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Snake Plissken is the classic anti-hero, ala Clint Eastwood's
Man-with-no-name. Plissken is an ex-soldier turned criminal,
recruited/blackmailed into rescuing a hostage president from the prison
New York City. Plissken is a walking ball of anger and a survival
He fought for his country but had everything taken from him, so he
taking back. Now, he has to rescue a man he doesn't care about, if only
survive long enough to take his revenge on Hauk and the
John Carpenter's film is a masterpiece of dark humor, suspense, and great characters. The film channels the anger and distrust of the post-Vietnam/Watergate era, as well as the then-current Iranian Hostage crisis. Plissken represents, in a fashion, the Vietnam vets who did their job, even if they didn't agree with or understand their war, but came back to nothing. The film's novelization explores these themes better than the movie, but it is hinted at in Hauk's briefing. It also depicts a fascist police state, one that some would say is not too far from reality.
Kurt Russell is excellent in what was a breakout performance for him. Up to this point, Russell had been stuck in low budget comedies, following the end of his Disney days. This performance, coupled with another collaboration with Carpenter, Elvis, led to bigger and better roles. Russell channels Clint Eastwood to give Snake a menacing, if laconic quality. Much like a real serpent, Snake watches and strikes when he is ready; with speed and impact. Russell is able to say a lot with little dialogue, through his body language and facial expressions.
The supporting cast is wonderful. Adrienne Barbeau is the beautiful, but deadly Maggie. She is partnered with the intelligent, but slimy Brain. Their's is a symbiotic relationship; each provides something the other needs. Harry Dean Stanton, a great character actor, presents a Brain that is smart, but ruthless, and more than a bit cowardly. Isaac Hayes is The Duke, ruler of the prison. Hayes is a bit uneven, as he wasn't an experienced actor (he had at least one movie before this) but he is a charismatic performer and ultra-cool. Donald Pleasance is the consummate politician, a big man in his controlled environment, but lost in a world outside his; one he had a hand in creating. Ernest Borgnine is tremendous as Cabby, the answer man and link between Snake and the rest of the cast, as well as to the past of New York. Finally, Lee Van Cleef brings some of that Angel Eyes magic as Hauk, the prison Warden. Hauk is an ex-soldier and identifies with Snake. The difference is, Snake rebelled against the system that betrayed him; Hauk joined it. This was Van Cleef's last good role, before he was saddled with mediocrity in his tv series, the Master, and became the butt of jokes on MST3K.
The film moves at a brisk pace and the dark lighting carries the sense of mystery, isolation, and destruction. Carpenter is able to convincingly hide the fact that he shot this film in St. Louis and LA, and make you believe it is New York. Although there are gaps in logic and missing information, the pace doesn't let you dwell on it. There is a constant feeling of the race against time. If there is any complaint, it's that the budget sometimes holds back some of the action, but characterization makes up for it. Also, the dark lighting is sometimes too dark, and details are obscured.
The new special edition dvd brings a treat to long-time fans: the deleted opening bank robbery and capture of Snake Plissken. Since I had read the novelization before seeing the film, I had long wondered what this sequence had looked like. Although it does explain why Plissken is on his way to the prison when Hauk intercepts him, it doesn't really work in context with the rest of the film. The sequence worked well in the book because of Snake's inner monologue and memories of his mission in Leningrad and the loss of his parents to government action. We understand Snake's hatred of the government and his nihilistic nature. In the sequence, as shot, we don't really get a sense of who Plissken is; just that he has apparently committed a crime and is on the run. We don't really get a feel for his relationship with his partner, which affects the emotional impact at the end of the sequence. Ultimately, the film works better without this footage.
A note on the commentary track: Ox Baker was not seven feet tall. He is probably closer to the 6'6" to 6'7" range, although he was over 300 pounds. His bulk makes him appear larger than he really is, especially in a wrestling ring.
One used to wonder what this film would have looked like with a bigger budget. Carpenter sort of answered that with the sequel, Escape from LA. It was essentially the same film, with better effects and a West Coast sensibility; but, it doesn't hold a candle to the original. The lower budget caused the cast and crew to be more creative and they succeeded far better here. It would be good to see Snake again, but in a new environment, with a different plot. Russell's age could be an asset, as Carpenter could examine an older Snake, who must rely more on cunning than physical skills.
