Escape from New York might be far from perfect, but it’s an entertaining flick with an outstanding, and subdued, performance from Kurt Russell and a fantastic electronic score from Carpenter and Howarth. This new 2-disc Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release from Shout Factory is phenomenal not only porting over the features from the previous CE release but includes a few more goodies for fans to peruse.
Escape from New York
Genre(s): Action, Adventure
Shout Factory | R – 98 min. – $29.93 | April 21, 2015
THE MOVIE – 3.75/5
Updated Thoughts (2015):
While still not quite on board thinking this is a classic, I found my second or third viewing to be far more enjoyable. Not sure if I attribute that to the few outright entertaining action films or what, but I thought it was an outright fun flick that breezed by its 95-minute running time and doesn’t outthink itself with a slow plot or cardboard cutout characters.
So with that, you can read my original reviews with some of my thoughts still remaining five years later…
Original Review (published in 2010):
John Carpenter’s Escape from New York is considered one of the most iconic movies of the 1980s with one of the most iconic characters perhaps ever created… and for some reason I never had gotten around to actually seeing the film despite owning the 2-Disc Special Edition DVD for a couple years now (more on that later). After actually seeing this for the first time, consider me on the disappointed side rather than impressed. It could be a generational thing but it’s probably because I’m not used to Carpenter’s style more than anything.
Anti-hero and ex-Special Forces turned outlaw Snake Plissken (KURT RUSSELL) is given a deal by a man named Hauk (LEE VAN CLEEF) – warden of the island of Manhattan which was turned into a massive, guard less, lawless prison after the world is ravaged by crime. Air Force One is hijacked and crashes into Manhatta, the President (DONALD PLEASENCE) escapes in a pod and Hauk offers a deal that if Snake goes and recover the President and what he is carrying within 24 hours, he will receive a pardon. Oh, there’s one more thing: Hauk has also inserted a highly charged explosive into Snake’s neck and if he fails his mission, the charge will explode.
Inside Manhattan, landing on a glider plane on top of the World Trade Center tower, Snake makes his way through the chaos first running into cabbie named, well, Cabbie (ERNEST BORGNINE) and then discovering how things ran there. Brain (HARRY DEAN STANTON) knows the ins and outs of the place while The Duke (ISAAC HAYES) is in charge of everything and everybody and apparently also has the President held hostage, using him to get freedom for him and the others. Now Snake must deal with “The Duke” to find the President and get him out of Manhattan before it’s too late.
First, I will say that I do agree with fans of Escape from New York that Kurt Russell turns in a great, yet understated performance. Obviously the eye patch does a lot to give the character the necessary intensity – not to mention a name like Snake – and makes you believe he is a badass not to be reckoned with but rather than being over-the-top and in your face, Russell’s quiet voice distinguishes him from so other 1980s heroes or anti-heroes. So if I have any problems with the movie, it certainly is NOT because of Kurt Russell and what he does with the character.
However, for as great as the Snake character is and how iconic he is as a 1980s anti-hero, I just couldn’t get into the rest of the film. The plot is pretty ordinary and the action sequences aren’t anything spectacular. Even taking the thriller aspects, I was a little… well, really disappointed as it was on the dull side even when the premise on hand is actually interesting.
I know I am in the minority on this and I can’t say the movie is bad at all, Escape from New York didn’t do anything for me. Yes, it has a few entertaining scenes, Isaac Hayes as the primary villain is great in his limited role and of course Kurt Russell turns in a performance that is still great to this day especially when – given the film’s short 95-minute running time – he doesn’t have a whole lot of time to develop the character.
(Original Rating: 3.5/5)
SPECIAL FEATURES – 4.5/5
This release from Shout Factory corrects the wrongs of the lame 2010 Blu-ray released by Fox, porting over all of the features from the 2-Disc DVD and some additional material to cap things off.
Audio Commentaries – Three tracks are included: 1) Actress Adrienne Barbeau and Director of Photographer Dean Cundey; 2) Director John Carpenter and Actor Kurt Russell; and 3) Producer Debra Hill and Production Designer Joe Alves.
Each track, with the first one being newly recorded, provides different viewpoints about how the film came to be, how it was shot and other bits of information. They also vary in style from the low key like Barbeau/Cundey to the more lively and entertaining (Carpenter/Russell).
Big Challenges in Little Manhattan: The Visual Effects of Escape from New York (14:27; HD) breaks down the VFX used in the movie and the challenges especially considering it was filmed in 1979. It’s a well done new featurette interviewing those involved in the effects department.
Scoring the Escape: A Discussion with Composer Alan Howarth (18:56; HD) – Howarth gives a lengthy interview, conducted by Sean Clark (“Horror’s Hallowed Grounds”), discussing his approach to scoring the film and the instruments utilized for the unique sound.
On Set with John Carpenter: The Images of Escape from New York (10:50; HD) – Set photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker is interviews talking about working with John Carpenter and her approach to shooting on the set.
I Am Taylor: Interview with Actor Joe Unger (8:49; HD) – The actor answers a variety of questions (shown in text form) about his role and working on the movie.
My Night on Set: An Interview with Filmmaker David DeCoteau (5:02; HD) – DeCoteau talks about his time on the film as a production assistant working with Carpenter and company.
Deleted Scene (10:46; HD) – We get the bank robbery scene which was to appear as the opening sequence. Included is an optional commentary with Carpenter and Russell.
Return to Escape from New York Featurette (23:00; HD) is an all-encompassing making-of featurette with interviews by the cast and crew set against scenes from the movie.
Rounding things out are Theatrical Trailers (2:46; HD) and Photo Galleries of movie stills, BTS photos, posters and lobby cards.
VIDEO – 3.75/5
Escape from New York jettisons onto Blu-ray presented with a 1080p high-definition transfer and in its original 2.35 widescreen aspect ratio. This is a new transfer from a 2K scan of the inter-positive from the original negative, so this is different from the MGM bare-bones release. However, in spite of a new transfer, it still shows the limitations due in no doubt to the low budget. Detail levels aren’t the best and blacks are on the murky side showing some artifacts while colors, albeit per Carpenter’s style, are muted since it takes place almost entirely at night.
AUDIO – 4.0/5
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track offers good range with crisp and clear dialogue levels throughout while some of the more action-oriented scenes, including gunfire and explosions, are a bit more limited and not quite as dynamic. However, as with the video, I think it’s a product of the budget and age than a poor job by the technicians. It’s still heads and tails better than the DVD (even the collector’s edition).
OVERALL – 4.25/5
Overall, Escape from New York might be far from perfect, but it’s an entertaining flick with an outstanding, and subdued, performance from Kurt Russell and a fantastic electronic score from Carpenter and Howarth. This new 2-disc Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release from Shout Factory is phenomenal not only porting over the features from the previous CE release but includes a few more goodies for fans to peruse. The audio and video transfers, while not flawless, is a good upgrade from previous releases.
Brian Oliver, The Movieman
Check out some more screen caps by going to page 2. Please note, these do contain spoilers.