I have most likely committed a cinematic sin, as I have only watched the notorious sequel “Escape from L.A.,” but not the more revered original “Escape from New York.” Both are directed by John Carpenter, who definitely took a hit in his resume when he decided to take on a sequel. As most sequels go, it was given a higher budget, a quicker pace, and it was expected to be even more of an action fest. Unfortunately, that led to many gratuitous attempts at scenes that simply didn’t work, including a pathetic attempt at a CGI shark that is frequently seen as one of the worst graphics in the history of movies. Admittedly, however, I was very young when I first saw this – definitely younger than I should have been – and I actually enjoyed it at the time. Which begs the question, how bad is your R-rated movie, when only a kid can enjoy it?
The man with the patch is back. Call him Snake. Kurt Russell rejoins filmmakers John Carpenter and Debra Hill to do to the Big Orange what they did to the Big Apple in Escape From New York – with even more futuristic thrills and slam-bang action! Into the 9.6-quaked Los Angeles of 2013 comes Snake Plissken (Russell). His job: wade through L.A.’s ruined landmarks to retrieve a doomsday device. Don’t miss the excitement as Snake surfs Wilshire Blvd., shoots hoops at the Coliseum, dive bombs the Happy Kingdom theme park, and mixes it up with a wild assortment of friends, fiends and foes (Stacy Keach, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, George Corraface, Cliff Robertson, Pam Grier and more). Escape From L.A. is a “go-for-broke action extravaganza!” (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times).
The star of the franchise returns from the sequel to once again take on the post-apocalyptic bad guys, which Snake Plissken, played by the incredibly adaptable Kurt Russel. This may be the only reason why anybody out there has ever really enjoyed watching this movie, simply because Kurt Russel is that awesome. However, even “Escape from L.A.” couldn’t be completely saved by his will. The only other main character played an actor that was, and still is, noteworthy is Cliff Robertson, who continued on a healthy career and even became Peter Parker’s ill-fated Uncle Ben in the Spider-Man films. The rest of the movie cast is a slew of people to never be heard from again, and a handful of cameos including the cult-loved Bruce Campbell, who I never realized was in this before now, and Steve Buscemi. Unfortunately, this was before movies really started to take on complete changes once he shows up, and his spontaneous presence isn’t comparable to the magnitude of awesome it is now.
The film’s actual story doesn’t actually seem all that bad, and most likely would have made a proper action movie if the writing was either more solid, or Carpenter wasn’t attempting to make a high budget action movie look like a low budget cult classic. In comparison, “Escape from L.A.” cost an estimated $50 million to make, while “Escape from New York” cost a paltry $6 million. Granted, there’s 15 years difference between the two films, but that is still a very significant jump and it easily shows. It really looks as though this must explain some of the worst scenes, as they did some very poor decision making on where to spend the excess budget. Had this been on a low budget, it would probably be as iconic as its predecessor, but now simply serves as one of the many movies through the recent decades that suffers from too much money available to people that thrive best when creatively overcoming limitations.
Overall, I’m wondering if I should really refer to it as an action movie. Most do, but a lot of the movie is spent with Plissken exploring and figuring out what to do, and yet, Kurt Russel leaves such an impression that you remember him being a complete bad ass. Every scene that has him attempting to intimidate or even humiliate someone just leaves you with a strange happy feeling. However, none of the other characters ever present much interest and so you often find yourself bored until Russel is back. If you’re a Kurt Russel fan either devotedly, or passively, then you’ll probably enjoy this as a guilty pleasure. If you don’t care for Russel, then it’s unlikely you’ll find anything redeeming in it aside from cheesiness to mock. Either way, it’s recommended for a Rental at best.
Paramount releases Escape from L.A. in a very, very barebones release. The disc itself arrives in a single Elite Blu-ray case with plain grey wash disc art and an easily navigable menu system. There’s really nothing new here to talk about, as the extras are zero (well, a trailer) and everything else is pretty mediocre.
But let us traverse into the AVC encoded 1080p transfer which really only further makes evident the truly cringe worthy special effects in this film. Pretty much every bit of this movie looks horrible from the CGI/SFX stand point and I really had a hard time avoiding wincing at every fresh scene that popped up. Granted the increased resolution does help the sequences in the film that aren’t littered with bad special effects; even though most of it is dark, it has a lot of solid detail what with the beard on Russell’s face and other pleasing aesthetics like clothing textures. But overall the bad CGI just stands out too much to even really rate this transfer high at all—it’s pretty ghastly and overly soft at times and just…really should be avoided.
Audio is better with the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that really is quite aurally pleasing throughout the film. Dialogue can sometimes be overshadowed by other sound effects, but overall it’s a really solid mix nonetheless. Decent surround elements are thrown in as is a healthy dosage of LFE (though it’s not quite as powerful as it should be), although it’s difficult for me to compare it to the DVD releases mix considering I don’t own or have access to it so I’m not really sure how much of an improvement over the original this one is. Still, it’s satisfactory and is probably one of the few enjoyable elements of the film.
Extras, as previously mentioned, is limited to a single Theatrical Trailer (1:33, 1080p). If you own the DVD then you’ve no real reason to pick this film up as the extras are zilch and the video only further amplifies the atrocities of the special effects. Like the film itself maybe give it a Rental if you’re curious, but only the most diehard of fans will care enough to pick it up.
Escape from L.A. is now available on Blu-ray.
Film review by Andrew
Blu-ray review by Zach Demeter