While John Carpenter’s place in cinema history is secure—Halloween alone would have made him an important figure in the horror genre—there’s no denying that his star has dimmed quite a bit since the 1980’s. This is partly due to the fact that a considerable amount of his work has been mediocre at best—Ghosts of Mars and Village of the Damned—are hardly vintage Carpenter. But, While 1981’s Escape from New York doesn’t match the near perfection of The Fog, with this one, he still showed an uncanny ability to science fiction elements with old fashioned Hollywood action.
It’s 1988, and New York City is overrun by crime. Walled in, it’s become the world’s largest, uncontrolled prison. People within the walls are free to live as they please, setting up their own form of government, choosing their leaders and using whatever violence is necessary to survive. The world famous Statue of Liberty still stands, but with no electricity to light it up at night, it’s become dark and ominous, much like the streets and alleyways that now pass for the city.
The inevitable crisis happens when the President’s plane, on its way to an urgent peace conference, is hijacked and the President (Donald Pleasance) is forced to flee the plane, somewhere in the middle of New York City. The police discover that the President has been kidnapped by a crime kingpin known as The Duke of New York City (Isaac Hayes) and will only be released if all the criminals in the city are pardoned. The New York Police Commissioner Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) quickly decides there’s only one man qualified to go in and find the President; Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), a decorated solider turned criminal whose bravery and knowledge of the prison system make him uniquely qualified for the job. He is offered a Presidential pardon if he gets the job done, but to ensure his dedication, Plissken is injected with two capsules which will kill him in under 24 hours unless they are deactivated. With that, Plissken flies a glider into the prison. Once inside, he teams with former colleague Brain (Harry Dean Stanton), Brain’s girlfriend Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau) and the eccentric “Cabbie” (Ernest Borgnine) to rescue the President and get the heck out of New York City.
Kurt Russell is excellent as Snake. The actor, then largely known for his work in Disney films, makes for a better-than-average-action star, playing up the strong silent type popularized in spaghetti westerns. When he does speak, he growls. The presence of Lee Van Cleef as The New York Police Commissioner only serves to reinforce ties to spaghetti westerns. As one might expect, Donald Pleasence, Adrienne Barbeau, and Harry Dean Stanton and Ernest Borgnine turn in solid supporting performances and Isaac Hayes is wonderfully ‘bad’ as The Duke, nearly stealing every scene he’s in.
Noteworthy too, is the fact that, even though Escape from New York was shot on a rather modest $7 million budget, it looks much more expensive. The skyline of 1997 is really impressive. The set designers, models makers, animators, etc. deserve a lot of credit for making everything look so believably futuristic. Cinematographer Dean Cundey framed several shots that adds to the dark, futuristic feel of the film.
A brand new 2K transfer presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition is a definite improvement over the previous Blu-ray release. The image looks brighter and is noticeably crisp. The level of depth has improved greatly and the image sports greater clarity. Occasional bursts of bright color are bold and vivid.
The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is exceptional, offering a nice balance between dialogue, score and sound design. There is excellent panning and placement throughout. As an extra bonus for purists, a 2.0 audio track is also offered.
English Subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Actress Adrienne Barbeau and Director of Photography Dean Cundey: New to this release, and moderated by horror enthusiast Sean Clark, both share lots of interesting personal memories of the film.
- Audio Commentary with Director John Carpenter and Actor Kurt Russell: Ported over from a previous DVD release, the two obviously have a lot of fun together.
- Audio Commentary with Producer Debra Hill and Production Designer Joe Alves: It’s wonderful that the thoughts of the thoughts of the late producer Debra Hill are included here. As a longtime Collaborator of Carpenter’s, she’s an important part of his work.
- Big Challenges In Little Manhattan: The Visual Effects Of Escape from New York (HD, 14:27) VFX contributors Dennis and Robert Skotak briefly discuss the film’s use of miniatures, matte paintings and 70mm photography to blend together the films effects.
- Scoring the Escape: A Discussion with Composer Alan Howarth (HD. 18:58) The composer discusses his collaborations with Carpenter.
- On Set with John Carpenter: The Images of Escape from New York (HD,10:50) An interview with Kim Gottlieb-Walker, the on-set photographer who worked with Carpenter on a number of his other films and recently wrote a book about it.
- I Am Taylor: An Interview with Actor Joe Unger (HD, 8:49) The actor who played Snake’s sidekick in the film’s deleted original opening, shares his thoughts about working on the film.
- My Night on Set: An Interview with Filmmaker David DeCoteau (HD, 5:02) The filmmaker discusses being an 18 year-old production assistant at Roger Corman’s Venice Studios when the studio did a few last-minute shots for Escape From New York.
- Deleted Scene: The Original Opening Bank Robbery Sequence (HD, 10:46)
- Return to Escape from New York Featurette (HD, 23:00) Ported over from the 2003 DVD release, this featurette includes interviews with John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Kurt Russell, Adrienne Barbeau, Harry Dean Stanton, Dean Cundey, Isaac Hayes and others.
- Photo Galleries: Movie Stills and Behind the Scenes Photos: 141 images.
- Photo Galleries: Posters and Lobby Cards: 47 images.