Escape From New York Movie Review
July 10, 2007
Written by James "Bo" Gorcesky
"Call Me Snake…."
Now, I know on average I am able to cover the most recent movie reviews—but what if I stood a chance of getting a new generation of movie goers to check out some of the finer pieces of cinema from yesteryear. Sometimes, that is one of the biggest thrills that I get, since to me, film is the highest form of the arts in our day and age—and what better way to expose the arts to others? I recently got to show my girlfriend the Fat Boys' film "Disorderlies" Image:Disorderlies movie poster.jpgand regardless on how shitty and ridiculous that film is—I was so pleased to see how much she appreciated the ridiculousness of that film. The same goes for all of the old pieces of shit that I exposed my brother Joey to as we were growing up—as I know how much the likes of Kurt Russell alone has affected his life. Those are the feelings and desire of artistic communication that I want to spread to the rest of the world.
Escape from New York is a classic "post-apocalyptic, constantly in pursuit film" (one of the earliest of the genre which predates the very awesome Mad Max series). It was directed in 1981 by John Carpenter and stars a great cast—but most importantly Kurt Russell (as Snake Plissken) and also features the likes of Ernest Borgnine, Lee Van Cleef, Donald Pleasence, Adrienne Barbeau, Harry Dean Stanton and Isaac Hayes. It is hard to just simply categorize this film into one genre—but most people by today's standards consider it a cult classic within the clichéd 80's films that feature a futuristic post-apocalyptic war. But from the outside, I see a Science fiction fantasy world that keeps you on the edge of your seat with 22 hours to go and counting. But if you want to see it through Carpenter's eyes—this is a Western.
John Carpenter has once been quoted by saying, "Every film that I make is essentially a Western." Somewhere along the line in U.S. culture, we have been able to turn the Western into our own form of ancient Mythology. We never had a chance to have an ancient society such as the Greeks or Egyptians, so we relied on an age of Western Expansion, where a lone hero would venture out into a land devoid of law and became the savior of the people. A hero, most typically clad in white, on a white stag with shimmering Colt revolvers at his side; normally combats some ruthlessness in the town and become the saving grace of all of the very charismatic and iconic towns people. It wasn't until Mel Brooks turned the genre on it's behind and gave it some great slapstick with Blazing Saddles, the genre has never been held in high regard since. Fortunately, Carpenter has made every film to be secretly a Western all unto itself.
In the future of 1988, the crime rate of the United States has risen to well above four hundred percent. To combat such crimes of the states, an United States Police Force is created in 1991. But there becomes waaaay too much of an over population of the prison systems at the time, so the government just decides to close off the island of Manhattan from the rest of the world. Huge walls and barricades surround the city, the rivers are patrolled and the bridges are covered in land mines. New prisoners are dropped off (possibly due to some of the slightest of crimes) and all they have are the walls of New York and the world they have created around them.
It is a dismal dystopian future, much unlike a peaceful and futuristic utopian world (such as one might see in the virtual reality world featured in The Matrix. ) One might be able to see a parallel to this future and our own, if the ever decreasing freedoms that will be enforced on us by the Patriot Act, overcrowded prison systems and the powers that be to control us aren't changed. Well, there I go rambling off again. Unfortunately I have seen way too many films from the 80's that love to showcase this like The Running Man, Blade Runner, Robocop and The Super Mario Brothers. But when we disregard these films as warning signs and precursors for epidemics that will take over our societies—you will end up with no more entertainment of the arts. You will be told what is good, bad or worthy to view.
Okay, I'm done now. Some might think that those days are done and through and over played of the whole evil government out to get you. In fact, it wasn't until such scandals as Watergate were made clear to people that we also wouldn't of had such a great reaction to Star Wars and it's then current angle of tyrannically ruling governments. When you end up giving up your freedoms or have a fool as the leader of your world is when the shit can really hit the fan. Why, look at how Donald Pleasance (who also plays the legendary Sam Loomis in the Halloween series) plays the President of the United States He is not brave, his Air Force One is EASILY taken over by a single revolutionary activist, he escapes with his orange egg shaped escape pod only to be EASILY captured, tortured and humiliated by The Duke of New York.
