Thursday, March 15, 2012

Retro Review: Escape from N.Y. / L.A.

 This week The Videovanguard  is going to take a look back at the adventures of Snake Plissken in both of these movies from director John Carpenter.   

Escape From New York   ( 1981 )

Cast: Kurt Russell, Harry Dean Stanton

Writers: Nick Castle, John Carpenter

Director: John Carpenter

*** and a 1/2 *'s out of four

                                        (Theatrical Poster:   Image Link )

 In the distant future of 1997, The crime rate has gotten so bad that prisons and jails were becoming overcrowded.  The solution, put borders around New York City and transform it into a prison.   When air force one crashes inside the city and the president gets captured.   The government enlists the help of Snake Plissken(Kurt Russell) a decorated army soldier who is being sent to New York for armed robbery. They offer him a deal to rescue the president and receive his freedom.   Despite some of the visuals and effects looking a bit dated .  This is still a very good movie with a nice story and interesting characters. 

"Escape From New York"  is a great science fiction movie because the whole premise of turning that island into a prison is very believable.  When this was released in 1981 there was a high crime rate happening around that city at the time.  This was way before anything got really cleaned up.  Yet if this movie was to be set now.  The concept is still very believable because the city that is shown in the movie is realistic and eerie.   New York has never looked so scary as it does in that movie.  The desolate streets and famous abandon landmarks add a lot of tension to this flick as well.

If the location is a great asset to the movie, than I need to talk a bit about the characters because they are all just great.  Snake Plisseken is a great anti hero because he wants to get back at a government that has become corrupt and taken things away from him.  He is the hero of the story, yet he doesn't always do heroic deeds.  He'll only save you if it will help him in his quest.  The Duke(Isaac Hayes)  is a vicious criminal, no doubt about that, but he really is just trying to make the best out of a bad situation.   He wants to supply enough electricity and power to run the whole city.  Donald Pleasence as the president at first may seem like an innocent victim, but is still very corrupt despite some of the noble things he does in the course of the movie.  Cabbie(Ernest Borgnine), and The Brain(Harry Dean Stanton) add some much needed comedic moments to help the whole movie be  not as  dark and depressing.

I'll admit that some of the dialogue is a bit cheesy and John Carpenter's electronic score might put some of you off, but this is still one of the best action movies of the past 30 years.  If you get a chance to see this on a big screen.  Do it because being inside this kind of world for a couple of hours is a fun and exciting ride.


Escape From L.A.  ( 1996 )

Cast: Kurt Russell, Steve Buscemi

Writers: John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Kurt Russell

Director: John Carpenter

* and a 1/2 *'s out of four

                                   (Theatrical Teaser Poster:  Image Link )

Escape From L.A. is very much a remake of Snake Plissken's first adventure in New York that is becomes almost a parody of that movie.  The concept of separating  Los Angeles from the rest of the country and deporting everyone who doesn't follow strict religious views is so far over the top it becomes laughable.  If you really got rid of all the moral sin that people were committing in this story (smoking, alcohol,non-marital sex,red meat, guns).  There would not be enough room in that city for people to live.  The streets would be overcrowding with people. One city alone is not big enough to house than many people because you are talking about the whole entire earth.  In this movie I saw more people at the deportation center outside than in the actual city itself.

After "Escape from New York",, I wanted to see Snake Plissken in more adventures, and I was disappointed that it took this long for John Carpenter to make a sequel.  What's even more upsetting is that they never expand on this character's mythology or put him in different,exciting adventures either.  They just put him in exactly the same story as they did before.  Characters in this movie keep telling stories of him escaping feds in Cleavland that would of made a better story than this. It would have also been cool to see the events of his life before he got caught and sent to New York.  Many great story lines that should have been great movies are just wasted here. 

The side characters in this are OK, but it's obvious they are just doing impersonations of characters from the first movie.  Map to the Stars Eddie(Steve Buscemi ) is a play off  of  Cabbie..  Cuervo Jones( Georges Corraface) is a reference to The Duke, and Hershe Las Palmas(Pam Grier) is a take off on Harold "The Brain" from "Escape From New York".   They even have  almost the exact conversation from when they first meet.  

The tone in this one is a lot more lighter than the first.  Watching Snake's reactions to his surroundings was a great treat and really the only thing saving me from shutting it off.  Since the movie is a bit more upbeat, you get a chance to see some of his dark humor and wise cracks  that wasn't shown as much in the first film  In New York, that pace looked very scary.  You had no idea of where and when you could be killed.  Los Angeles on the other hand looked like a place where you could easily avoid trouble.  I'm pretty sure I would have been hanging around some of those great theatre houses if I got sent there and would have a great time.  

I have mentioned before about the visuals feeling a bit dated from the first movie .   The effects are even worse in this one.  There is one moment involving Snake's arrival on Los Angeles in a speed submarine that looks incredible bad.  I've seen better computer effects with M.S. paint than I do in this flick.  Other moments involving a basketball match and surfing are also quite bad too.     The effects and situations are so cartoonish, I almost wish this was an animated feature. 

If you have a chance to see this movie for free do it because there really is nothing worth paying full price for.  It's a very over the top experience that I would have probably enjoyed a little more if it stood on it's own and had nothing to do with the previous movie.   It's something I will watch every three years, but it's not something I would want to own.

                                               ( Front Cover of Comic Book Series ) 


  1. Escape from L.A. is definitely not a great movie - but its so over the top and campy I'll always find it fun.

  2. "Big Trouble in Little China" was Kurt Russell's and John Carpenter's somewhat cheesey but fun flick. Snake Plissken should never be in anything campy. "Escape From LA" is fun to watch as a parody if you seen the first but I can't honsetly recomend it. Thanks for commenting Alex.

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