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Escape from New York (Blu-ray)

Review by: 
Head Cheeze
Release Date: 
Scream Factory
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
John Carpenter
Kurt Russell
Adrienne Barbeau
Harry Dean Stanton
Donald Pleasence
Ernest Borgnine
Bottom Line: 

After the The Fog, John Carpenter took on a decidedly different project with 1980's made for television bio-pic "Elvis" in which he began a lifelong friendship with his star, Kurt Russell. Carpenter's next project would be Escape from New York, and while he lobbied for Russell to star in the film, the studio had their sights set on Tommy Lee Jones. Russell, up to that point, had been associated with comedy and family films, practically growing up in Disney films, and the studio didn't think he had it in him to convincingly portray Escape from New York's anti-hero, Snake Plissken. Carpenter did not relent, however, and Russell not only nailed the role, but also opened a whole new chapter in his career, and, with this, an action star (as well as a genre icon) was born!

Escape from New York is set in the not so distant (at least back in 1981) future, where crime has become a plague, the police force an army, and the island of Manhattan a prison inhabited by the refuse of society who have formed splinter groups of under-city dwellers, Broadway psychopaths, and a legion of soldiers devoted to the prison’s de-facto leader, The Duke of New York (Isaac Hayes).

When Air Force One is hijacked and the President’s (Pleasence) escape capsule crashes in the prison, the President is abducted by the The Duke as a bargaining chip for the amnesty of the island's populace. The prison warden Hauk (Van Cleef) enlists the aid of new inmate Snake Plissken, whose reputation as both a soldier and master criminal is the stuff of legend, to retrieve the President and the tape of a speech he was to deliver at a crucial world summit meeting. There is a catch, however. Snake has just under 24 hours before the summit ends, after which, the President is dispensible, and the microscopic explosives Hauk has implanted in Snake's neck will kill him.

Snake sneaks into the prison city using a stealth glider that he lands atop the World Trade Center, and begins his search for the President, meeting up with the Big Apple’s biggest and baddest, who’ve splintered off into various tribes ranging from sewer-dwelling cannibal types and Broadway berserkers to opportunistic criminal geniuses like Snake’s old partner-in-crime, The Brain (Harry Dean Stanton) who, along with his main-squeeze, Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau), works all of the angles in the city, supplying gas, electricity, and logistics for The Duke. With the aid of The Brain, Maggie, and good-natured Cabby (Ernest Borgnine), Snake must find the President, avoid an army of bloodthirsty criminals, and escape from New York.

Just another day in the life of a hero.

Escape from New York has long been a favorite of mine, and, despite my advanced age and the fact that I’ve seen the film more times than I’ve seen the sun rise (I sleep late) watching it now still gives me a little testosterone boost, although it's usually just enough to get me to the fridge to grab a frosty one. This is one of those Carpenter films where it’s obvious that the director and his star were in perfect sync with one another, and Russell is clearly loving every second of his first chance at playing a badass. He’s essentially channeling Eastwood’s Man with No Name, here, but he does it well, and the film’s fast and furious pacing and macho dialogue makes for an inherently watchable and immensely enjoyable genre mash-up.

Scream Factory add this to their already impressive roster of John Carpenter films and present Escape from New York in a gorgeous two-disc collector’s edition set.

The film, itself, is presented in a surprisingly vibrant 2.35:1 transfer culled from a 2K scan of the original negative. The image is much brighter and more colorful than any previous incarnation I’ve seen, and this is especially noticeable in the film’s few daylight sequences and well-lit interiors (such as the sequences where The Duke uses the President for target practice and the “gladiator” battle between Snake and his hulking opponent). While the image isn’t much more detailed or sharper than MGM’s 2010 release, overall I do find it less murky and more pleasing to the eye. Yes, there’s a bit of edge softness and a few areas where excess grain rears its ugly head, but, for my money, this is the best the film’s ever looked on home video. Scream also offers up two audio options – both a 2.0 DTS MA track and a really impressive 5.1 DTS MA track. Both tracks are exceptionally crisp and clean, and both sport strong bass response, but I was pleasantly surprised by the immersiveness of the 5.1 track.

Bonus features are plentiful and spread out over the two discs, with the “Feature Film” disc sporting a brand new commentary track featuring Adrienne Barbeau and cinematographer, Dean Cundey, as well as two vintage tracks – the first featuring Carpenter and Russell, and the second featuring the late Debra Hill as well as Production Designer, Joe Alves.

The second disc features a host of new bonus material, including a new visual effects retrospective entitled Big Challenges in Little Manhattan: The Visual Effects of Escape from New York (HD), new interviews with co-composer Allan Howarth, actor Joe Unger, and cult filmmaker David DeCoteau (who reminisces about his visit to the film’s set during production). As a photographer, myself, I was especially pleased with On Set with John Carpenter: The Images of Escape from New York (HD) which offers a look at the behind-the-scenes and promotional photography of Kim Gottlieb-Walker. We also get a few carryovers from previous releases, including a vintage EPK, posters and stills galleries, and the legendary deleted bank robbery scene.

Escape from New York is a bonafide genre classic and Scream Factory gives the film the same fantastic collector’s edition treatment as their other great Carpenter releases, with a very appealing new transfer, great new audio mix, and a wonderful mix of new and vintage bonus features that make this the definitive edition of one of John Carpenter’s most-beloved films. Highest possible recommendation! 

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