The Film (5/5)
It's always been difficult for me to write about the cinema of John Carpenter. That is not because Carpenter's films are particular deep, and need pages and paragraphs of analysis, though one could very easily do that, and then some. Nor is it the feeling that so much has been written about these films that nothing else could possibly be added (although it could be much closer to the latter than the former). No, it is simply the fact that John Carpenter's early works from the sci-fi satire Dark Star through to Vampires constitutes a body of work that influenced my cinematic way of thinking at such an early age, that it's almost difficult to step outside of my personal fandom, and analyze each film for what they are.
Between his second film the Night of the Living Dead, Rio Bravo, in an L.A. Police Precinct film Assault on Precinct 13 through In the Mouth of Madness, Carpenter could practically tackle any genre, and within do almost no wrong. That is not to say, everything he did was a masterpiece. The Fog regardless of my personal appreciation is an imperfect attempt at a ghost story, and Memoirs of an Invisible Man, sort of indicated the beginning of the end of his golden period. That being said during that time he could do everything from action (They Live, Big Trouble in Little China, Escape from New York) to family films (Starman), in such high quality while keeping the films entertaining. My personal favorite of these films is his 1981 post-apocalyptic actioner Escape from New York.
Escape from New York was an original script by Carpenter and the original Michael Myers, Nick Castle. It was concocted by the duo in the mid-1970's in response to the American political climate at the time. It was passed upon by every movie studio, because of the darkness inherent in the script, and of course, the violence. This all changed, after Carpenter hit big with his 1978 indie Halloween, and studios began to show interest in his work, and he was finally able to get Escape from New York financed. It would be the second of his 5 collaborations with leading man Kurt Russell with whom he would meet and work with for the first time on a made for TV biopic of Elvis in the late 1970's.
Escape from New York runs at just a hair over 80 minutes, and does not waste a minute of it's running time. World building is taken care of during the film's opening credit sequence, and the plot is set in motion almost immediately. We then get Snake on Manhattan for the next 75 minutes in a series of awesome action sequences, in a wonderfully designed world, populated by some of the most well drawn and weird characters to appear in cinematic post-apocalyptia.
Carpenter's direction here is near flawless, keeping the film's pacing flowing nicely, and giving the film a serious, but fun atmosphere. An atmosphere contributed to by the stellar cinematography of Dean Cundey which really brings the darkness of Carpenter's vision to life. The score by Carpenter and frequent collaborator Alan Howarth is a minimalist affair, that really sets the tone for the bleak, almost dry universe. It also stands as one of the filmmaker's most memorable.
John Carpenter never had a problem getting excellent actors into his films, and aside from the aforementioned Russell, we also get the ultimate badass of 60's Spaghetti Western's Lee van Cleef. Carpenter's ex-wife, and B-Movie queen Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie, a hard-edged almost film noir type woman in an action film world. Harry Dean Stanton famous for his work in Alien, Repo Man, and the films of David Lynch appears in the film as Brain, Maggie's boyfriend and the intelligence behind New York's ringleader, which brings me to Isaac Hayes, who plays the Duke of New York. Ernest Borgnine from too many films to count, plays the eccentric Cabbie with hilarious and memorable results.
Escape from New York takes place in the year 1997 (the future?), and Manhattan is now the prison for the whole United States. It is barricaded off, and anyone who tries to escape is immediately terminated. The government drops food onto the island, and the prisoners are free to create a life for themselves. The prisoners also have the option to terminate their existence before going over to the island prison. Snake Plissken is a former soldier, turned famous criminal, who finally has been captured by the police, and is about to be dumped onto the island to spend the rest of his days. Right before he arrives to begin his sentence Air Force One is hijacked, and the President's escape pod ends up on Manhattan. Snake is given an a new option by Police Commissioner Hauk (Lee Van Cleef), go on to the island and retrieve the President within 24 hours, and his crimes will be forgiven.
OK, so the first thing I will get out of the way is. I never picked up the initial EFNY Blu-ray MGM put out in 2010. I heard too many mixed things, and at the time was still satisfied with my 2003 Collector's Edition to add something less than definitive to my increasingly stuffed shelves. So the last version of the film I have owned and viewed is a 12 year old DVD, and comparing that to the new Scream Factory Blu is quite the revelation. Scream Factory has announced there transfer as being a new 2k scan from the inter-positive. The transfer as presented here looks quite good to my eyes, and accurately represents the film as I remember it looking over the years. Escape from New York is presented in a 2:35:1 AVC encoded 1080p transfer. The detail present on the transfer is quite nice, flesh tones are accurate, and there is a healthy grain structure present. Blacks are deep, but there are occasionally issues with crush going on during some of the film's darker moments. There is also a bit of softness in the the transfer, that being said I get the feeling the softer moments were inherent in the production itself, and not a result of Scream's new transfer. Overall, it is quite pleasing to the eye, and feels like a solid upgrade from at least the DVD, but once again I cannot exactly speak against the prior Blu.
Scream have provided two audio options a DTS-HD surround 5.1 mix and a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track both in English. Both tracks sound fantastic, with dialogue coming through clearly, as do the FX, and the film's quite prominent score. I did not detect any issues with audio anomalies such as pops, cracks, or hissing on the track.
The prior MGM Blu-ray from what I could find out was barebones, which is completely odd seeing as the prior DVD was a fully loaded Collector's Edition. Fortunately, Scream has ported over the extras from the CE, and added some of their own. This edition has 3 commentary tracks, a documentary, multiple interviews with members of the cast and crew, the original opening scene that runs about 10 minute in length, trailers, and galleries.
My favorite John Carpenter film, gets an excellent Blu-ray release from Scream Factory. The Blu looks and sounds quite good, and is loaded with extras. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.