'Escape from New York' ties with 'Assault On Precinct 13' as my second favourite John Carpenter movie (#1 being 'The Thing'. Of course.) I find it hard to be objective about this movie. Like 'The Omega Man' you either love it or you don't. Kurt Russell rocks as Snake Plissken, a cross between Roger Zelazny's Hell Tanner and Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name. He is one cool dude. Spaghetti western favourite Lee Van Cleef is well cast as Snake's nemesis, and b-grade fave Tom Atkins ('Maniac Cop') and Carpenter semi-regular Charles Cyphers ('The Fog') are excellent as his sidekicks. The rest of the cast is equally impressive, and includes cult legend Harry Dean Stanton ('Repo Man'), veterans Ernest Borgnine ('The Wild Bunch') and Donald Pleasance ('Halloween'), soul singer Isaac Hayes, and the buxom Adrienne Barbeau ('Two Evil Eyes') to name a few. 'Escape from New York' is an SF action classic from an era when ideas and character were more important than big budget FX. Personally I'd take this over the Star Wars series any day of the week. Beware the sequel though, it's a major disappointment...
"Escape From New York" is a solid action noir by John Carpenter, although it
lacks the punch of Carpenter's other three previous features ("The Fog",
"Halloween", "Assault on Precinct 13"). Kurt Russell became famous for his
Snake Plissken, and rightfully so, although the character seems to be only a
more gritty version of Napoeleon Wilson in "Assault". What makes this film
the cult classic it is is Carpenter's very apocalyptic and brash story.
This is a very dark film, and it holds up especially well today when shown
against the countless fluff films that Hollywood seems to be churning
Carpenter made the most out of his meeger budget and created a very convincing New York City. Not only is the set design fantastic, but so are the typically strong performances. Russell, Hayes, Barbeau, Pleasence, Stanton, Atkins, Cyphers and Borgnine are all cult legends, and seeing them all work together makes Robert Altman's casts look feeble in comparison.
What limits this film from greatness is surprisingly lax direction by Carpenter. The film is not as tight as it should have been, and really fails to generate any sort of suspense during the action. Deaths just happen out of nowhere, with little to no build up, which is a shame. This movie could have really been amazing. The ending is perfect though, and easily makes up for the film's faults. See it for Kurt Russell and the great ending and you will come away a happy viewer. Watch "Escape From LA" though to see what this movie should have been.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
On his way to an important conference that will determine the fate of America, Air Force One is crashed into Manhattan island - leaving the President and vital information trapped within the single largest prison in the world. With very little time and no way to mount a full on attack, Chief Hauk forces the newly captured ex-war hero Snake Plisskin to launch a covert rescue mission - adding the extra incentive of timed bombs implanted in his body. Snake, with little other choice, accepts the mission to save his own neck (literally). If the remake had any value, hopefully it's value was in bringing a new audience to the original film and watching it for the first time. The film opens with that very distinctive electronic theme music that gives it such a cool feel from the very getgo. This is followed up by a great rough energy as we are introduced to this future (which is now the past!). This story continues quite well but, once all the main players have been introduced, the film falls back on the expected series of 'running away' and fighting. This is not to say that it still isn't quite fun and cool because it is. The effects, music and even the use of tapes make this film feel very old and dated but it actually goes hand in hand with the very rough feel that Carpenter gave to several of his films at the time (whether deliberately or budget influenced I don't know). The plot is full of silly moments and sheer gaps in logic but, if you buy into the mood of the film, you can get by these and enjoy it - though I define you to call this a 'great' film, maybe good. The casting of Kurt Russell is a major thing. He is iconicly cool and his performance and his character are the two main things that have kept this film well known down the years. He looks tough and talks tough and is a great homage to the Clint Eastwood character from the old westerns (a fact made clearer in the sequel). Cleef is a good foil for him as he is tough too but lacks screen time for the majority. It is very clear what Barbeau brings to the party - and the costume selected for her makes no secret of it! I am a man and I'm not proud of it, but she is very easy on the eye here - just a shame that that's all I remember about her performance. Borgnine and Stanton are both good and, along with Hayes, all serve to increase the cult appeal of the film to this day. Overall this is a cult film that looks cheap, has dated effects and a plot that starts to crumble after the first half. However it is cool fun with some great tough dialogue. However, beyond all this it is the iconic character of Snake and the great performance from Russell that will mean that this film continues to get cool points with new audiences.
