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Lots of stuff is still broken, but at least reviews can now be looked up and read.
Escape from New York (1981)

Escape from New York (1981)

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Released 27-Jul-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Scene Selection Anim & Audio
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1981
Running Time 94:37
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By John Carpenter
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Kurt Russell
Lee Van Cleef
Ernest Borgnine
Donald Pleasence
Isaac Hayes
Season Hubley
Harry Dean Stanton
Adrienne Barbeau
Tom Atkins
Charles Cyphers
Joe Unger
Frank Doubleday
John Strobel
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $19.95 Music John Carpenter


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

††† Many prolific directors have dabbled in both the science fiction and horror genres over the years, but very few have consistently excelled in the field. John Carpenter is that rare breed of director who not only relishes the opportunity to produce genre entertainment, but has over the course of 30 years turned out films that are considered classic examples of the format. Starting with Dark Star, a student film that was essentially a parody of Kubrickís 2001 A Space Odyssey released theatrically in 1974, Carpenter immediately established his credentials as a maverick film maker with an anti-authoritarian sensibility. After the international recognition of his next film, the highly regarded siege exploitationer Assault On Precinct 13, Carpenter was contracted to direct a low budget slasher film about a group of babysitters who are stalked by an unstoppable maniac. The end result was Halloween, a film that revolutionized the horror genre and inspired countless rip-offs.

††† With the success of Halloween, Carpenter was signed by independent film company Avco Embassy. Armed with a bigger budget, Carpenter wrote and directed the atmospheric Edward Allen Poe inspired ghost tale The Fog. Made for little more than 1 million dollars, the film grossed 20 million when released in 1980. The success of The Fog would give Carpenter a bigger budget (6.5 million dollars), and allow him to make a more ambitious project.

††† Escape From New York is set in the year 1997. The crime rate in New York has skyrocketed, forcing the government to seal off Manhattan Island, turning the city into a maximum security prison. The rules are simple - once you go in you donít come out. When a terrorist act forces Air Force One to crash land on this island of the damned, itís up to notorious criminal and ex-war hero Snake Plissken, recently sentenced to life imprisonment, to locate the President and bring him out in 24 hours. Failure to rescue the President will result in termination, thanks to two microscopic explosive devices lodged in Snake's arteries that are set to detonate at the expiry of the allotted time frame.

††† Escape From New York is classic science fiction and one of the cleverest action films of the 1980ís. With the creation of the Snake Plissken character, Carpenter gave the world one of the great fictional anti-heroes of the 20th century. To play the lead role, Carpenter forced the studio to cast former Disney child actor Kurt Russell. Russell had recently played Elvis Presley for Carpenter in an Emmy nominated television biopic about the legendary singerís early career. To say the studio had misgivings about the casting choice was an understatement. Russell, ecstatic about being given the chance to star in the film, turned in a career-making performance. Using Clint Eastwood's `man with no nameí character from the Leone Westerns as inspiration, Russellís Snake Plissken is a quietly spoken, violently uncompromising anti-social that prizes self-preservation first and foremost. This is simply one of the crowning achievements in Kurt Russellís career. The character has proven so popular over the years that in recent times a popular comic book spin-off has emerged continuing the exploits of Snake.

††† The supporting cast are exceptional. The brilliant Harry Dean Stanton plays Snakeís ex-partner Brain (aka Harold Hellman) and delivers another wonderful performance in a career that specializes in quirky parts. Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie (Brain's squeeze), Isaac Hayes as the Duke Of New York, Donald Pleasence as the President and Ernest Borgnine as Cabby provide some of their best and most memorable work to date.

††† As a director Carpenter was at the peak of his talents during this period. He orchestrates the cast and production team like a virtuoso. Limited by the budget, he decided to shoot the film in a burnt-out section of St Louis that could double for a gutted Manhattan. The choice was a wise one and gave the film a surreal look that spawned countless imitations, but was never bettered. To achieve the oppressive look of the film, Carpenter turned to old friend Dean Cundy, who had worked as the Director of Photography on his earlier films. Once again Cundyís cinematography is excellent. Using a Panaglide camera (an early version of the Steadi-cam) Cundy majestically explores the burnt-out streets and underground dwellings of New Yorkís criminal inhabitants. The use of the Panaglide creates a fluid style that diminishes the need for gratuitous editing, thus generating a sense of foreboding dread similar to the technique found in Brian De Palmaís best work.

††† To create the film's special effects, Carpenter turned to Roger Cormanís New World Pictures. New World specialized in cheap exploitation films and had set up their own in-house special effects department. Utilizing matte photography and miniature work, the effects team, headed by future mega-director James Cameron, achieved a huge scope for a minimum of cost. The effects work is excellent and it's easy to see from these early days where Cameron established his technical prowess.

††† As with most of Carpenterís films, he wrote both the screenplay and score. Nick Castle (director of The Last Starfighter) is credited as co-writer on the screenplay and is readily acknowledged as contributing to a lot of the film's dark humour. The story has an unforgiving forward momentum that increases in tension as the protagonists get closer to the film's deadline. By todayís fast cutting, heavily edited standards the film feels leisurely at times, but it is the impending nature of the main character's denouement that makes the film riveting.

