Escape from New York Reviews
If it is not made by John Carpenter, I don't think I will be interested in watching this actioner. I like the setup. 1997 New York (this movie was made in 1981) is now an isolated island where all the hardened criminals are left to fend for themselves. The President crash lands accidentally in it and needs an outlaw Snake, played by Kurt Russell, to rescue him.
For an actioner, the plot and the action are not that great but somehow things fall into places quite nicely. I expected something more to the cheesy side.
Being John Carpenter, there are a couple of 'decently' gory scenes. The soundtrack is very 'John Carpenter' too. The church organ music makes it feel like I am watching a horror movie.
I watch this out of curiosity and I don't expect myself to like it. But for its cultish feel, I have to admit this is a rather good movie. Can even be considered as an actioner classic.
The plot of Escape From New York is that in the future the entire area of Manhattan is now a walled off prison, from which you can go in, but not out again, Berlin Wall style. The country is at an ambiguous war with maybe China and Russia and, basically, everything's gone to shit. When the president, on his way to a summit with important documents that could stop the war and put his country on the road to recovery, crash lands Air Force One inside the wall, ex-war hero turned criminal Bob 'Snake' Pliskin is strong armed into to going in and getting him. It's actually a credit to the film that that's all handled without feeling like information overload.
The key to just how tongue in cheek this film is lies I think in Kurt Russel's performance as Snake. We know he can be a bad ass in John Carpenter films, (The Thing), we know he can parody his bad ass image to great effect in John Carpenter films, (Big Trouble in Little China), so where does this performance lie? Maybe it would help if I'd seen Big Trouble In Little China, but the whole aesthetic of this film is one that knows it's a b-movie and embraces that. Now that's lightly different from an intentional b-movie, (Sharknado), which inevitably turn out to be crap, or a send up or parody of b-movies, (The Rocky Horror Picture Show), the secret is that it really has this self awareness that makes it go with a swing. Kurt Russel is actually I think having a lot of fun with this character, and he's a lot of fun to watch.
Watching this film the people I was watching it with kept saying things like 'it's knock off Mad Max', 'every 80s action cliche rolled into one' which I think are both slightly unfair. The Mad Max comment I may come back to but I would to sit on more to form an eloquent argument against it, mainly I think because Mad Max is going for slightly different notes than this film. The comment about 80s action movies, this film came out in 1981, and even if it was what my friend said, would that be such a bad film, you could look at it as a post modern send up of 80s movies, which I believe we've established anyway it isn't.
I think that even with this in mind, the film wouldn't work if it wasn't for the outstanding production design. It's all well and good poking fun at yourself in a post modern fashion, but if you've clearly put no effort in then what's the point? I can see where the comment about Mad Max came from, with the costume design echoing it, but I think that Mad Max's costumes reflect a desert wasteland where as Escape From New York represents something resembling Arkham, (because that's really what Arkham is let's be honest). The production design is also fantastic and really compensates for some of the more shoddy effects, the work is which the film inahbits is really beautifully realised.
In the end I am a bit uncomfortable with the fact that the film may be forgiving it's own schlocky quality by claiming post-modernism or homage in the way of someone like Eli Roth, (Hostel, The Green Inferno), however this film has something Roth's films don't; fun, and a real sense of humour and quality and ambition to the film making. It's a really fun, if occasionally campy, and occasionally with quite terribly plane effects, b movie.
I've seen quite a few Carpenter-flicks and this is a pretty good one. It got the prefect atmosphere - the set was actually kept and re-painted for "Bladerunner". The pace is great so the 90+ minutes fly fast.
Cool badguys, badder goodguys and some neat lines, a given cult classic. Kurt Russell's character, Snake is a huge inspiration for "Solid Snake" - the hero from the game series "Metal Gear". That's very cool as it's one of the pretty few games I've played and completed in my life and my favorite spygame-character. It's fun to see Isaac Hayes as "The Duke". It's fun to see Lee Van Cleef. If not fun, Adrienne Barbeau's cleavage is often seen and a repeated success factor.
6.5 out of 10 modded uzi's.
Against the odds, the decision to turn the most prominent city in the United States has proven to be an unusually conducive one. Despite the world's sorry state - any spot that homes atrocities so rampant is bound to be a miserable place of living - disciplinary tactics are at their strongest. And since "Escape from New York," co-written (with Nick Castle) and directed by John Carpenter ("Halloween," "The Thing"), takes place nine years after that catastrophic statistic stabbed the pitiful heart of this fictional 1988, it's safe to assume that things won't be changing any time soon.
That is until Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), an ex Special Forces soldier, lands himself in the titular cooler. Shortly after his locking up is Air Force One, en route to a crucial peace summit between the U.S., China, and the Soviet Union, hijacked by vengeful terrorists. Though the plane crashes at the center of Manhattan, conclusively killing every one of its passengers, the president (played by a noticeably un-presidential Donald Pleasence) manages to make it to the escape pod of the aircraft and cheat death.
