Review Date: July 18, 2002
Released by: Paramount
Release date: 12/15/1998
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: No
Back in 1981 John Carpenter's apocalyptic cult classic Escape From New York
was released to theaters and became a sleeper hit. It brought in a total of around 25 million, which was over four times bigger than its 6 million dollar production budget. John Carpenter, coming off a string of good, but poorly received, horror films (Village of the Damned
and In The Mouth Of Madness
) set out to conquer the mainstream and bring his name back to respectability with Escape From L.A.
Teamed up for the first time in over ten years with both long time producer Debra Hill and Carpenter regular Kurt Russell, there was big hype nestled around this remake. Needless to say, the movie bombed, and has been quickly dismissed as one of Carpenter's worst films. John Carpenter films are renowned for being misunderstood in theaters, and embraced on home video, so does Escape From L.A.
fit the mold? Let's find out.
Los Angeles is a city ravaged by crime and immorality. Upon its physical separation with the United States in 1998 by a massive earthquake, Los Angeles has replaced New York as the island to deport all those convicted of moral crimes. Such crimes include eating red meat, marrying without approval and murder. Once deported to the destroyed Los Angeles, one never comes back. It is now 2013, and next on the deportation list is none other than Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell
). But like in New York, Snake is given a chance at redemption for his sins if he helps recover something for the president.
Utopia (A.J Langer
), the president's daughter, is entrapped on the island along with a remote control that holds the power to destroy countries with the entering of a code. She hijacked Air Force Three with hopes of freeing all those wrongfully deported to Los Angeles, and the remote now lies in L.A. with Peruvian terrorist Cuervo Jones. The demands for Snake are simple, rescue the remote and he receives a full pardon. But like in the first film, Snake is also implanted with a toxin that if not neutralized, will kill him, ensuring he completes his mission. Snake reluctantly agrees to the mission, and drives his submarine to the shores of the prison wasteland.
Retrieving the doomsday device is not as easy as it sounds, and Snake is thrust into one tense situation after another. He runs into Steve Buscemi, the deceiving map salesman, surfs Wilshire Boulevard with Peter Fonda, teams up with Pam Grier and even has an encounter with a deranged plastic surgeon played by none other than Bruce Campbell as he attempts to stop Cuervo in his plight to destroy the good ol' U.S. of A. Will the United States and more importantly Snake Plissken prevail, or will Cuervo & Co. bring about the apocalypse? Those who have seen either Escape From L.A.
or Escape From New York
should know the answer.
To quote Snake Plissken in the latter part of the film, "the more things change, the more they stay the same." Despite occurring on the other side of the United States, Escape From L.A.
is vastly similar to its predecessor. Both films contain an assortment of interesting supporting characters, a cowardly and merciless president, a wonderfully apocalyptic ending and of course cinema's favorite antihero, Snake Plissken. Where the two films differ however, is that Escape From L.A.
upstages the previous film on nearly all levels.
While both films are excellent in their own rights, New York suffered some slower pacing between action scenes, and lacked tension when it should have been at its highest. Carpenter wisely injects L.A. with breakneck pacing and some wonderfully staged actions sequences. The anticlimactic wrestling scene in the first film is easily bettered by the thrilling basketball sequence in L.A. Even at 100 minutes, the film goes by much quicker than New York and is a much more enthralling ride. Although briskly paced, there is still plenty of time for character development, and all of the actors do a fine job.
Kurt Russell has a lot more fun this time around with Snake, uttering uncountable one-liners with his raspy and primitive voice. This is a guy who couldn't give two shits about the fate of the universe, and he sure does show it. The first film had a fine supporting cast, between the likes of Adrienne Bourbeau and Donald Pleasence, but John Carpenter one-ups the casting of the previous film with some B-Movie acting greats. If Robert Altman were to direct a B-Movie, he would probably recruit the film's entire cast. Seeing Bruce Campbell, Pam Grier, Steve Buscemi and Valeria Golino together in the same film is a real treat, and their presence affirms the film's fun and enjoyable nature.
