Thursday, March 17, 2011

Review: Always Ready to Escape to "Escape from New York" (Happy B'day, Kurt Russell)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 28 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1981)
Running time: 99 minutes (1 hour,  39 minutes)
DIRECTOR: John Carpenter
WRITERS: Nick Castle and John Carpenter
PRODUCERS: Larry Franco and Debra Hill
CINEMATOGRAPHERS: Dean Cundey and George D. Dodge (D.o.P.)
EDITORS: Todd Ramsay
COMPOSERS: John Carpenter and Alan Howarth


Starring: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, and Tom Atkins

One film certainly deserving of its cult movie status is John Carpenter’s early 80’s futuristic sci-fi thriller, Escape from New York. Set in (what was then) the future of 1997, Manhattan Island in its entirety is a giant maximum-security prison where all hardened convicts are sent for life i.e. no one gets out alive.

Early in the film, a terrorist hijacks Air Force One and crashes it into Manhattan. The President (Donald Pleasance) escapes the crash in a pod, but he falls into the clutches of Manhattan’s overlord, The Duke of New York (Isaac Hayes). The Duke holds the President hostage, in an attempt to use him as leverage for his own release from the island.

After the security force that guards the prison on Manhattan Island is unable to rescue the president, the “warden” of the prison, Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef), tries something different. Hauk makes a deal with a former Special Forces serviceman turned bank robber, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), who is about to be imprisoned on the island. All Plissken has to do is sneak onto the island and rescue the president in 23 hours, and Hauk has a micro detonation device inserted into Plissken’s neck to give him incentive to complete the mission.

Escape from New York might be seen a cheesy entertainment, and much of the film, both in story and production values, certainly seems dated, but the film remains an excellent example of speculative science fiction film, especially of the sci-fi action/adventure sub-genre. Carpenter, an exceptional director when he’s on his game, was right in the middle of his golden age. Escape from New York is a delicious, wacky gumbo that combines several film types: urban thriller, western, search and rescue, gangster, exploitation. Carpenter is an imaginative filmmaker and storyteller, who mixes pop science with pulp fiction craziness quite well.

Kurt Russell, a frequent collaborator of Carpenter’s, does his usually cool John Wayne riff, mixing it with a flavor that can be best described as a pre-hip hop gangsta/thug precursor. Escape from New York gives us Snake Plissken, a wonderful and strangely endearing character for such a hard ass. If anything, Russell’s Plissken is always worth the price of admission.

7 of 10


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