Ideally, he'd be immediately rescued by the prison's highly trained guards. But because the inner-workings of the city turned slammer are sufficiently run by the self-proclaimed Duke of New York City (Isaac Hayes), a glammed-out would-be mobster that drives around a chandelier draped pimpmobile, the president is promptly held hostage. The Duke and his henchmen promise to kill him if law enforcement tries anything tricky. This problem is made all the more pertinent because of the commander in chief's carrying of a time-sensitive audiotape instilled with information regarding the ins-and-outs of a new nuclear weapon. If to fall into the wrong pair of hands, disaster, obviously, could very well ensue.
Willing to make use of Plissken's professional background for the greater good of the country, Police Commissioner Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) reluctantly offers to arrange a presidential pardon for his newest prisoner if he rescues the Leader of the Free World in a timely manner. To ensure obedience, Hauk injects Plissken with deadly explosives capable of destroying his carotid arteries in a matter of seconds. He has twenty-two hours to get the job done. Fail, and he's a goner.
And so we follow him as he navigates the terrifying streets of the now anarchical New York, as he slinks in and out of its shadows as he tries to piece together his next move. Executed, in the process, is an uncommonly visionary action movie that views prowling threats and obstacles as mere thorns in its eye-patched hero's side. Taking itself about as seriously as a D-list celebrity being openly mocked at a Comedy Central roast, "Escape from New York" makes up for its lacking of budget (a scant six-million) with thorough ingeniousness and an expertly realized setting crafted by the ever-scrappy Carpenter (who's also behind the film's snarling but minimalist soundtrack).
From Adrienne Barbeau's heaving bosoms to the rain-soaked, cyberpunk shaking up of the too-familiar cinematic characterization of New York City, the film is a glorious eyeful as in touch with its artistic output as its sense of tone and story. It ranks among Carpenter's most riskily audacious offerings, and yet his storytelling is persuasive and astonishingly effectual - its tension is unmistakable, and its sequential fluidity is shrewd. The performances are even better; Russell, especially, is a serpentine scalawag we could watch fight greater evils for hours on end, and Van Cleef, unendingly looking like the meanest sonofabitch to have ever lived, is an intriguing antagonist more complicated than the usual going-through-the-motions sort of action movie fiend.
By the time its band of outsiders have earned their dues and the president is again in good hands (for now), we feel as if we've been on a journey; "Escape from New York" has deservedly earned its place as one of the 1980s' best action films. With a premise this good, a director this admirably quixotic, and a male lead this soundly tough-as-nails, losing is unsurmountable. Now that I've seen Snake Plissken daringly escape from the wasteland of New York City, I'm now more fascinated by the prospect of watching him escape from Los Angeles than ever. Until next time.
The concept for Escape from New York is brilliant. It's a simple action-escapist story set within an incredibly original setting. Envisioning a dystopian society which could factually exist one day, Escape from New York crafts a story with brilliant political commentary to it. Originally written as a response to the Watergate scandal, Escape from New York depicts a future which is far more totalitarian; a government which is far more obsessive and corrupt with their disregard for human life. John Carpenter's vision is one not only definitive of its time, but consistently relevant over the following decades. Given the recent discovery of the 2013 NSA scandal, the government has proven again and again how obsessively controlling the American government can be, as well as how little the public can trust them. This is the exact theme driving the story in Escape from New York, and the disturbing realism in a story of science fiction makes for really powerful drama.
Even though New York is said to be packed full of criminals deserving of a life sentence, one of the first things viewers see when the story reaches its titular setting is a collection of dirty-clothed gentlemen watching others put on a stage production. They are simple humans enjoying the entertainment they can procure for themselves, and this is the first example of John Carpenters humanizing his character. He later does the same thing for his protagonist by displaying that he is prone to injuries, ensuring not to detract from his fearless persona in the process. Ultimately there is only a handful of things that actually occur within Escape from New York, but the implied universe challenges audiences to really consider the meaning behind everything that is happening and the motivations of its characters. Nothing is made explicit, it is all very subtle. Less intelligent viewers who have come strictly for the action fare might not be too impressed by the way the film focuses mainly on story, but I would definitely consider Escape from New York to be a thinking man's action film. There is a solid quantity of action in the film, and audiences are kept entertained in between it all by the intelligent writing.
The dialogue in the film varies between each character; Snake Plissken is a fearless hero is incredibly blunt, Bob Hauk intelligently describes the political state of the universe and the mission the protagonist must complete while matching his blunt nature with one of his own, the President of the United States is a self-obsessed coward and Cabbie provides comic relief. This is just a handful of the characters in the film as there are many who are relevant to the story in interesting ways, yet none of them distract the story progression with their own arbitrary subplots. Everyone is an archetype in one way or another yet nobody feels generic, and there is just enough characterization to be interesting while also capitalizing on the natural charms of the actors who play them. In essence, Escape from New York presents viewers with an interesting world and strong characters to go with them which keeps the natural drama of the film enticing.
