Can I gloat for just a brief second to start this off? Back in 2013 when I reviewed Scream Factory’s release of John Carpenter’s Body Bags, I mentioned that if there were to be an Escape From New York Collector’s Edition, that I’d like the collective that were interviewing John Carpenter to be involved with that one. It was just a mere fan dream/wish, but on social media and message boards people started questioning “Is Scream Factory doing Escape From New York? Will they do Escape From New York? Please do Escape From New York!” Here we are, a year and a half after that review and I’m now covering Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition of John Carpenter’s Escape From New York. No, this wasn’t my idea and I’m sure my review had nothing to do with this at all, but its pretty cool that my wish came true. Anyway, onto one of the most highly anticipated titles of the year!
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 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!
Escape From New York is only my second favorite John Carpenter film (I think everyone knows by now what #1 is), but I love it a ton. Its one of my all time favorite films. One that I can watch any given day over and over. In my “movie room”, I proudly display the original poster to the right of my screen. My collection isn’t massive, but I also own a Snake Plissken t-shirt (From Fright Rags) and the Funko Snake Plissken action figure (The ones that look like cheap old 80s figures). Not to mention I’ve owned the film quite a few times on the various home video formats. No matter my fandom though, HHWLOD Network’s Jim Dietz is the biggest Escape From New York fan I know. You can listen to myself and Jim, along with Aaron Neuwirth discuss the film on our commentary track HERE.
When I was a wee young lad, I was attending a birthday party at one of my cousins’ homes. They were all talking this and that and quoting some lines from a movie they had watched the previous night that I had never heard of called Escape From New York. My young self was immediately drawn to that title, because, well, that’s one of the coolest and most grab your attention movie titles of all time. You hear it and think “I HAVE to know what this is about”. I convinced them to watch it again, as they still had the VHS from renting it. Well, I didn’t get but less than halfway through the film before my parents told me it was time to go. Usually, I would normally be happy to be on the way home, but this time I wanted so badly to stay and finish. It was on a Sunday too, so there was no way they were letting me rent a movie on a school night. I would have to wait til the next weekend to see the rest of this movie.
That long week soon passed and I was able to see if Snake managed to get the president out of New York safely. This movie really grabbed me. It was sort of strange and really like nothing I had ever seen before. At this time in my youth, the only John Carpenter films I had seen were Halloween, Christine and The Fog. This film was a big action movie, but it wasn’t polished like others, and sort of looked dirty and played in a sort of realistic fashion for the high concept that it was. The hero was also somewhat of a revelation to me. This wasn’t really a good guy at all. Sure, he looked awesome and was a complete badass, but wasn’t someone glamorous and the furthest thing from heroic. You thought he was awesome, but still weren’t sure if you could trust him.
This movie has kept with me through many years, being watched at least once a year for a string of much of my life. The world in this film is one I’d never want to live in myself, but one I thoroughly enjoy venturing to in terms of movie watching or in the sort of imaginary adventure fantasy type way. Its fully realized and beautifully shot (By the man who has shot a slew of my favorite, Dean Cundey). There’s a story behind every character and every corner in John Carpenter’s film. And, I don’t need sequels, prequels, expanded universe or fan fiction to spoon feed me the “specifics”, it just works in a sense of mental creativity and fun when sitting to watch it. This also works to add bits of clarity and depth to the adventure taking place.
Kurt Russell invented one of the greatest cinematic action heroes of all time, and he’s one that really only has two adventures. But, the iconic look, fantastic performance and great film have all be eschewed us Snake’s apparently timeless appeal. He returned one time, but we’re not here to discuss that. Russell modeled his character on a satirical approach to mainly Clint Eastwood, but a little bit of Charles Bronson as well. The thing I love about Snake is that this character is true to himself from beginning to end. There’s no changing of heart or lesson learned, any decision or reaction by Snake Plissken is incredibly true to his character.
Russell has a great supporting cast full of character acting legends and John Carpenter players. First, Tom Atkins needs to be mentioned because he’s Tom Freakin’ Atkins. Unlike the previous jaunt in The Fog, Atkins new damn well to have his Hall of Fame mustache ready to go for Escape From New York. He shares his scenes with Lee Van Cleef, which is such a cool casting addition to pit against Russell for scene chewing. As a fan of westerns, this HAD to be one of John Carpenter’s biggest geek outs directing. Inside New York, Adrienne Barbeau and Harry Dean Stanton join up with Snake. Stanton classes up the joint like usual, but this is probably one of my favorite Barbeau performances and characters from her of all time. Isaac Hayes gets to be a nice menace as well, and everybody loves when Donald Pleasence shows up in anything. From Blofeld to President of the United States. Also, fun factoid, the intercom voice and instructions at the beginning of the film is none other than Jamie Lee Curtis. She also provided her pipes for Carpenter for Halloween III in which she didn’t appear.
