ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK
In the twenty plus years since it was released, John Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK has achieved a well-deserved cult status. ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK was a rather ambitious, but gritty action tale that Carpenter successfully brought to the screen with a lot of ingenuity, a solid cast and for very little money. Back in 1981, Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK predicted that rampant crime would eventually lead to Manhattan Island being converted into the nation’s only maximum-security prison. Isolated from the rest of the country by water, walls and land mines, the former New York City has become a dangerous, lawless world unto itself- from which there is no return and no escape.
As the film opens, terrorists take over Air Force One, which they then crash into Manhattan, but not before the President of the United States (Donald Pleasence) is able to launch his escape pod away from the airliner. When the United States Police Force is unable to retrieve the President from the island prison, Commissioner Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) decides to try a completely different approach. Recently convicted former Special Forces operative Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is about to be sent to the New York City prison for the rest of his life, but Commissioner Hauk offers him a full pardon if he can rescue the President in less than twenty-four hours. Although Plissken accepts the deal, Hauk takes out a little insurance policy by implanting tiny explosives in Plissken’s carotid artery, which will kill him if he doesn’t return in the allotted time.
The character of Snake Plissken turned out to be a career-changing role for Kurt Russell, whole was able to shake off his Disney movie connection by effectively portraying Carpenter’s cynical anti-hero. Isaac Hayes also turns in a memorable performance as The Duke of New York- the New York City prison’s A-number one badass, who develops a severe facial tick every time he gets in range of Plissken. Writer/director Carpenter injects the film with a good dose of sardonic humor, in addition to keeping the action moving at a good clip and hiding the film’s budgetary limitations. The solid supporting cast of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK also features Ernest Borgnine, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers and Season Hubley.
MGM Home Entertainment has made ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that is enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. This Special Edition release of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK offers a step up in visual quality over the preceding "film only" DVD. The image on this edition is crisper and better defined than its predecessor, plus film element utilized for the transfer appears much cleaner, with virtually no blemishes or other signs of debris. Colors come up with better saturation than they have demonstrated in the past, plus the flesh tones are far more natural looking. There is also better stability in the hues and no signs of noise or smearing. Blacks are more accurately rendered here, plus the level of shadow detail is better and the picture produces a more dimensional quality than it has in past editions. There is a noticeable grain structure throughout much of the movie, but it helps to create a very film like presentation. Overall, this transfer brings out the finer points of Dean Cudey’s fine cinematography and hides most signs of age. Digital compression artifacts are never a cause for concern.
For this release, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK comes with a remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. Considering the film’s age and production limitations, the remixed track really sounds great. The forward soundstage does tend to dominate the sound mix, although the rear channels do supply a good deal of atmosphere and musical fill, in addition to occasional active sound effects. Channel separation is pretty good across the front, which enhances both the sound effects and John Carpenter’s funky synthesizer score. Additionally, fidelity is pretty good for a film of this vintage, with the music demonstrating a very solid bottom end. Dialogue is always completely intelligible and the voices come across in a reasonably natural manner. A French language track is also provided on the DVD, in addition to English, Spanish, and French subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a rather nice array of supplement materials that have been spread across both discs of the set. Disc one of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK comes with two separate running audio commentaries- the first features director John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell, while the second includes producer Debra Hill and production designer Joe Alves. Originally appearing on the Laserdisc release, Carpenter/Russell commentary mixes enjoyable anecdotes with a good deal of production detail. As for the Hill/Alves track, it is more straightforward, with a technical bent, but proves to be an interesting listen.
On disc two, one will find the remaining supplemental programming. Return To Escape From New York is a twenty-four minute documentary that looks back on the production of the film through a series of new interviews with the cast and crew. Although the program seems a bit short in length, it actually packs a lot of information into its brief running time. Interviewees for Return To Escape From New York include John Carpenter, Kurt Russell, Debra Hill, Joe Alves, plus co-writer Nick Castle, cinematographer Dean Cundey, in addition to cast members Adrienne Barbeau, Ernest Borgnine, Harry Dean Stanton and Isaac Hayes. Next we have the A-number one extra that Snake Plissken fans have been eager to see for decades- Missing Reel #1, which is the film’s original opening sequence that was cut prior to release. Although this opening sequence features the bank robbery that sent Plissken to the Manhattan Island prison, it is actually more of a distraction from the main story than an enhancement to it. Missing Reel #1 also comes with an optional and enjoyable Carpenter/Russell commentary. Other supplements include a DVD sized Snake Plissken Chronicles comic book, with a "making of" on the DVD, an odd Snake Bites footage montage, plus a very cool still gallery of production photos and lobby cards. A theatrical trailer, two teasers and several bonus trailers close out the supplements.
As a John Carpenter fan, I am rather partial to ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and am glad that MGM has finally gotten around to doing a Special Edition of the film. The presentation on the new DVD marks improvements in both video and audio quality, which should please fans to no end, as should the supplemental materials. If you are a fan, the Special Edition of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK comes very highly recommended.
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