A Movie A Week:

Article from Issue #033

"Escape from New York" Movie Review

4.5/5 Stars

[Join your host, John Holliday, in the review column "A Movie A Week" as he shares his spoiler-free thoughts on our collection of DVD / Blu-ray titles.]

Good action is hard to find these days. Good sci-fi is even harder. But good sci-fi action is impossible. Luckily, we got our fill of it in the past and one of the seminal works was 1980's dystopian Escape from New York. It has the typical feel of other John Carpenter movies but is, in my opinion, tied with his other dual-genre movie, 'The Thing', as his best. As great as the poster art may be, it's misleading with the giant 'Planet of the Apes'-style Statue of Liberty head in the middle of Manhattan. But it does set the perfect tone for this one of a kind mini-masterpiece.

Escape from New York poster art

It is the not too distant future in the year 1997 where crime in the United States has risen 400% leading to the entire island of Manhattan being converted to a maximum security prison. The criminals are left to run free in the wasteland borough but are carefully monitored around the 50-foot containment wall by extensive military personnel. Once inside, the felons never come out and have to fend for themselves without food, electricity, self defense, or any assistance from the government. The animalistic residents would resort to any means to aid themselves which is what makes it so urgent when the U.S. President (Donald Pleasance) crash lands within the prison and is immediately kidnapped.

After Air Force One is hijacked, the Police Commissioner (Lee Van Cleef) knows there's only one man that can retrieve the president undetected, an ex-Special Forces soldier and infamous outlaw, "Snake" Plissken (Kurt Russell). He makes Snake an offer: bring the president back alive in exchange for a full pardon. Since he was already chained and on his way to a life sentence in the New York underworld anyway, he reluctantly agrees. Snake unknowingly has miniature explosives injected into his neck to prevent him from bailing on the deal and now only has 24 hours to complete the mission and have them deactivated. With his iconic eye patch and snake abdomen tattoo, Plissken is obviously the baddest guy around but the Duke of New York (Isaac Hayes) is the man with a gun to the president's head and thus Snake's fate in his hands.

Most of the characters seem pretty disposable. Adrienne Barbeau doesn't do much and was probably only cast for being married to director John Carpenter but emotional attachment was never intended to be the draw to this movie. It's the action and Snake Plissken. Having no redeeming qualities, it's hard to pinpoint why we're rooting for him in the first place but I think it all comes down to Kurt Russell's portrayal. What guy doesn't want to be him in Escape from New York? The special effects don't assist much in his action but they do a great job in building the environment of this world Carpenter has created.

Not only should Russell's memorable Snake Plissken get credit for making the movie so great but also the believable atmosphere of New York as a prison. As with other Carpenter movies, the story is an excellent scenario without extra fluff. It works, that's why he does it. If you want played out drama or a tearjerker go somewhere else. If you want a futuristic battle of one man against the entire criminal underworld, this movie's for you. That's why I give Escape from New York:

4.5/5 Stars

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- John Holliday -
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