First things first, Kurt Russel is just plain cool. That said, on to the
review. Escape From New York is a classic action movie with a great horror
cast, including Donald Pleasence, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, and who could
forget Buck Flower. Buck, who has one of the best scenes in the movie
("Sure, I'm the president!"), is hilarious. John Carpenter proves that he
is a versatile director and can make a hell of a film outside the horror
genre. In Carpenter's classic, Kurt Russell plays the immortal Snake
Plissken, New York has become a prison state, and the president has just
crash landed there. Enter Snake Plissken. Freshly captured and about to be
incarcerated in New York, he must save the President (Pleasence, who isn't
even American but pulls it off well) from the clutches of Isaac Hayes in
order to regain his freedom. It's all great stuff and you can't stop
watching as Snake fights his way from one famous landmark to another (he
even has to wrestle Ox Baker). But it leaves me with one unanswered
question: What did happen to Fresno Bob?
Note: A couple of the Duke's cronies are credited as Romero and Cronenberg. Also, Jamie Lee Curtis does the opening computer dialogue.
It's 1997 and Manhattan Island is a walled off prison, during the
flight of Air Force One, the president's plane is taken over by a
terrorist and the president ejects out in the safety pod. Sadly for him
he lands right in the middle of Manhattan Island, when an armed unit
lands inside the walls they are told that the president has been taken
hostage and they must get out of their prison ASAP. At a loss what to
do, the authorities decide to send one man in alone, ex war hero turned
criminal, Snake Plissken, not only does he have to contend with
surviving the incredibly hostile prison, he also has a time bomb
implanted in his body that, should he not get the president out safely
within 24 hours, will explode and mean no more Snake Plissken!.
Made in 1981 and set in 1997, it's safe to say John Carpenter is not the best predictor of the future around. However his vision of a future where America has thrown all it's criminals on one island, where they create their own society out of harms way, has to rank as an incredibly adroit piece of work. This place is grim and deadly, the flotsam and jetsam of society thrust together in this bleak and desolate place of class separation. What Carpenter has achieved with his usual minimal budget allowance is a smouldering sci-fi classic that may be as daft as they come, but it pulses with cool and cheekily slaps you round the face with its cheeky satirical edginess. I must give kudos at this point to the great production design from Joe Alves, who along with Carpenter has crafted this brilliantly dirty netherworld of crime.
Our anti-hero of the piece, Snake Plissken, is superbly played by Kurt Russell, the original choice interestingly was Tommy Lee Jones, but Russell fuels Plissken's mantra to make him one of the eighties coolest grumpy bastards!, and his work here is first class in terms of the films apocalyptic structure. Surroundning Russell is a wealth of quality performers each adding their personal bits to this tick-tock stew, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasance, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau and Isaac Hayes all earn their money and flesh out the story to the end.
