Spawned in the prime of Director John Carpenter, “Escape from New York” brings Kurt Russel to action star recognition in the decade that really drove the genre. Starring in a modest budget-driven view of a dystopian future, Russel, as the mysterious Snake Plissken, manages to bring a subtlety to badass that few can pull off. It’s no surprise that this seems to be the role that got him out of cheesy Disney movies (with some exceptions…) and into being a hit throughout several movies of the 80’s, and onward. Surprisingly, this movie has only spawned a single (and ill-fated) sequel, that I actually saw long before ever seeing its predecessor. Although I had frequently read that the sequel copied too much from the original, what I found upon viewing was actually a stark contrast.
In a world ravaged by crime, the entire island of Manhattan has been converted to a walled prison where brutal prisoners roam. But when the U.S. President (Donald Pleasence) crash-lands inside, only one man can bring him back: notorious outlaw and former Special Forces war hero Snake Plissken (Russell).
As said, the film stars Kurt Russel in what seems to be his first major action role, and yet it is incredibly subdued compared to what you’d expect from a badass loner in a chaotic future. Despite that, he manages to convey that you truly do not want to get on his bad side, lest he either shoot you without remorse or quip your ego into submission with well delivered scornful one-liners. There isn’t much in a supporting cast that remains consistent throughout the movie, although the second most prominent characters seem to be The Brain and Police Commissioner Hauk. Played by Harry Dean Stanton and Lee Van Chef, respectively. Hauk is played as well as you can expect for a character that sits around and yells for most of the movie, although his conniving moments could have been more impressive. Harry Dean Stanton as the intellectually superior character The Brain leaves much to be desired, as he doesn’t really do anything all that significant. The rest of the cast is pretty standard acting for an 80’s movie with overacting and cheesiness being abundant traits. Oddly, even the Duke, played by musical legend Isaac Hayes, doesn’t even do much and isn’t really portrayed as that much of a threat.
The plot itself is very interesting, although a bit contrived with the President just having to happen to get in trouble right after Plissken shows up at the prison, and yet the two instances have nothing to do with each other. Despite attempting to create urgency between the plot, and incendiary, device planted within Plisskin’s neck and the limited worthwhile time limit of the President, the film feels as though it takes forever to really get going. The first half is pretty much just exposition, Plissken being duped into the rescue duty, and then him walking around the prison island of Manhattan. When the plot does finally get going, it is oddly still subdued considering it’s an “action movie,” but it does manage to be entertaining on a moderate level.
Overall, it’s not an amazing movie, but it’s not a corny guilty pleasure, either. It’s a unique look at a dystopian future through the eye (not plural) of a loner badass, and while the pacing could be better it is still an enjoyable movie – especially if you’re a Kurt Russel fan. As I said, its sequel – “Escape from L.A.” – was often accused of reusing elements from its predecessor, but while that is true, New York pulls each one off far better with more cohesion to the overall plot than L.A. had. While the movie certainly shows its age, it is still a good popcorn flick for the occasional viewing, so I recommend Renting it.
Fox releases Escape from New York in a very, very barebones release. The disc itself arrives in a two-disc Elite Blu-ray case with decent disc art on the Blu-ray and a copy of the old DVD release sitting next to it. Of course there’s an easily navigable menu system, but other than that there’s really nothing new here to talk about, as the extras are zero (well, a trailer) and everything else is pretty mediocre. It kind of sucks when two different studios own the Escape franchise and both deliver a nearly identical product on Blu-ray.
But let us traverse into the AVC encoded 1080p transfer which reminds us that once for every digital injustice a film receives, redemption will eventually occur. Or something. I’m talking about the fact this film saw an overseas Blu-ray release first, only to be given a terrible looking DNR’d transfer. Many feared this new Blu-ray release was going to feature the same transfer, but MGM knew better and gave us an all-new transfer that looks pretty damn good for a thirty year old film. The films dark visuals are kept which means there’s not a whole lot of detail to make out anyway, but it looks good whenever the scenes have enough light to display it. Grain is also present, so everything has kept a nice layer of detail beneath it. It is a bit strange that outdoor sequences look dark even during the day, but overall this is closer to what the film should look like than the UK Blu-ray release.
Audio is delivered with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that does a surprisingly good job at moving the room. Even the terribly dated soundtrack sounds good, with a solid spread about the room. Of course the explosions all have solid LFE output as well, although some of the sound effects do come off as a bit dated sounding regardless. Overall a pretty solid disc regardless, as its weaknesses can be attributed to its age more than anything.
Extras, as previously mentioned, is limited to a single Theatrical Trailer on the DVD side. Apparently there was a special edition DVD that had a decent amount of extras, so why we weren’t given that as the pack-in instead of a barebones release, I don’t know. If you own the DVD then you’ve no real reason to pick this film up as the extras are zilch—although right now this release is under $15 on Amazon, so that may be the right price for diehard fans who just want the film in 1080p with DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio. If you fit that profile then this is a Recommended release.
Escape from New York is now available on Blu-ray.
Film review by Andrew
Blu-ray review by Zach Demeter