Who's the Duke? The Duke? The Duke of New York, A-Number-1, the Big Man, that's who! Nobody could play the smooth talking, pirate looking, Cadillac Fleetwood sedan drivin' with the fender-mounted chandeliers than Isaac Hayes. The Duke controls the whole city, and now he has the President (and most importantly a cassette tape that holds the secret of nuclear fusion that must be delivered to the world). The Duke's plan is to ransom off the President so that he can finally find peace and also Escape From New York and have a life of freedom beyond the fifty feet high barricades. Now the US government only has one shot and ONE MAN that can go in and out of a world where no man has ever escaped—Snake Plissken.
Snake Plissken —I heard that he was dead. At the start of the film, Snake is brought into the Staten Island Detention Center for a life sentence on robbing the US federal bank (pretty harsh right)? Plissken is one of most memorable anti-heroes (a hero that lacks redeeming or heroic qualities) in all of cinema. He is out for it for himself and finds the whole concept of going in to New York to save the concept as total bullshit. Police Commissioner Hauk (who is played by the legend of Spaghetti Westerns himself—Lee Van Cleef) attempts to strike a deal with Plissken. You go in, find the President, bring him out in less than 24 hours, and your're a free man. Plissken is constantly full of nothing BUT attitude, and it's not until Hauk tricks the man and secretly injects him with explosives that will go off in twenty-three hours. Now Plissken has no other choice than to save the President for his own survival.
Sounds simple right? Go in and get the President in a world where no one ever came back? One might see a similar story to this in Big Trouble In Little China again where Kurt goes into an environmental under insurmountable odds and comes out swinging. "May the wings of Liberty never lose a feather." So Snake ends up "gliding" into NYC, lands on top of The World Trade Center and uses a grappling hook (Batman style) as his parking brake. Snake travels down to the burnt up and wrecked streets of NYC and eventually comes across the loveable and cuddly Cabbie (Ernest Borgnine) as they watch a drag show in a dirty 'ol movie theater together
Cabbie is the middle man in all of the film. He connects us to the world of the jailed in Manhattan and is able to link Snake up to where he needs to go to get his answers. If anyone knows what happened to the President—it'd be the man called Brain (played by the legendary character actor Harry Dean Stanton.) If you are a current fan of the polygamist drama—Big Love—Harry is currently playing the evil and manipulative Prophet on the show. To coincide with Harry's Big Brains is his partner Maggie's Big Boobs (played by the sexy, sultry and curvaceous Adrienne Barbeau who was currently married to director John Carpenter—the lucky bastard.) Using his charm and threats with gun waving charisma, Snake gets the couple to lead him to the Duke and retrieve the President. Unfortunately, Snake is captured and forced to……
COMPETE IN A WRESTLING MATCH IN MADISON SQUARE GARDEN in Gladiatorial combat for the entertainment of the Cesar of the City—The Duke. Oh wait—you are saying this film is getting too ridiculous for you? Fear not true believers, the film ONLY gets better. In case you are wondering why the call him Snake is because he has this nasty looking Cobra tattoo on his torso and the tail ends below the belt (simmer down ladies and fellow Kurt-o-philes. Snake goes up against the wrestler known as Ox Baker, some of you might recall him from some Wrestling show of the 80's, but he is featured here in this photograph along another living legend, Greg "The Hammer & I rule Myrtle Beach with an Iron Elbow" Valentine. The contestants dish it out using baseball bats and garbage can lids, but it is in the end that those nails from a baseball bat are pierced through Ox's gut and the back of his head. A diversion that lasted long enough for Brain, Maggie and the crew to sneak the President out of the Duke's domain.