Visually, Escape from New York is executed very well. The New society looks much like the gangland America depicted in Walter Hill's The Warriors (1979). As a result, this makes the dystopian society of the story feel all the more relevant due to its contemporary realism. Given that the premise depicts a group of criminals attempting to escape back to their home turf in a society where everyone is driven by violence, the similarities between the two stories is hard to disregard. The Warriors similarly did not explore the full extent of its setting but rather focused on being an era-defined exercise in style; Escape from New York goes much deeper through implications in the screenplay and the motivations of different characters. The actual exploration of the film's setting may not live up to its maximum potential due to budgetary constraints, but the extent that John Carpenter takes it to for a meagre $6 million is truly stunning. We only get to see a handful of settings in Manhattan while the rest of the world is left to implications and a few tracking shots, but it's still enough to give believability to the story. The scenery is decorated with a tenacious eye for detail, depicting a world torn apart by destruction and mayhem where the people that the world has failed have been left to rot. The production design in Escape from New York is solid, and the sporadic use of visual effects helps it along the way. The action scenes are also awesome as they use choreographed practical stunts rather than relying on the special effects.
The cinematography that captures all this is great since it manages to use tracking shots to depict the larger parts of the story world while everything else is shot from atmospheric angles that make capital use of the dark lighting without preventing audiences from being able to see anything. Perhaps the best shot in the film comes from the beginning of the story where Kurt Russell and Lee Van Cleef make negotiations at opposing ends of a table. The way this scene is structured is clearly a throwback to the intense scene at the beginning of Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) where Lee Van Cleef is interrogating a local whom he is about to execute. It just serves as a reminder of John Carpenter's love for the violent west.
And to keep the entire experience atmospheric, Escape from New York uses John Carpenter's distinctive skill for crafting a brilliant musical score. As tradition with John Carpenter films, the first thing audiences get to experience with Escape from New York is the grace of his musical score. As the film rolls its title credits, John Carpenter's distinctively 80's and restrained yet incredibly groovy theme song plays out for all the viewers to soak up. This gives an awesome setup to the film before it later follows the same path as Halloween (1978) in the sense that it uses simple series of beats to give the entire film its full experience. The musical score is perfectly eerie and energetic in a subtle fashion, simply building upon the genuine tension constructed by everything else in the film and bringing its edge to the max.
And with such a rich script supporting Escape from New York, the talents of the cast are given a real opportunity to shine.
Once again, John Carpenter proves that he is capable of getting the best possible acting charisma out of Kurt Russell. In perhaps his most distinctive role to date, Kurt Russell solidifies his status as an action hero with his effort as Snake Plissken in Escape from New York. The entire film is he blunt; monotonous without being shallow, fearless and cold. There is always a remorseless stare of death in Kurt Russell's eyes which makes him an intimidating presence at all times, and he supports it with a blunt line delivery that makes him seem like a badass at every moment. The man has an iconic design to him, and Kurt Russell's fearless performance truly immortalizes it as an unforgettable character. Kurt Russell characterizes Snake Plissken as a fearless antihero with a nihilistic view of the world we can all see eye to eye with, and the elements of humanism in the character support the realism in this all. Kurt Russell defines Snake Plissken as one of cinematic history's greatest action heroes with a badass attitude that most contemporary action stars can barely even mimic, so it is definitely one of the greatest performances of his career.
Lee Van Cleef's performance is his finest in years. With such a grand legacy behind him, Lee Van Cleef is a most welcome addition to the cast of Escape from New York. His scenes are mostly interactions with Kurt Russell where we see the two playing games with each other as their similar lack of actual emotion creates a vastly entertaining conflict between the two. Lee Van Cleef has a fearless confidence to him which creates an effective chemistry between him and and Kurt Russell, so their moments together are some of the best scenes of character-building in the film.
Ernest Borgnine also stands out through supplying brilliant comic relief to the film. The man plays so heavily to his distinctive iconic charm that fans should easily rejoice, yet he does it without seeming ridiculous. It's slightly cheesy, but that's part of the 80's theme in the film. Ernest Borgnine creates a really friendly presence, and his funniest moment comes from the scene where he first picks up Snake Plissken in his Taxicab and keeps talking while casually throwing a molotov cocktail at a local gang. Ernest Borgnine is funny but also conveys a sense of real passion in his performance, refusing to take it for granted and making audiences laugh without detracting from the serious nature of the film.
Adrienne Barbeau is a notable solid presence. Her character Maggie is an extremely progressive one since she is as fearless as Snake Plissken and even more so at times, yet nobody ever comments on her gender. She is just another character and one of the most fearless, and her gender is not exploited for the role. Admittedly she is given a costume designed to make subtle emphasis on her sex appeal at times, but as far as the character goes Maggie is just a real badass who Adrienne Barbeau is a perfect fit to be playing. The woman is a major badass.
Harry Dean Stanton brings his natural charm to the film and Isaac Hayes' love of The Duke of New York's relentless power gives him a confident villainy. Donald Pleasance is also a great cast member due to his ability to act really scared one minute and thoughtlessly selfish the next.
Escape from New York relies largely on the implications of its screenplay to explore the concept behind the universe it presents, but it is an extremely well-written film with a lot of thought-provoking themes, John Carpenter's distinct sense of style and Kurt Russell's most badass performance to date.