Once again, John Carpenter provides us with the score for Escape From New York. And immediately upon the first notes, you know the theme will stay with you forever. I think when folks parody John’s films, some of the pieces from this film’s score are what they are trying to ape when it comes to the sound. Its such a score that not only accompanies well, it also helps build this world we’re taking a 99 minute trip to. I can’t imagine Escape From New York without its score as it truly provides an extra feel and an extra bit of grim to the city. For this score too, its noteworthy that longtime collaborator Alan Howarth was first brought on to work with Carpenter on this movie. He was doing sound effects stuff for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and wound up getting referred over or friend of a friend type thing to working with John. Not only would Howarth continue to collaborate with Carpenter, he’d also wind up taking the full reigns to scoring the Halloween series through to his last being Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. It was with John’s blessing and recommendation of course.
There was a lot of talent involved with the making of this movie that would go on to make their own names for themselves. A little matte painter by the name of James Cameron worked on this film. Carpenter outsourced the visual effects to Roger Corman’s New World Pictures and Cameron was plucked to come along for the ride. And if you compare this look to the one from The Terminator‘s future sequences, you can see his touch was there. The co-writer on this film was Nick Castle, a Carpenter regular. Castle is famous for having played Michael Myers for a majority of the first Halloween. Some will remember Tom Atkins’ character in The Fog was named after him. He’d follow this movie by going on to direct his crowning achievement, The Last Starfighter. His other works are titles you’d know but like to forget from the 90s. He did get a screenwriting credit for Hook though. Nothing to brag on, but that’s still working for Spielberg.
Back in 1981, Escape From New York was a pretty solid hit. Though, I think as time has passed, its had more of a cult following than anything. Its probably due to not having a sequel for another 15 years after it. But, what I like is that John Carpenter and Kurt Russell weren’t interested in that. They came and said all that they wanted to in this film and moved on to the next project. In essence, any sequel to Escape From New York was just them working in tandem again. Instead of tiring efforts on Escape From __insert city name here__, we get such gems as The Thing and Big Trouble In Little China that may not have happened if they just kept following up Snake Plissken stories. We eventually did get a sequel and more Snake, and look how that turned out. I don’t think anyone would be wanting to trade in RJ MacReady and Jack Burton for the second Snake outing any time soon.
Escape From New York is one of the best movies from its decade and one of the greatest films of all time. Even though the dates (The film takes place in 1997) are now off and historically inaccurate, its no bother. Its such a small silly detail that just gets a snicker and then people move on and completely overlook it. The model work and matte work really holds up outstandingly well. Also, as Jim Dietz says “vector graphics will always be cool”. This is swiftly paced film that moves quite well and keeps you hooked on the adventure from start to finish. It gives you everything it needs to from its world and characters and then says “adios”. Sure, you could tell other tales of Snake or the prison city of New York, but they’ve already told the greatest one, so why bother. Its something that’s leaving you satisfied and your mind open to possibilities. This is one of the coolest and most engaging films I’ve ever seen and manages to keep that way after many viewings. In fact, I’m ready to sit and watch it again!
Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Clarity/Detail: Scream Factory has Escape From New York looking better than ever on this Collector’s Edition. It features a brand new 2K transfer of the inter-positive, struck from the original negative. And appreciatively, unlike the previous transfer, this one has had care applied to it and also taken a hands off approach as no tampering is evident. Due to the nature of the production, some of the scenes in this movie are always going to look soft or have a little blur to them. But, the thing that sticks out is how this film finally has its colors looking quite effective and accurate. It makes for a completely different feel in a lot of the scenes that evoke that haunted and hollow feeling of 70s sci-fi. Detail is very good, and the matte and model work looks a lot richer in this than ever before. In fact, it sort of gives that same feel as the original Terminator does with its scenes in the future. Overall, I’m very happy with the way this new transfer looks and its a nice step up from the flat and uninterested version we had previously.
Depth: There’s some solid work here. Some highlights include the arena fight, the rooftop and the plane flying over the city. Every character is free to move at their leisure, and there is a nice crispness between foreground and background.
Black Levels: No real crushing witnessed. Give or take a few moments that blacks hide some detail, they actually look really nice and accurate.
Color Reproduction: Not known for being a colorful movie, the film sort of gains some back with this new transfer. Whites in particular evoke some good mood like never before. Handcuffed Snake walking through the halls to meet Hauk brings a whole new feel to the environment. There are also scenes that now strike a blue filter to them. Also, when colors do come out to play they pop nicely, like when Snake finds the president’s abandoned red pod crashed in the city.
Flesh Tones: Skin is natural and consistent. Detail is much more prominent in close ups. You can make up stubble, scuffs, wrinkles and even a little white scar on Snake’s cheek.
