Review Date: April 18, 2000
Released by: Universal
Release date: 1/19/2001
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes | P&S: Yes (Side B)
The year is 1997, Manhattan Island has been turned into the one maximum security prison for the entire country. A containment wall surrounds the island to keep prisoners inside. All bridges and water ways have been mined. There are no guards inside the island, only prisoners. Once a prisoner is sent to the island they're there for life. The US police force surrounds the island; anyone who tries to leave is shot if they don't immediately abort their escape attempt.
The police guarding the island discover a nearby jet that appears to be in some sort of trouble. The jet turns out to be Air Force One, carrying the president of the United States (Donald Pleasence) on a peace keeping mission. Air Force One has been sabotaged by an anti-US terrorist group who plan on crashing the plane, killing themselves and everyone else on board. The plane does indeed crash, straight into a building on Manhattan island. The president survives by using an emergency escape pod, but he lands right in the middle of the island. A group of soldiers is sent in to recover the president, only to discover that he's been taking hostage by the prisoners. They're forced to leave, otherwise the president will be killed.
Police Commissioner Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) enlists convict Snake Plissken (Snake Plissken) to go into island and rescue the president. Snake is a war hero turned bad - he robbed a Federal reserve depository and has been sentence to a life sentence on Manhattan Island penitentiary. In exchange for saving the president, Snake will receive a full pardon. He agrees and preparations begin to sneak him into the island. Before Snake is sent off on his mission, he gets what he thinks is a routine shot. Turns out the shot is a security measure taken by Hauk, so Snake doesn't try to escape on his own. Two tablets were injected into Snake's arteries. They will dissolve in 24 hours and explode, killing Snake, unless he can return with the president and get the necessary x-rays that will discharge the tablets.
Snake flies a mini stealth jet onto the island, landing on top of an abandoned building. Using a locator device, he begins tracking the president's location. He tracks down the signal, but it turns out a bum stole the pulse monitor off the president. Unable to leave without the president, Snake heads out into the city searching for him. With the help of some new found allies - Cabbie (Ernest Borgnine) the cab driver, smart man "Brain" (Harry Dean Stanton) and his bad ass girlfriend Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau) - Snake must go up against Duke (Isaac Hayes), the criminal mastermind behind the president's kidnapping. Duke has an army of prisoners on his side however, and Snake must overcome impossible odds in order to save both the president and himself.
While John Carpenter's Escape From New York isn't quite as popular as Halloween, its definitely achieved a small cult status over the years. While the movie has some weak points to it, the strong points easily outweigh them. One thing that any action fan is going to love is all the violence - gun fights, death matches, street brawls - just to name a few. In between the action the movie can seem a bit boring, moving too slow at times. That's easily overlooked once the action roles around. I love the concept of Manhattan Island being a penitentiary; given the budget and special effects limitations of 1981, Carpenter did a wonderful job creating a convincing scenario.
The acting all around is terrific - Adrienne Barbeau, Ernest Borgnine, Isaac Hayes - all give excellent performance. And of course there's Kurt Russell. You've got to love his perfect portrayal of Snake, the bad boy ex-war hero who just doesn't care about anyone or anything but himself. You end up rooting for Snake regardless of his bad qualities, because you know that deep down he's really a good guy! Well, at least that's what I thought.
Escape From New York is a fun movie with a cool concept and lots of action. Most have seen this one by now, but if you haven't then you definitely have to give it a try. Chances are you'll love it. Avoid the sequel/remake Escape From LA at all costs and stick with the original!
Escape From New York is presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. There's also a Pan & Scan transfer on Side B. The transfer is quite good - certainly better than past laserdisc and VHS releases. Image is slightly soft and contains strong, vivid colors throughout. Blacks also are nicely saturated. The image is extremely clean with only a few minor blemishes - a few vertical black lines appearing in a few spots. There is some grain in a few scenes but it's hardly noticeable, especially when compared to past releases. Not a perfect transfer, but definitely acceptable. Good job done by MGM - I'm scoring it a B+.
A Dolby Surround track is included on the DVD. Sound is decent overall - no distortion or background noise is present - but a 5.1 remix would've helped immensely given all the action sequence. As it stands, the track isn't very effective with its minimal surround activity.
Though far from his best, John Carpenter has once again created a memorable and effective score in Escape From New York, which sounds better than ever on this DVD. His synthesized music helps create a "futuristic" and suspenseful feel in the movie.
Optional French/Spanish subtitles have been included on the DVD.
Unfortunately, all that's included on this DVD is a theatrical trailer. This is upsetting because there's a great special edition laserdisc that exists, and it was certainly possible for MGM to license out the extras from Image Entertainment, who owns the laserdisc supplements. On that special edition laserdisc is a commentary track by director John Carpenter and star Kurt Russell, along with a documentary that contains a few deleted scenes - including a brief portion of Snake's robbery sequence, which was ultimately deleted from the final film. It's all about money - MGM and Image couldn't come up with a dollar amount they both agreed on. Since Image has licensed out its laserdisc supplements to nearly every other studio (including past MGM releases, such as the Phantasm DVD), one has to conclude that MGM wasn't willing to pay a fair amount. Given this DVD was only $19.99, there was obviously a very limited budget MGM had to work with, but I certainly wouldn't have minded paying a bit more ($25 or so) to get these laserdisc supplements. I'm sure most fans would agree on this.
Fun, enjoyable action movie that's been given a good a/v presentation on the DVD. Really the only thing bad about this DVD is the missing supplements from a past laserdisc release. At a price of $19.98, this DVD is a must own for Carpenter fans - it's the best Escape From New York has ever looked and sounded.
Movie - B+
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B
Supplements - C
- Running Time - 1 hour 39 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter stops
- Dolby Digital Surround
- French/Spanish Subtitles