Saturday, 10 November 2012

Escape From New York (1981)

This sleek, cool, sci-fi thriller from John Carpenter is the film that really seemed to cement the working relationship between the director and actor Kurt Russell. The two consistently brought out the best in one another throughout the 1980s and this is when it all kicked off (the Elvis biopic was good but also far removed from the rest of the work that they would do together).

Russell has a ball playing Snake Plissken, one of the coolest, grizzled anti-heroes ever to be put on film. He’s asked to rescue the President Of The United States after a flight is hijacked and he reluctantly agrees, not caring at all about the fate of the POTUS but won over by the thought of a full pardon. You see, Snake is a criminal and it will take a criminal to rescue the President because the President is being held in a prison by a bunch of degenerates who want out. The prison is New York itself, walled up many years ago and made inescapable – it’s the place where criminals go to rot.

Escape From New York is just as enjoyable to watch today as it was when it was released back in 1981. It doesn’t matter that the wild future depicted onscreen is now some years behind us (1997), it only matters that this is Carpenter at the top of his game with his favourite actor in the lead role and a supporting cast of top notch character actors: Tom Atkins, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, George ‘Buck’ Flower, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau and Donald Pleasence.

The script, written by Carpenter and Nick Castle, is lean and cool throughout, with Plissken being more a man of action than words. The direction and cinematography is as great as you'd expect from Carpenter during this period in his career, with typically gorgeous work from Dean Cundey, and there's yet another of those classic synth scores accompanying the action - created by the director and Alan Howarth.

It may have been Carpenter's biggest budget at the time but the movie remains a great one to study for those wantting to learn about wringing the most from every dollar. Superb matte paintings, "wire-frame" images of a city created by white tape on a black model, a production design department making numerous trips to garbage landfill sites to scavenge junk they could use for props, every trick in the book was used to ensure that the money is onscreen and that the movie matches the vision of its director.


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