Noise/Artifacts: There is a nice layer of grain and minimal specs that give the film a very nice cinematic look.
Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 DTS-HD MA
Dynamics: I’m pretty sure the 5.1 track may be the same one used on the prior edition. I’m all right with that as its pretty good. It makes the choice of giving love to the score. The music is a driving force and there are so many intricacies and small details heard on this lossless track that you could never pick out or hear before. Its a rich experience. Effects are well rounded, but at times the source lends itself to some muffled dating. This 5.1 does what it does quite well, and has some terrific moments, but its not going to fall into the “best ever” category any time soon. The source won’t lend itself to that. What I do love here is that we get the original 2.0 theatrical mix back and lossless. And it sounds terrific.
Low Frequency Extension: The bass in Carpenter’s score prrs greatly in the mix. The LFE manages to hit the explosion and gunshots beats with a nice precision. Helicopters and car engines also provide a little rumble.
Surround Sound Presentation: The front three channels document the action and its movements around with a good sense of fun and accuracy. Volume placement works quite well, too. The rear speakers feature some crowd noise during the arena sequence, but mostly play to ambiance and a scoring.
Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue is clean and clear.
Escape From New York – Collector’s edition is a 2-Blu-ray disc set that comes with reversible cover art featuring the very badass (and displayed in my movie room) original poster artwork.
- With Actress Adrienne Barbeau and Director of Photography Dean Cundey – This commentary is new to this release. Sean Clark leads a smooth, educational and fun track with the film’s female lead and DP.
- With Director John Carpenter and Actor Kurt Russell – SOOO happy to see this ported over. There are few commentary pairings as good as John Carpenter and Kurt Russell.
- With Producer Debra Hill and Production Designer Joe Alves – I’m very pleased this one made the leap over as any preservation of the work of the late great Debra Hill gets a massive plus in my book.
Big Challenges In Little Manhattan: The Visual Effects Of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (HD, 14:27) – The visual effects artists (One who looks like mid-2000s Tobe Hooper) from the film chronicle their work in bringing EFNY to life. They also talk about James Cameron a bit and in the nicest way possible confirm that even as a matte painter he was just as “pleasurable” as you’ve heard he is to work with.
Scoring the Escape: A Discussion with Composer Alan Howarth (HD, 18:56) – Sean Clark interviews Alan Howarth in his studio. He goes over how he got hooked up with Carpenter (connections through Star Trek: The Motion Picture) and takes us through intricacies of the music and collaboration with John.
On Set with John Carpenter: The Images of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (HD, 10:50) – Kim Gottlieb-Walker, who published an INCREDIBLE John Carpenter coffee table book last year, discusses her observations on the set of Escape From New York. She was the on-set still photographer for John Carpenter from Halloween to Christine.
I Am Taylor: An Interview with Actor Joe Unger (HD, 8:49) – The actor who played Snake’s sidekick in the cut opening sequence discusses his experience. Unger is hilariously blunt and straightforward about everything. What’s great about this, is it features remastered and clean footage of the opening sequence which isn’t anywhere else on the disc.
My Night on Set: An Interview with Filmmaker David DeCoteau (HD, 5:02) – The filmmaker talks about working for Roger Corman leading to him being on set for a series of pickup shots for the film just weeks before release. He got to meet John Carpenter, Dean Cundey and Kurt Russell.
Deleted Scene: The Original Opening Bank Robbery Sequence w/ Optional Commentary (HD, 10:46) – This original opening scene shows us how Snake is in custody when we first meet him in the final cut. It also features some more groovy futuristic stuff and environments from Carpenter. While encoded AVC, the quality on this looks very low-grade DVD or even upconverted VHS.
Return To Escape From New York Featurette (HD, 23:00) – Ported over from the DVD special edition from 2003 is this retrospective doc featuring John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Kurt Russell, Nick Castle, Adrienne Barbeau, Harry Dean Stanton, Dean Cundey, Isaac Hayes and others among the production.
Theatrical Trailers (HD, 2:46)
Photo Galleries: Movie Stills and Behind The Scenes Photos – 141 images
Photo Galleries: Posters and Lobby Cards – 47 images
Escape From New York is one of my favorite movies ever. I could watch it over and over and over again and still want more. Carpenter’s film is the perfect mixture of grim, action, humor and adventure. As for this Blu-ray, yeah, its fantastic. Scream has ported over every essential bonus feature and then crammed it with a bunch more new features and interviews. Its the perfect release of the film. I’m hard pressed to think that anyone would ever be able to come around and put out better. Everything you want is here. We don’t need a new Carpenter or Russell interview because they said it all back in 2003. This is my most hyped release of 2015, and it not only met my expectations, it exceeded them.