Calling Escape From New York an action picture would be setting first time viewers up for a real let down, what action there is is minimal but highly effective, the machismo flourishes acting more as a point of reference to the pictures time bomb urgency. I like to think of the film as more a sci-fi adventure yarn laced with darkly comic humour, with of course machismo thrown in as a side salad to accentuate the bleakness of it all, wonderful. 9/10
Nearly 25 years and an endless amount of viewings later, John Carpenter's "Escape from NY" still ranks high among the chosen few, quintessential cult films of the 80's. This is, simply put, one of the coolest productions ever with legendary characters, ingenious plot and pitch-black humor. Kurt Russell, with eye patch and nihilistic 'you-don't-like-it-go-to-hell' attitude, plays the role of his life as anti-hero Snake Plissken, recruited by his authority-nemesis Bob Hauk to bring back the American president who crashed with his plane in New York. One problem though; ever since crime rose with 400% in 1987, New York has become one giant and demarcated prison where criminals determine their own "civilization". Offered no other choice, Snake infiltrates NY for his mission and for a personal race against the clock. Especially the first sixty minutes of this movie are terrific, since there constantly is the introduction of new and imaginative characters. Class-A actors play all these utterly cool characters, which makes it even more memorable! Apart from Kurt Russell, "Escape from New York" also stars icons like Lee Van Cleef ("The Good, the Bad and the Ugly"), Isaac Hayes ("Truck Turner"), Donald Pleasance ("Halloween") and Harry Dean Stanton ("Repo Man"). Even the smaller supportive roles are well distributed, with the underrated Tom Atkins as Van Cleef's sidekick and Adrienne Barbeau in a very sexy part. The downfall of America's number one city is atmospherically portrayed and Carpenter's own music score creates an excellent mood of despair. The action sequences are impressively photographed and John Capenter professionally camouflages that his film is, in fact, and independent production. My only slightly negative remark is that the story should have had a better, more explosive climax. Particularly because the first hour is so great, the ending seems quite tame. But, what the hell, this movie is a must for every film lover! In 1996, Carpenter also made "Escape from L.A." and even though it's good entertainment, it can't compete with "NY".
Although not as fast-paced or well-lit as its sequel, Escape from LA, this movie works on the level that it is futuristic, without being TOO futuristic, and the main character is likeable, while being tough at the same time. Whether you like Kurt Russell or not, it seems that he was made for the part of Snake Plissken. One of its highest points is its theme song. It really gets your adrenaline going, and that is one of the most important factors of movies. Available on DVD. Sequel, Escape from LA, filmed 15 years after the original also available on DVD.
Many fans of Kurt Russell were extremely surprised he emerged from his years as a child actor to evolve into a believable, hard hitting, action hero. True, he was traditionally recognized to many for his whimsical, good-looks and high school persona. Thus when movie-goers saw him in this film, many stood aghast at his mature tenor. This futuristic story begins with the President's plane being high-jacked by rebel extremists and flown into the island city of New York which has been transformed into a maximum prison. The plane with the president (Donald Pleasence) on board crashes into the prison and it falls to the warden/Police Commissioner, one, Bob Hauk, (Lee Van Cleef) to rescue the chief executive. His plan? To send in a new convict, an experienced ex-soldier and special ops veteran, named, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) with the promise of a presidential pardon if he can return him alive. To insure the clever criminal does not take the opportunity to escape, he is given a lethal injection which can only be removed by the commissioner's medical staff. Thus, begins a timely drama which means life or death for the hero, the president and ultimately the world. The success of this film owes much to the film's other characters like the talkative Cabbie (Ernest Borgnine, terrific acting), Harold ' Brain' Helman (Harry Dean Stanton), his 'squeeze' Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau) and Isaac Hayes, who plays the heavy, The Duke of New York. This a groundbreaking film for Russell and as expected, he carries it to it's rave conclusion with action to spare. ****
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It would have been easy for John Carpenter to stay in George Romero's shadow or remain a cult figure with more "Dark Star"-type entertainment. Instead, JC catapulted his name and franchise into history with the release of EFNY. It contains all the classic elements: a no-compromise anti-hero (Russell), a cast of misfit cohorts who work both for and against his goals (Borgnine, Barbeau, Stanton), an enemy with real dimensions (Hayes), a fantastic and depressingly realistic setting (Manhattan turned into a prison), and an authority we can both respect (van Cleef) and despise (Pleasance). And all of it works extremely well with a no-nonsense plot and storyline. No part of this is so far-fetched that we can't relate to the situation (and who hasn't pictured NYC in this condition one day?) or sympathize with Russell's character Snake Plissken. The worse thing you could say about this cult favorite is the low-key climax. No, you don't get a major battle or explosions as the finale. What you do get is absolutely true-to-form with the rest of the film: Snake walks away after successfully completing his mission (and saving his own skin) and yet can still screw the authority and the society that put him in the situation to begin with...and you find yourself grinning in approval.
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