappointed. This version of 'Escape From New York' is still very grainy with dirt and debris also occasionally showing up, and the filmmaking style often leaves most of the background blurred as well. In addition, there are lots of lens flares throughout the movie that also tend to obscure details. The good news is that 'Escape From New York' maintains a very film-like quality to its appearance.
As for things that are flat-out glitches in the new transfer, there's an odd vertical blue line (which is definitely not a lens flare) that pops up the first time Tom Atkins' character meets with Lee Van Cleef's character (you can see it in the screenshot below if you look to the right of Atkins' ear). It stays on screen for about ten seconds or so and vanishes. I don't believe this line was on any prior release of the movie (I never recall seeing it before), but it's a pretty obvious intrusion here.
Overall, I don't think it's fair to call this new transfer a bad one, but it's certainly a different one and, as far as I know, neither John Carpenter or Director of Photography Dean Cundey supervised or approved the version Shout is giving us here. It's ultimately going to be up to each individual viewer which of the two Blu-ray versions of the movie they prefer.
There are two audio options here: a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. The MGM release also contained a lossless 5.1 track, and I'm guessing (although not positive) that this is the exact same mix. The lossless 2.0 track is brand-new to this release.
The 5.1 track sounds pretty crisp and clear, with little in terms of muddiness and no instances of the audio hissing or cracking. The surrounds are used nicely, although I wasn't crazy about the balance, as many of the explosions, fight sequences, and other bits of action seemed unnecessarily amped up in volume. I actually preferred the 2.0 lossless track, which fits the presentation of the movie better, and gives a more accurate representation of how the original film sounded in theaters. Like the 5.1 track, the 2.0 track also sounds nicely crisp and clean, with no obvious glitches or dropouts.
In addition to the two lossless tracks (and the additional commentaries mentioned in the supplements sections below), English subtitles are included.
I imagine there's going to be quite a bit of debate among die-hard Snake Plissken fans as to whether this Shout! Factory release improves on the transfer of the prior MGM Blu-ray or bastardizes it. Regardless of whether you're a fan of this new 2K scan or not, there's enough bonus materials here, both new and old, to make this a worthwhile purchase for you, me, and Fresno Bob. Recommended.