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Escape from New York: Special Edition

Review Written by: Brian Huddleston
Film: A
Video/Audio/Extras: A+/A/A

Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter and Nick Castle
Produced by: Larry J. Franco and Debra Hill
Starring: Kurt Russell, Ernest Borgnine, Harry Dean Stanton, Adriene Barbeau, Issac Hayes, Lee Van Cleef
Buy it!, Buy it, rent it or skip it: Buy it

For a while after I first started adding films to my DVD collection, I pretty much owned a simple Avco Embassy DVD of one of my personal favorite John Carpenter films, Escape From New York. Unlike my other reviews, I felt so joyous in how well MGM did with their release of the two disc set of the film, I wanted to start by writing on the ample supply of goodies this contains. First there are two great audio commentaries which speak in depth on how difficult the film was in making it with such little budget ($5 million) since this was produced under the indie Avco Embassy label. There were several locations which Carpenter and crew had to shoot to sub for the Manhattan Island prison in the film. St. Louis, Missouri and Atlanta were among several locations where Carpenter & company had to use their imaginations in order to form the unique futuristic nightmare city of Manhattan Island. The film has a very well made documentary called "Return to Escape From New York." So you have two audio commentaries (one with producer Debra Hill and set designer John Alves & one very entertaining combo of star Kurt Russell and director John Carpenter) and one documentary filling the viewer with all kinds of fascinating material about how this film was made and the incredible amount of artistic prowess went into creating all the special effects under budget. There is a very intriguing goodie which is an opening deleted scene featuring Snake's "bank robbing." You have other things like Carpenter's liner notes, a Snake Plisskin comic book, Photo Gallery, Trailers, the works. The special features (except for the audio commentary) is on it's own seperate disc. MGM really put together a wonderful package for the die-hard fan.

Escape From New York is definately a genre picture. I would say Carpenter is a genre director. There's a vision here in this film which has to be achieved by someone who knows how to do a lot with very little. How Carpenter cuts the film (bouncing back and forth from different locations) making us believe we're seeing a hellhole right in the heart of New York is quite an achievement. The plot isn't exactly difficult. A group of revolutionaries hijack the President (Donald Pleasance) of the United States' plane. He must escape in a little pod and unfortunately lands right into the Manhattan Island hellhole noted at the beginning of the film as a place (surrounded by a huge wall which stretches all the way around the island) housing the undesirables. A team of the President's men headed by Lee Van Cleef trick Snake Plisskin (played by Kurt Russell) into accepting the task of retrieving the President or suffering a death thanks to capsules injected in his capillaries. The film shows Snake enter by glider plane within the city on top of the World Trade Center (haunting idea that this would still be standing in 1981's future 1997). Snake has a device which can track a bracelet worn by the President. Snake must go within the desolate streets (where shadowy men lurk within the cankground and underneath the sewers) and find the President not knowing what lies ahead. I believe the film's main draw is the unknown of this "prison" where Snake has to find a man that very well could be dead. Snake inlists the help of several unique characters to aid him in his search for the President. Snake finds a lively cabbie played by Ernest Borgnine who knows the area and people. Cabbie leads him to Brain and Maggie (Harry Dean Stanton and Adriene Barbeau) who know where to find a certain man who "runs" the island called The Duke (Issac Hayes).

The Duke has the President and Snake must find him before his 24 hour window is shut and his head explodes. Brain is special because he runs the gasoline in a church-like compound. Maggie is Brain's "protector" (she was "given" to him as a special gift from The Duke). Snake and Brain know each other from years back when Brain left Snake to take the fall for a robbery ending in one of their pals being killed. So Snake forces (thanks to a machine gun pointedly at his face) Brain to help him find Duke. Duke has quite the entourage of miscreants and weirdos to follow his lead and this proves difficult for Snake to get at the President. Still, Snake is turned over to Duke by Brain (who plans to use Snake's glider plane to escape the island) in a bit of clever trickery. So Snake must fight his way past a giant man in a ring of death just to somehow find the President while also dealing with how to get off the island. Soon Brain concocts a plan to snatch the President so that he and Maggie could get a pardon with leading to a release from the island. So all these obstacles are what drives the film. How does Snake survive this onslaught of trials and troubles? The film is briskly paced using the small budget very well providing the viewer with a seemingly open space of quiet menace. What lurks in the shadows of alleys and in the halls of buildings and in the sewers below? The film takes the idea that New York is a haven for sickos and murderers & plants an anti-hero there so that we must watch in anticipation of something to burst forth violently from the dark.

The film is at its best quality in this dvd release. The audio and video of the film is terrific and it's certainly a must buy for fans of this film. This has been a personal favorite of mine since childhood and seeing a worthy package put together really made me happy. I definately recommend purchasing this fine double disc from MGM.

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