††† The film is bursting with memorable scenes. Amongst the best are: Snake's glider landing on top of the World Trade Centre, the attack by New Yorkís subterranean inhabitants `The Craziesí in the condemned `Chock Full Of Nutsí, The Duke Of New Yorkís initial appearance in his chandelier-encrusted Cadillac, Snake's gladiatorial battle with moustached Neanderthal and real life wrestler Ox Baker, and the brilliant race across the mined 9th Street Bridge.

††† The film's synthesized score is one of Carpenter's best. The music is simple, rhythmic and expertly sets the mood for the adventure unfolding on-screen.

††† Escape From New York was a great success when released in the summer of 1981. It joined Bladerunner, Mad Max 2 and Alien as one of the most imitated films of the 1980ís. Imitation, as they say, is the best form of flattery. It is also a sign of greatness, a moniker easily ascribed to this film.

††† Fifteen years later, Carpenter and Russell mounted a sequel that basically rehashed the story elements from the first film and set it in L.A. The film was less successful and in hindsight was an ill-advised idea from the outset. Nevertheless, Escape From L.A. is also an enjoyable watch with some clever twists on the original formula, but it lacks the raw energy and clever screenplay found in the first adventure.

††† Carpenter has come under criticism over the last decade for making an uneven string of films that appear uninspired when compared to his early work. To some degree this criticism is warranted, but when you have a resume that includes Assault On Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York, The Thing (Carpenter's masterwork), Big Trouble In Little China and They Live, comparison will always suffer. This is not to say that his recent work is sub-standard. Village Of The Damned, Vampires, Ghosts Of Mars, Escape From L.A. and Memoirs Of An Invisible Man are all enjoyable genre efforts that have their own virtues and deficiencies depending on your tastes. However, in the case of In The Mouth Of Madness, I would happily list that film amongst his best work.

††† Unfortunately, such is the nature of genre filmmaking that it develops a rabid fan base that can be unrelenting if a project falls short of its potential. Carpenter is experiencing such a backlash. It is not surprising then that he is reluctant to `push the boundariesí as he did early in his career. Time will tell whether John Carpenter will scale the heights he once reached, but even if not, I for one will welcome any new addition to the film medium by this true auteur.

††† If you need proof that this talented director is capable of greatness, look no further than Escape From New York, a true classic that has withstood the test of time.

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Transfer Quality

Video

††† Escape From New York is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2:35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced for widescreen viewing.

††† The transfer is reasonably sharp, with very minor edge enhancement deficiencies. There are no aliasing problems evident.

††† There is a very decent amount of shadow detail in the print. Considering the film unfolds almost entirely at night, the amount of detail captured is remarkable. Blacks are strong with no low level noise nasties spoiling the image.

††† Colours have a slightly muted appearance mainly due to the age of the film, but remain natural. As stated earlier, Dean Cundyís cinematography is excellent. Both the lighting and colour scheme bathe the film in an oppressive atmosphere that is almost a character in itself. Wonderful work.

††† There are very few nicks and scratches apparent on the transfer, and the ones that are there are minor and unobtrusive.

††† Overall, this is a great looking transfer for a 23 year old classic. The only negative in Universalís presentation of the film is that the MGM Region 1 Special Edition has a superior remastered transfer.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

††† The film has been given a solitary remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track in English.

††† Dialogue is clear with little interference from external audio and sound effect sources. There are no audio sync hiccoughs.

††† The film's music by director Carpenter is an absolute pleasure to listen to. It rates right up there with his work on Halloween, Assault On Precinct 13 and Big Trouble In Little China.

††† The remastered 5.1 track is surprisingly strong in its surround channel usage. The rear channels are quite busy with numerous directional effects designed to make solid use of the 5.1 medium.

††† The subwoofer adds the required bass to liven up the more robust 5.1 audio scenes.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Main Menu Introduction

††† The film's score over images of the movie.

Main Menu Audio & Animation

††† Once again snippets from the film with score accompaniment.

Scene Selection Animation & Audio

††† Nicely designed animated menus.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

††† The R1 version of this DVD does not miss out on anything.

††† The R4 version of this DVD misses out on:

††† The R1 disc is the holy grail for fans of the film and makes our local version look pathetic by comparison.

Summary

†††John Carpenterís Escape From New York is a modern classic that was long overdue for a local release. Both the sound and image found on the disc are excellent, but the DVD becomes a real let down when compared to its Region 1 counterpart. The Region 1 disc is the definitive version and should be sought out by fans of the film.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Greg Morfoot (if interested here is my bio)
Saturday, July 03, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-535, using S-Video output
DisplayLG 76cm Widescreen Flatron Television. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderSony HT-K215. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationSony HT-K215
Speakers fronts-paradigm titans, centre &rear Sony - radio parts subbie

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