Within the last thirty minutes or so of the film, nearly the entire supporting cast is killed off. The crew ends up flying down the 69th Street bridge to avoid whatever land mines they can, unfortunately, they hit one and Cabbie dies. They continue to run on down the bridge until Brain lands on a land mine and dies, then last but not least, Maggie has a Mexican stand off against the Duke's chandelier swinging sedan and she gets run over. The President makes it over the wall and the Duke is hot on their tail. Finally, the President musters some guts and goes temporarily insane to unload a clip or two on the Duke. Snake makes it over the wall with the President's help and Snake receives his pardon as a free man. He gets the explosives dissolved in his body but it is Snake who has the last laugh on them all. He is able to secretly switch cassette tapes on the President with the one that was playing inside of Cabbie's vehicle. Snake walks away a free man and tears the film out of the cassette as the President stands live in front of a telecast—lost and befuddled.
The film stands as a landmark for the careers of many (especially Carpenter and Russell.) Russell, most importantly, was able to break his clean and wholesome image that he had been branded with from doing numerous Disney films. Carpenter was able to break the mold as a clichéd horror film director and was able to push the envelope of making a fun, cross-categorical, Western influenced, science fiction, explosive, action film that he would soon be able to apply a similar formula to The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China and They Live.
The film itself has gone off for some enormous cult status (as far as a John Carpenter films can have a cult following,) it had a sequel sixteen years later called Escape from LA and a remake has been announced in the Spring that is quoting that Gerard Butler (who played the Phantom in the recent Operatic version of the Phantom of the Opera.) There was also another rumored sequel a few years ago called Escape from Earth, but that steam probably turned into the fad of "remake a classic." Not to mention a comic book series called the Snake Plissken Chronicles in 2003 and a video game and anime influenced concept based on the Escape from Earth storyline. Unfortunately, due to not enough following and support for budgeting the game and animated film never surfaced—nor did a proposed Plissken television series.
ALSO if you are a Plissken fan, and a fan of video games, you might have played the games within the Metal Gear series. Hideo Kojima, the creator of the Metal Gear series, has said in an interview that the character designs for Solid Snake and Big Boss were based on Snake Plissken. In the second game Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, the character Snake uses the codename "Iroquois Pliskin" early in the game, as a reference to the character. Incidents in the first half of the game also cause him to be assumed dead by many, the mission of this game is also to rescue the president. In the gameMetal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Naked Snake has an eye patch just like Plissken but on his right eye.
And how's about this?! If you have ever seen the animated series The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy– there is a reoccurring character called Hoss Delgado who is a combination of Snake Plissken and Ash from the Evil Dead series—BAD ASS!
And if you were lucky enough to catch the recent gorey horror fest of The Grindhouse, director Quentin Tarantino loved Russell's portrayal of Snake in the films. It was the reason why Kurt is seen in the Death Proof segment. He also has a scar where his Snake eye-patch would be and also holds a similar hair style in his earlier films. Too bad Russell plays a total wimp in The Grindhouse and ends up looking and screaming like a little girl at the end of the film:(
But, all in all, this is a very enjoyable Saturday matinee film where you can just relax from a hangover and watch the bad ass exploits of Snake as he has to rescue the President and come across some very colorful characters and RIDICULOUS moments in cinematic B movie history. If you are intrigued by this film, you should definitely catch it—as it is frequently on AMC. And if you like, search your local Wal-Mart in their bargain bins—I just bought a very sweet Collector's edition of the film that features a high quality digital transfer and even a deleted scene that lets you see a bit into Snake's past. I would also recommend to not waste your time with Escape from LA, although it does have Bruce Campbell as a sketchy ass psychotic plastic surgeon. And if you happen to come across enjoying Carpenter's work, I would also HEAVILY suggest you catch his other films with Kurt Russell and They Live with Rowdy Piper. Once you can get through all of those, start unwinding with some classic Westerns to understand the true creativity on the man behind the lens known as John Carpenter.