A thrilling landmark film that jolts along at a breakneck pace, Escape From New York leapt to cult status with high-octane action, edge-of-your-seat suspense and a mind-blowing vision of lone warrior Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) battling his way out of a post-apocalyptic Manhattan! Hailed as "stylish and scary" (Los Angeles Times), "dark and dangerous" (Newsweek) and "gloriously...fun" (Tyler Morning Telegraph), this furiously entertaining thriller grabs you by the throat and won't let go!
In a world ravaged by crime, the entire island of Manhattan has been converted into a walled prison where brutal prisoners roam. But when the US president (Donald Pleasence) crash-lands inside, only one man can bring him back: notorious outlaw and former Special Forces war hero Snake Plissken (Russell). But time is short. In 24 hours, an explosive device implanted in his neck will end Snake's mission - and his life - unless he succeeds!
After working together on the television movie 'Elvis,' director John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell had a great run through the '80s creating a trio of sci-fi cult classics. The first was 'Escape From New York,' which has just been released on Blu-ray, although the resulting product surely must have been the decision of the bean counters dealing with the looming MGM bankruptcy, rather than any creative people wanting to celebrate the nearly 30-year-old movie, because what they've presented is rather unsatisfying.
'Escape From New York' opens with Carpenter's synthesizer-led score, and immediately the decade of its release is apparent, transporting the viewer back without the aid of a 'Hot Tub Time Machine.' Credits and a female computer voice reveal that in "1988 The Crime Rate in the United States [Rose] Four Hundred Percent." That event led to New York's Manhattan Island being walled off and turned into a maximum-security prison. There are no guards and the bridges are mined. Setting up the stakes, the voice states the prison's simple rule: "Once you go in, you don't come out."
Jumping ahead to 1997, the President of the U.S. (Donald Pleasence) is heading to a summit with leaders of Russia and China. A terrorist, or revolutionary depending on your perspective, downs Air Force One, but the President survives by taking the plane's escape pod. He, of course, lands within the prison walls. The man in charge of getting him out is United States Police Force Commissioner Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef). Rather than send in any of his own men, Hauk makes a deal with newly arrived inmate "Snake" Plissken (Kurt Russell) and offers him a pardon him if he can get the President out in 24 hours to make the summit.
Plissken had been a special-forces soldier, but for reasons not made clear, he attempted to rob the Federal Reserve Depository. Since he's going into the prison anyway, he takes the deal; however, to ensure Plissken doesn't run off, and to help motivate him, Hauk has explosives injected into his body that will kill Snake if the deadline is missed. Snake's task is made even more difficult because the Duke of New York (Isaac Hayes) has taken the President hostage to secure his freedom and those of his followers. But he doesn't have to go it alone, as he receives help along the way from Cabbie (Ernest Borgnine); the Brain (Henry Dean Stanton) (though why he earned the nickname is not always clear), and Brain's girlfriend, the cleavage-revealing Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau, who was Carpenter's wife at the time).
'Escape From New York' is a fun B-movie that does well on its limited budget of about $6-$7 million. Carpenter delivers a good amount of action with plenty of fights, guns, and explosions to entertain viewers. Some of the special effects are also pretty impressive for the time. The movie does suffer slightly though in a few areas. The story could use a little more fleshing out, and while there are some good twists in the plot, the results are rather predictable. The pacing is a little slow when Snake first gets inside the prison. Russell borrows too much from Clint Eastwood in creating Plissken and there's not enough to make the character more than a generic figure.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
MGM by way of 20th Century Fox brings 'Escape From New York' to high-definition on a BD-50 Blu-ray disc housed inside a standard blue keepcase along with a DVD flipper of the movie in both Widescreen and Standard. The disc begins with an advertisement promoting Digital Copy, although there isn't one for this movie, and then goes to the menu screen. The Blu-ray is reported to be Region A.
The video is presented with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The source material does have its limits, so those have been taken into consideration here. There is slight grain intact, and in keeping with the studio's hand-off approach, no digital tinkering appears to have been done.
The majority of the scenes are nighttime exteriors and a good portion of the interiors are not brightly lit. Blacks and darkness have a strong, consistent presence throughout the movie. The transfer does well delivering shadow delineation and avoids black crush to which it so easily could have fallen victim. There are times during effects shots though when blacks skew closer to blue, such as all the scenes involving Air Force One.
There's a great deal of softness throughout, as if the lenses could only handle small areas to show clearly within the frame. This limits the details and texture, as well as the depth. Snake's face has a few days' whisker growth and a scar, but when he encounters the woman in the Chock Full o'Nuts store and is the focus of the shot, the detail is diminished. This can be seen even in a two-shot when actors aren't standing the exact same distance from the camera.
From Hauk's sterile-looking command center, to the dark streets of Manhattan, the color palette of the production design is limited. When bright hues are used, they are vibrant and more noticeable, like the multi-color graphics simulating computer readouts during the opening exposition and the green light of the cockpit Snake is bathed in as he flies into Manhattan. The President's red escape pod almost turns day-glo once inside the prison at night.
All these factor considered, this is a relatively solid presentation of uneven material.
The English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 doesn't offer much to wow the viewer, but it too is hamstrung by the source. The dialogue is mainly coming from the front center channel, with some support from the other front speakers. Most everyone can be heard clearly amidst the action, except for Russell, who, evoking Eastwood, frequently speaks softly as he carries a big gun.
The sound effects are inconsistent. When a car is beaten running the Broadway gauntlet and escaping the mob, there's a very good smashing of metal. Other times the effects are flat, hollow, and lack bass. There's no oomph as two crazies try to jump Snake in the theater basement, and the guns don't deliver any boom. Also in the basement, there are some undecipherable noises -- possibly meant to be the flooring -- when degenerates rip a girl's top off.
The ambiance is sporadic. Helicopters move across the front channels as they fly across the sky. The rear speakers fill with the roar of the crowd as Snake and Slag (professional wrestler Ox Baker) fight. Other times, it's absent.
Carpenter's score sounds very good throughout. Other than some flat effects and Russell's whispering, the elements are balanced well together.
None. Zero. Not a one.Not even carried over extras from past DVD releases.
No sleight is intended to all involved with the making of this enjoyable movie, but I can't wholeheartedly recommend the Blu-ray even to the hardcore fans because it deserves better than the treatment it's been given here. I didn't expect a remastered edition, though that likely would improve the presentation, but there's no good reason the extras that appeared on the Special Edition DVD couldn't be included here. Never in my years as a home-video collector, which goes back to the days of VHS and LaserDisc, have I heard anyone say or write, "Forget extras! I want the movie in both Standard and Widescreen formats!"
Only when consumers take a stand with their wallets will the studios listen. Ask yourself, "What Would Snake Do?" and aside from killing someone, you'll have your answer.