Monday, April 27, 2015

Escape From New York: Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Jami Ferguson
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 the mind-blowing vision of lone warrior Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) battling his way out of a post-apocalyptic Manhattan. 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. 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!
Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
In 1988 crime rates have dramatically increased. In response, the island of Manhattan was evacuated and turned into a maximum security prison. The year is 1997, which was more than twenty years in the future when Escape from New York was originally released. After being convicted of a crime, the prisoner has the choice of cremation or Manhattan. Those who enter the walls of the city must fend for themselves. There are no guards and there is no assistance of any kind. A prisoner may never leave and any attempts to do so result in death. Inside the city there are gangs, chaos and danger at every turn.

The President of the United States (Donald Pleasance) is flying above in Air Force One when is plane is hijacked by a woman who claims allegiance to the National Liberation Front. She threatens to crash the plane and the President makes it to the escape pod. He is given a tracker before the pod exits the plane and lands inside the walls of New York. The self-proclaimed Duke of New York (Isaac Hayes) has quickly located and captured the President. Working with his number two, Romero (Frank Doubleday) they hold the President hostage. The Duke wants the inmates to be allowed to leave New York and threatens to execute the President if his demands are not met.

It is determined that Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is the President’s only hope of survival. Plissken was once a U.S. Special Forces soldier but is now an outlaw. He was convicted of attempted robbery of the Federal Reserve but is offered a full pardon if the rescue if successful. Realizing that Plissken will need more motivation than just asking nicely, an explosive device is inserted into his neck. The device is on a timer giving Plissken just a day to save the President.

Escape from New York is a “futuristic” movie that takes place in the past, only because it’s so old. You have to look past the very dated future and pretend its 1981 again when you watch the film. The film is co-written, co-scored and co-directed by John Carpenter. Nick Castle who played Michael Myers in Halloween co-wrote the film. Kurt Russell plays the reluctant good guy very well. Escape from New York has quite a cult following, as does my favorite Kurt Russell movie, Big Trouble in Little China.

It was revealed that the financers requested Charles Bronson or Tommy Lee Jones for the role, believing that Kurt Russell didn’t have a rough enough image and personality. Luckily Carpenter stuck with Russell, who is extremely well cast. Production designer Joe Alves did a great job, especially for the time and the limited budget, re-creating the grimy and decayed prison world of New York City.

Carpenter did his best to create futuristic graphics. Viewing the film in 2015, especially if you’ve never seen it before, you have to just accept that those are in fact futuristic. Although Escape from Los Angeles did appear many years later, this isn’t a film I’d want to see re-made with today’s technology. It would lose the Carpenter feel and probably anger a lot of the film’s cult followers.
Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The Collector’s Edition of Escape from New York has got to be the best the film has looked outside the theater. The film is presented on Blu ray in 1080p high definition with a 2.35:1 ratio. The film has a very soft feel to it any some of the computer graphics appear blurry. Instead of making it feel futuristic, it reminds the viewer that the film is in fact from the 70s. That’s a fact I don’t mind. Escape from New York has the detail to convey the dirty, gritty prison world of New York and feels very much like a Carpenter flick. Where the film feels grainy it adds to the atmosphere. Skin tones are accurate and fine detail allows you to pick up on stubble and scars on Snake Plissken’s face.
Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Escape from New York’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix certainly holds up to all the film offers. The effects, primarily gun fire and explosions comes across as authentic. Dialogue is clear and consistent throughout the film in this dynamic and enveloping presentation.
Extras (4 out of 5 stars) 
The collector’s edition Blu ray discs provide new and old features which are an excellent complement to the film.

Disc One
  • Audio Commentaries
    • Actress Adrienne Barbeau and Director of Photographer Dean Cundey provide new commentary which is fun and entertaining.
    • Director John Carpenter and Actor Kurt Russell’s are an interesting pair in this historical commentary, well worth the time.
    • The late Producer Debra Hill and Production Designer Joe Alves also provide some great information about the look and feel of the film.
Disc Two
  • Big Challenges in Little Manhattan - The Visual Effects of Escape from New York – a look at the special effects with interviews with the DP of Special VFX, Dennis Skotak and Unit Supervisor/Matte Artist Robert Skotak.
  • Scoring the Escape - A Discussion with Composer Alan Howarth – A tour of Howarth’s studio with background on his relationship with Carpenter.
  • On Set with John Carpenter - The Images of Escape from New York – Just under 11 minutes with photographer by Kim Gottlieb-Walker.
  • I Am Taylor: An Interview with Actor Joe Unger – Snake’s right hand man provides candid opinions on the experience.
  • My Night on Set: An Interview with Filmmaker David DeCoteau – A brief featurette where DeCoteau reminisces about working with Roger Corman and how he came to be on set.
  • Deleted Scene: The Original Opening Bank Robbery Sequence – Over ten minutes of footage which appears to be very poor quality compared to the film on Blu-ray, helping you appreciate the film as you’ve just seen it.
  • Return to Escape from New York Featurette - 23 minutes of interviews featuring all the primary players.
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • Photo Galleries: Movie Stills and Behind the Scenes Photos
  • Photo Galleries: Posters and Lobby Cards
Summary (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Kurt Russell’s two classic roles are Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China and Snake Plissken from Escape from New York (and the LA sequel years later).  These are two characters that I can’t imagine seeing any one else playing. If you are nostalgic for the 80s and enjoy John Carpenter’s style, this is a film for you. The Collector’s Edition Blu-ray provides great picture and sound considering the age of the film. There are new and old special features which exceeded my expectations. The film and Blu-ray are recommended.

Order your copy today!

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