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Escape from New York - Special Edition

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John Carpenter
Kurt Russell
Lee Van Cleef
Harry Dean Stanton
Adrienne Barbeau
Donald Pleasence
Bottom Line: 

 I'd been waiting for this special edition for quite some time, what with the last DVD being an especially disappointing bare bones affair. There was no excuse for that since I knew that the mid- 90's laserdisc release had contained extras such as a Russell and Carpenter commentary track and the oft mentioned (but previously unseen by myself) several minute long bank robbery sequence that never made it into the final cut of the film. Anyway, MGM have made up for that previous disappointment with the release of this new package.
Escape From New York hails from an era when John Carpenter could seemingly do no wrong - coming after or before other classics such as Assault On Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog and The Thing. A very early draft of the script was written in 1974 but it wasn't to be filmed until 1980, after a comprehensive rewrite with the screenplay co-author Nick Castle. This is one of the quintessential outlaw pictures and it stars Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken - a role which Russell still maintains as his favourite.
The film was set in the future (1997!) where to solve the problems of rising criminal activity, the whole of New York has been turned into a giant prison. Once you enter, you never leave. After Airforce One is hijacked and crashed into the heart of the city, a rescue bid for the President, and the sensitive information that he's carrying, is launched by the authorities. New York's new inmate, Snake Plissken, is blackmailed (in an especially unpleasant manner) into
carrying out the rescue.
The cast line-up is pretty special - as well as Russell, we see Lee Van Cleef, Donald Pleasance, Ernest Borgnine, and Harry Dean Stanton, together with Adrienne Barbeau and the surprising use of Isaac Hayes as the lead villain. It's also fun to note Carpenter favourite Buck Flower turning up in a small role.
This has to be one of the darkest films that I've ever seen. Bar some short sequences which take place in bright light, most of the film was shot at night and the scenes are usually sparsely lit. Quite often that was an inspired artistic choice but that was also because it was extremely difficult to light the huge wrecked city areas filmed in the outdoors. Despite that hindrance, Dean Cundey's impressive photography captures all of the action more than clearly enough and he often uses a swooping Panaglide camera to great effect. Joe Alves' production design certainly deserves a special nod of attention - the sheer scale of the sets gives you the impression that the film had a much larger budget than it actually recieved.
This apocalyptic vision is a great deal of fun and the one-eyed, cool talking, rebellious, action anti-hero of Snake Plissken is a classic creation that would be fondly remembered for many years to come. So much so, that a not very well recieved sequel would be made years later. I must confess that whilst I don't rate it as highly, I do also enjoy the slightly more tongue-in-cheek Escape From LA. But for many, or perhaps most, there's only one Plissken movie they'd want to own in their collection. Personally I think that Escape From New York is John Carpenter's best non-horror film and surely a worthy addition to any film buff's or action movie fan's dvd shelf.
MGM's much more fitting replacement Escape From New York release carries a so-so 5.1 soundtrack and it's presented in anamorphic. I think the print quality could perhaps be just a tad sharper but there are no signs of any damage whatsoever and this is by far the best that I have ever seen the film look. This two disc special edition comes with:
A very enjoyable 23 minute featurette which interviews John Carpenter, Kurt Russell, Debra Hill, Joe Alves, Nick Castle, Dean Cundey, Adrienne Barbeau, Harry Dean Stanton and Isaac Hayes.
Two commentary tracks - one with the always entertaining Russell and Carpenter team-up, the other with Debra Hill and Joe Alves.
The deleted bank robbery sequence which lasts several minutes. This is also presented in anamorphic widescreen with the film's credits preceeding it, making it last over ten minutes in total. This has had newly scored Carpenter music added and it also offers an optional newly recorded Russell and Carpenter commentary.
Three trailers, a trailer montage, and behind the scenes, production, and lobby card photos.
A dvd sized reproduction of an issue of the Snake Plissken comic book and a flyer for the interesting sounding Namco "Escape" computer game.
Photos and text on the development of the comic book.
This is certainly a generous and enjoyable release from MGM but I'm not sure as to why two discs have been used - wouldn't the film and those extras have fit onto one disc only? Still, the snazzy embossed outer cover and the fold out interior packaging is excellent, rounding off a more than fitting re-issue of this Carpenter classic on dvd. Highly recommended.

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