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ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK ($20) has been a fan favorite from the early days of director John Carpenterís career. While it may not have attained the cult status of HALLOWEEN, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is a solid action movie, with a decidedly sci-fi bent. 1981ís ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK predicts a future in which the entire island of Manhattan is turned into the nationís one and only maximum-security prison. With a fifty-foot high wall built around the entire island and no guards on the inside, Manhattan has become a self-contained hellhole, in which criminals are banished, never to return.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK stars Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, a decorated former Special Forces Lieutenant, who robbed the Federal Reserve Bank. As the film opens, the recently captured Plissken is about to be deposited on Manhattan Island, when the unthinkable happens. A band of terrorists have purposely crashed landed Air Force One in Manhattan with the President of the United States (Donald Pleasence) onboard. After the Commissioner of the United States Police force (Lee Van Cleef), determines that an armed rescue team will only get the President killed, he decides to send in one lone man to quietly retrieve the President. Of course, Snake Plissken is that man. With the promise of a full pardon (and no other options), Plissken accepts the deal. Unfortunately, Plissken has less than twenty-four hours to complete the assignment; otherwise tiny explosives that have been implanted in his carotid artery will activate and kill him. Plissken easily slips into Manhattan, where he quickly learns that the President is in the hands of The Duke of New York (Isaac Hayes), the big man who runs the lawless island prison from the inside.

Kurt Russell is terrific as cynical anti-hero Snake Plissken; in fact he is so effective in this role that it changed the course of the rest of his career. Isaac Hayes also turns in a fine performance as the badass villain who develops a facial tick every time he gets in range of Plissken. ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK also features fine supporting performances from Ernest Borgnine, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers and Season Hubley. Writer/director John Carpenter infused ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK with sly humor and keeps the story moving forward at a good pace. Carpenter is also a master of low budget filmmaking and his expertise brings an impressive sense of scale to a movie that would have looked cheap in less capable hands.

While not the collectorís edition fans had hoped for, MGM Home Entertainment has done a quite a good job with their "plain vanilla" DVD release of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. The DVD offers both 16:9 enhanced wide screen and full screen presentations on opposite sides of the disc. However, since John Carpenter is one of those directors who compose for the entire 2.35:1 frame, it isnít worth talking about a badly cropped version of the film. Although not perfect, the new anamorphic enhanced presentation is the best that ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK has ever looked on home video. ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK was shot with very little lighting, on an exceedingly low budget, so the image lacks the snap of a blockbuster from the same period. Still, this 1981 film shows why Dean Cundey has become one of Hollywoodís leading cinematographers. Cundey makes ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK look like it cost a whole lot more than it actually did. The image on the DVD is surprisingly clean and free from visible film grain. Sharpness and detail isnít what one would see in a brand new movie, but overall, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK looks quite good. Colors are strongly saturated, especially in the darker scenes and flesh tone appear realistic throughout the film. There are no signs of chromatic distortion during the presentation. Blacks are accurate, but the level of shadow detail is as limited as the lighting applied to this filmís numerous dark scenes. This cleanly authored DVD doesnít show any signs of digital compression artifacts.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack decodes to standard surround and definitely shows signs of age. Frequency response is limited, although dialogue is always crisp and intelligible. The rear channels provide some sound effect activity, as well as mild ambient sounds. There are more directional sound effects in the forward soundstage, but nothing to overwhelm. John Carpenterís synthesizer score sounds pretty good, but considering what Anchor Bay was able to accomplish with HALLOWEEN, Iím sure every aspect of the soundtrack could have been made to sound a whole lot better. Spanish and French subtitles have been encoded onto the DVD. The basic interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a theatrical trailer.

Until an actual collectorís edition of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK can be produced for DVD, John Carpenter fans should be quite happy with MGM Home Entertainmentís film only edition. After all, having ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK in 16:9 enhanced wide screen for less than 20 bucks makes this DVD a very reasonable acquisition. Recommended to Carpenter fans everywhere.


Escape from New York



DVD reviews are Copyright © 2000 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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