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In today’s overwhelmingly loaded and hyperbole filled pop culture landscape that is rife with news about Star Wars, Avengers, Orphan Black and everything else in between, there is something in the realms of action and sci-fi that many fans of a certain age aren’t forgetting under any circumstances. Scream Factory is releasing a penultimate collector’s edition version of the action/sci-fi classic Escape From New York today on Blu-Ray and it looks and rings just as true as it did in 1981 when it first hit screens.
The world is quite frankly, over run with crime and in the United States of America the entire island of Manhattan, once a thriving metropolis is now a walled prison reserved for the absolute worst offenders that the country has to offer. However, when a terrorist attack forces Air Force One down on the island, the president of the United States (Donald Pleasance) is marooned in the worst possible place. Out of options, there is only one man who can bring him back, a man getting ready to become a resident of the island, notorious outlaw and Special Forces war hero Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell). Unfortunately for Snake, time is a factor because in 24 hours the president just isn’t all that important anymore and the explosive device that they implanted in Snake’s neck will detonate! So it’s up to Snake to get the President and himself off the island of Manhattan in one piece, with an army of murderers, thugs and thieves on his trail every step of the way, never quite knowing who to trust, on either side of the wall.
A seminal piece of filmmaking, Escape From New York is one of the gritty action romps that inspired countless filmmakers and generations of fans that action can be dark too as it cemented writer/director John Carpenter as much, much more than just a horror guy.
That rare combination of both a commercial and cult hit, with Escape From New York, John Carpenter took what was his social/political statement on the Watergate scandal of 1975 and transformed it into a desolate action wasteland where anti-heroes ruled the land and survival was the top priority. Very much in the vein of a Sergio Leone western, we get a world filled with character and while the people in it may not say very much, everything they do say is brimming with meaning and straight up attitude. Co-written with Nick Castle who played Michael Myers in the original Halloween film there simply isn’t a wasted moment as circumstance causes our anti-hero gunslinger (who is actually quite heroic) to get thrown into the shit straight away. It’s a classic formula , but like all classic formulas, it hinges on its leading performance which in this case is nothing less than iconic.
As Snake Plissken, Kurt Russell who is not the biggest guy in the world at about 5ft 9 inches tall turned himself into an 8 foot tall world beater by simply dawning an eye patch and snarl. Much like the iconic “Man With No Name” from the Leone movies, Russell infuses Plissken with a bad ass sense of humor and an even badder attitude. All the men want to have a beer with him and he is the bad boy that all the ladies want to make love to. It’s easily one of Russell’s best performances that set up an entire career for him moving forward. It made perfect sense to have Lee Van Cleef opposite Russell as Bob Hauk on this and while there wasn’t a ton of character development, the role simply required Van Cleef to do what he does best…be himself. Donald Pleasance, Ernest Borgnine, Issac Hayes, Season Hubley, Harry Dean Stanton and Adrienne Barbeau all rounded out the ensemble but this movie rests with Russell’s shoulders and he truly turns it into something unique.
At the end of the day Escape From New York is one of those pieces of cinema that any self respecting cinephile needs to own as it captures such a basic and visceral tension in an action movie that some people have spent millions upon millions of dollars more than this cost in an effort to find. Proof positive of how much you can actually do with the right people at the helm.
This new transfer struck from the original negative is simply first rate and the special features include all the original special features from previous releases of this movie as well as brand new commentaries and interviews that were made just for this release.