Where the first film was more a grisly look at the future, with innumerable darkly lit shots, L.A. is more of a pure action films, and perhaps John Carpenter's closest film to a Western. Carpenter has always wanted to do a Western, and his fixation certainly shows here. The character of Snake Plissken is obviously a throw back to Clint Eastwood's gruff western persona. Add in the modernized horseback chase (this time with motorcycles), a deserted setting, the fate stricken female and a classic gunfight showdown, and this film embodies all the classic elements that made the Western films so enjoyable. John Carpenter knows that this will not be perceived as a serious piece of social commentary, so he drops the bleakness of the first film, and replaces it with an enjoyable and at times unbelievable tone, which makes the film all the more fun.
John Carpenter has been known from making the most out of his miniscule budgets (see Escape From New York
), but John Carpenter unfortunately makes the least out of his largest budget (an unbelievable 50 million dollars). Done when CGI was still an infant, there are some horribly composed special effects shots that look worse than stuff one would see on a computer game. These unimpressive visuals at time take away from the action, making it seem cheap and unreal, and the film really could have done without them.
Thankfully though, the rest of the film is much better than anyone gives it credit for, with arguably one of the best endings ever to grace an action film. The first film was notable for its classic apocalyptic ending, but there is something about the ending in Escape From L.A.
that will induce a smile upon even the sternest of viewers. This is a film that upon first viewing may seem inferior to the original, but truth be told, L.A. has held up much better than New York has over the years. Escape From L.A.
is a film that only gets better with subsequent viewings, when John Carpenter's intentions are fully realized, so light up a smoke, grow a little stubble, and give this action film the second chance it deserves.
Released when Paramount had yet to jump on the anamorphic bandwagon, the film is presented in a 2.35:1 letterbox ratio, and despite 16x9 enhancement, looks very nice. Like its precursor, L.A. contains an abundance of blacks, and unlike the precursor's DVD, this one contains solid blacks with impressive linearity. The print is clear and blemish free, with very sharp visuals (perhaps even too sharp during those CGI sequences). Reaffirming its western routes, John Carpenter has cast the film with a slight orange tint throughout, and it, as well as the rest of the colors, are consistent and realistic. A solid transfer that could have been excellent had it been given anamorphic treatment.
Paramount presents Escape From L.A.
in English Dolby Digital 5.1 and both English and French Surround, and all three tracks are very aggressive. The 5.1 track has some impressive directional movement and enhanced fidelity, providing for quite the audible experience. The surround speakers are filled with gunshots, dropped shells, helicopter effects, explosions and every other sound effect imaginable, and it sounds clear and engulfing. John Carpenter's score, as well as the heavy rock music, comes through loudly and fully, but never drowns out the clear dialogue. This is one forceful audio mix, and those wishing for some demo material or a little something to annoy the neighbors, look no further.
As expected from Paramount, this DVD contains the theatrical trailer as its only supplement. The trailer is hilarious though, beginning with an introduction like those present in pre-1980 theaters, with cheesy music and an energetic narrator. The voice is the overpowered by a pulsing soundtrack as bits of action and Snake commentary are shown amidst flying credits. It sure beats the cliché trailers that litter the cinemas today.
Regardless of the quality of the trailer, it is only that, a trailer, and is somewhat under whelming. Given John Carpenter's vast involvement with the rest of his films as far as supplemental material goes, one can't help but yearn for more. As it stands, this remains the only Russell/Carpenter collaboration without a commentary.
Despite its unbelievably bad press and viewer reactions upon its initial release, John Carpenter's Escape From L.A.
is a very solid action movie. With its great supporting cast, fun filled nature, witty social potshots, and brisk pace, this film arguably eclipses its predecessor. Featuring an excellent 5.1 audio mix and an impressive, if non-anamorphic, transfer, this is a very worthy disc in terms of presentation. The supplements are bare, but the trailer is original and entertaining. Give Snake another chance, L.A. is a trip worth retaking.
Movie - A-
Image Quality - B+
Sound - A
Supplements - C+
- Running time - 1 hour 40 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- English Dolby Surround
- French Dolby Surround
- English subtitles
- Spanish subtitles