Ecape from New York


Year 1981

Kurt Russell as  Snake Plissken  
Lee Van Cleef as Bob Hauk
Ernest Borgnine as Cabbie
Donald Pleasence as President of the United States  
Harry Dean Stanton   as Brain
Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie  
Isaac Hayes as The Duke of New York  
 
Director - John Carpenter
Screenwriters - John Carpenter
  - Nick Castle, Jr.
Movie Score - John Carpenter

This movie, Escape from New York is not a work of art. Check your mind at the door, kick off your shoes, and relax. Get ready for your own escape from stodgy.

Maybe movie should have been titled, Escape from Common Sense because there's not a lot of credible things that are happening. But, the lack of credibility is what makes it fun.

It you've not heard about the plot, in the near future the President of the United States needs to be rescued from the biggest prison in the U.S. The hook is that the prison is the island of Manhattan which has been walled off. It's a no man's land and only a special forces type of guy can get the job done.

This movie is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. The first is that it marks the first pairing of directory John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell. For both of them, this was a turning point movie. John Carpenter had proven that he could direct horror and drama, but not camp. Kurt Russell had done juvenile camp and comedy, but his movie just prior to this one, Used Cars didn't exactly entrench him as a box office draw.

Another important reason is that at the time that this was released, the science fiction genre didn't have many iconic heroes. I can think of only two - Hans Solo and Logan of Logan's Run fame. Hans Solo wasn't exactly over the top and Logan was boring. Enter attitude and competence in the form of a comic book superhero named Snake Plissken.

John Carpenter grabbed some mediocre actors like Lee Van Cleef, the aging bad guy from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Donald Pleasence, the aging actor from Halloween that Carpenter had worked with previously, Ernest Borgine from McHale's Navy, Adrienne Barbeau, the blousy woman's lib figure from Maude who rumor had it had done porn (this was before the internet existed to confirm or deny said rumor), and finally Harry Dean Stanton, an unknown at the time. Use all of the above around the centerpiece - a guy who's claim to fame was The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes by Disney. Oh, just to sweeten the pot a bit, add Isaac Hayes. Out of all of the above, Isaac Hayes was the only one whose reputation rated a positive anticipation.

Big gamble by John Carpenter. But what a payoff!

Cheesy special effects that resembled something done by Garage Dark and Folklore abound. It's alright because this movie is intended to be campy. Shooting, chase scenes, attitude, and impossible scenarios make this one sort of exciting. It's a deft touch because it could've gone down as just plain cheap and dumb. Instead, everyone seems to be inviting an audience along to share their pleasure with them.

Kurt Russell nailed the role. No one in a similar role before or since can avoid a comparison to Snake Plissken. Chuck Norris? Puhlease. Bruce Willis? Favorable comparison. Steven Seagal? Pardon my vomit. Arnold Schwarzenegger? Yeah, I guess. Snake's the benchmark and Arnie is the successful next step.

Yeah, it's fun, if you're not expecting a deeper meaning. Snake, the rogue individualist, breaks stereotyped images everywhere and it's fun to watch him do it. Will he succeed in his effort to rescue the President? How can he fail?

There are running gags ("I heard you were dead"), plenty of violence (for example, a spiked baseball bat to the back of the head), and no good guys (except maybe Cabbie). Snake was, if not the first, at least one of the most popular anti-heroes up until the late eighties. Within the context of the movie, everything makes sense. There're some "Cool" moments throughout but no "Huh?" detractions. Everyone is suitably absurd and every scene is over the top. Add to that a great musical score by John Carpenter and you've got something to kill an evening with.

There's some blasphemy, lots of profanity, and no nudity. Despite the violence, the gore has been tamed down. Some girls may like it because it is tongue in cheek, it's funny in parts, and Kurt Russell looks macho without rubbing the viewer's nose in his testosterone.


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