Wednesday, February 15, 2012

REVIEW: Escape from New York

Escape from New York
Director: John Carpenter
Year 1981

Escape from New York is a wild and entertaining ride brought to us by the legendary genre director John Carpenter. Starring Kurt Russell as the king of all badasses, Snake Plissken, the film is a cult phenomenon that is so much damn fun that you really can’t just watch it once.
The movie starts out in the futuristic world of 1997, where shit has really hit the fan and society as a whole is governed with an iron fist by an overbearing and intrusive government. When the President’s plane crash lands inside the now maximum security prison of Manhattan, one eyed convict Snake Plissken is pulled from prison life and coerced into infiltrating the apocalyptic hell of New York City in order to get the President out. Surrounded by the scum of society and enclosed within a giant maximum security prison, can Plissken beat the odds and win back his freedom? All signs point to yes.

This movie is just all kinds of fun, taking every opportunity it can in making the world believe that Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken is the end all be all coolest dude the cinema has ever seen. Kurt owns the role and runs with it for the entire stretch of the movie, adding flourishes of smart-ass one-liners that just seem so damn right. Even Russell’s mannerisms seem catered to bringing this larger then life character into the realm of the believable, infusing him with an uncommon sense of realism that’s not usually seen in B-grade cinema. If there’s one thing that really makes this film the pinnacle of cult classic cinema, it’s the damn fine role that Russell has done in crafting this tremendously vivid character.

I can’t also forget the fabulous job that director John Carpenter has also done to make this film rise above its meager origins. His direction and overall visual sensibility is prevalent throughout the movie, making it unmistakably a Carpenter film through and through. His original compositions just ignite the soundtrack, giving you a stark audible picture of how cool and realized this film really is. Nothing seems out of place and the production seems to jive perfectly together like some sick and twisted jigsaw puzzle, crafted by a brilliant director at the top of his game. It almost seems ridiculous that a film that has such a bat shit crazy premise can come together in such a harmonious way, but Carpenter pulled it off with flying colors. His genre efforts have always been stupendous and Escape From New York is right up there with some of my favorites of his work.

There are so many aspects of this film that are top notch that it’s hard to narrow it down to a few choice topics. The diverse cast alone is outstanding enough to write a full blown essay about. We’ve got cult actors coming out the ying yang on this production!
First there’s Lee Van Cleef, Tom Atkins, and Charles Cyphers in small cameo roles that, though lacking in depth, are extremely memorable and give the film a dose of class. Then we have Ernest Borgnine as a wacky cabby doing his Borgnine thing for all it’s worth. His scenes are a joy and I love how is character is vaguely dubious, walking the line between a good guy and a bad guy. After Borgnine we’re treated to Harry Dean Stanton as Brain and the hot mamma Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie. Here’s another two characters that straddle that hazy line between good and evil. The majority of the characters in this film seem to play with that notion of ambiguity.

The same can be said for the two heavy hitters in Isaac Hayes’ The Duke character and Donald Pleasence’s turn as the President. Both men are represented as having low moral fiber, concerned only with their selfish goals. The Duke wants out of the maximum security prison and the President enjoys pulling the wool over the eyes of the unsuspecting public. In hind sight that might be why Snake Plissken, though a convict and overall bad person, can be viewed as the hero of this film. He is the lesser of two evils and is only doing the job in order to save his own skin. Whatever way you look at it, the film is full of scumbags and it’s a joy to see them all double cross each other in various and interesting ways.

As for the look of the film, it’s dark, depressing, and absolutely beautiful. Enhanced by Carpenter’s trademark anamorphic lens, the film just looks stunning, breaking any kind of preconception that B-grade movies have to be all grit and grime and no class. Don’t get me wrong, the grit and grime are here along with some fabulously decayed locations, but they’re filmed in such a way that it almost seems poetic in structure and authentically genuine, without sacrificing the quality and integrity of the picture.
It’s interesting that Carpenter’s style in this film, mirrors earlier spaghetti westerns, which in part flowed like water from Italian filmmakers just over a decade prior to New York’s release. Then to make things even more interesting, the knock offs that soon followed in the wake of Escape from New York’s success, seemed to be solely centered around Italian productions. I guess that’s why some of these Italian efforts didn’t seem so out of place when compared to Carpenter’s original masterpiece, though lacking the master’s specific trademarks. The films had an interlinking cinematic style that seemed to compliment their shared past, which resulted in giving the films creditability to their respective genres, ones that wouldn’t normally receive high praise for being art.

Aside from having that shared atmospheric edge, the films of this ilk are just so much damn fun. They revel in the obscure and play with the notions of “what if”. I mean how can you not have a good time watching a film that has turned the island of Manhattan into a maximum security prison while forcing the president of the United States to dress up in a wig and sing a ridiculous song about a bastard named Duke? It’s impossible!

Escape from New York is one of those cult classics that seem to have all the right elements. The actors are perfect in their roles, especially Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken. The guy was destined to morph into that crazy mofo with an eye patch and he does the character justice, bringing this over the top and highly fictional character to life. Plissken wouldn’t be the highly regarded character that he is today if it wasn’t for the efforts of Russell, and the overall film wouldn’t be the same without the expert eye and heightened sensibilities of director John Carpenter. The combination is a match made in heaven and they’ve proven this by matching up in some of the most heralded horror/action films in genre history.
Just thinking about their other match-ups makes me want to pop in Big Trouble in Little China and The Thing, and just sit back and enjoy the awesomeness. Escape from New York proves that if you have the right combo, anything is possible. The film is amazing and brings to mind these wise, wise words. Escape from New York proves that……..

New York City.... What a shithole!

Plissken for President!

I shot him six times! Sorry couldn't resist.

Well don't they make an intimidating bunch?

Looks like we've got one of those there standoffs.

Really living on the edge there Plissken.

This damn GPS is a piece of shit! Over.

Borgnine, you fucking pyro!

Plissken answers the age old question. Who's bad!

Looks like those lazy days of summer are setting in.

Check this out! Here's.......

........Barbeau! Glorious Heavens Above!

Try to look a little more enthused Stanton.

When tricking out the car goes too far.

Either he just got knifed in the head or he's a human unicorn.

What is this, Passion of the Pleasence?

What's the matter Hayes? Your gun don't go boom?

Shit! Looks like another damn fan letter.

Let's get ready to RUMBLE!

That mongoloid is gonna have one hell of a splitting headache.

Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

No comments:

Post a Comment