Escape From New York Is Still A Solid Movie To Watch

In my life, I was fortunate to have visited the City of New York not once but twice. The first in 1997 and the last in 2011. Already the city was highly modernized and Times Square was often filled with people enjoying the place without worrying about criminals pouncing on them.

What I never got to discover was New York City during its dark, old days when it had a lot more crime and a depressing social atmosphere as seen through the history books of the city. This alone makes watching John Carpenter’s 1981 flick Escape from New York a more interesting experience for me personally. Anyway, here is my review of Escape From New York.

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Kurt Russell as Snake.

The movie begins with information that in the then-future of 1988, crime in America skyrocketed by 400% which compelled the Federal Government to convert Manhattan of New York into a maximum-security prison zone which is eventually surrounded by very high walls (complete with armed guards), mines on the routes out of Manhattan and armed security personnel patrolling the water (by helicopter). Those who were sentenced to imprisonment at Manhattan really have no hope escaping.

In the then-future of 1997, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is captured by the authorities for a Federal Reserve robbery attempt and eventually he gets offered a deal: if he rescues the captured President of the United States (Donald Pleasence) in New York and recovers a sensitive audio tape, a presidential pardon will be arranged for him. Before going to New York, Snake is injected with micro explosives which will blow up in less than 24 hours and they can only be neutralized if he succeeds with his mission. Snake flies into New York but his mission starts roughly.

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The gang and its leader.

That’s enough with the plot. Now I’ll talk about the quality of the film.

For a movie with a low budget of $6 million, Escape from New York looks pretty grand in certain parts specifically with the physical presentation of the streets of the city looking very deserted (note: location filming took place at the isolated and decayed sections of East St. Louis, IL), the on-location shooting at Liberty Island and the gladiator fight at the St. Louis Union Station’s grand hall. Furthermore, the filmmakers managed to stretch whatever Dollars they had to making the New York prisoners looking undesirable and dangerous.

The visual effects, believe it or not, were the result of the film crew having very talented specialists who made the photo-realistic shots. The matte paintings looked very convincing and so did the wire-frame animation sequence which was done with the use black light and special tape (which are visually visible as lighted wire frames). Not to be outdone is the use of miniatures to emphasize New York City with the flying shots. Definitely no computer-generated images here!

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James Cameron doing a matte painting for the movie.

In terms of storytelling, the film remains engaging to watch and along the way you do get to feel and relate with Snake Plissken who does not really care about the affairs of the President nor the Federal Government. He is one of those individuals who only wants to be left alone although his crime of robbery shows his desperation. Snake by the way reflects the anti-authoritarian views of director John Carpenter who in turn wrote this movie’s script after the Watergate Scandal happened.

On face value, Escape from New York looks like an action film but if you’re expecting mind-blowing stuff, intense explosions and lots of hard action, you will be disappointed. The best way to look at this movie is that its presentation of action is moderate. There is the firing of guns but don’t expect a war. There is some hard action here and there, but don’t expect extensive choreographed hand-to-hand fight sequences. What defines the action big time, however, is Snake’s “gladiatorial” battle with the big guy who overdid himself and gave Kurt Russell a truly hard time on shooting the action scenes. Snake’s struggle in the ring was truly Russell’s hard struggle. He was not acting at all during those action scenes.

Ironically, the lack of action and explosions did result the incidental acts of the many extras hired to play New York’s prisoners which really made the film’s concept of a metropolitan prison convincing. Snake’s escape from a run-down building being chased by many bad guys was fun to watch. The scene in which the good guys rode a vehicle only to be hit by debris thrown by many bad guys was intense.

With regards to performance, Kurt Russell’s Snake is truly iconic. He captures the character’s tough guy mentality and the good and honorable guy deep in the character’s heart. Donald Pleasence as the US President was pretty engaging even though he did not have the same amount of screen time as Russell. Pleasence is a very skilled actor and his handling of showing the US President as a scared and desperate person in captivity and as a cold-hearted man with power in safety is very memorable.

The other players like Lee Van Cleef (the hard authority figure), Ernest Borgnine (clearly the comic relief), Isaac Hayes (The Duke), Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau and Tom Atkins all had nice performances and they contributed well into the film’s quality.

With regards to weak spots, I could only wish the opening explanation (that crime accelerated by 400%) was accompanied with staged or archived footage of city crime to emphasize society’s downfall and make the film’s concept of turning New York into a prison more convincing. Also there was the missed opportunity by the filmmakers to use archived news footage of New York City’s history of high crime and police corruption. Lastly the final conflict between Snake and the Duke lacked impact and was underwhelming.

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Snake, his companions and the US President (rightmost).

Overall Escape from New York is not only one of John Carpenter’s best films…it is truly a Hollywood action-adventure classic with a very intriguing concept (New York City as a prison) that deserves your attention. Unlike Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), Escape from New York is timeless and remains fun and relevant to watch. Just don’t expect to see bombastic action and stunts.

If you intend to watch the movie, I suggest buying the movie’s collector’s edition Blu-ray disc release while it is still available. Good luck finding a copy of it.


Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this article, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your project or business, check out my services.

Author’s Note: This article was originally published at my old Geeks and Villagers blog. What you read on this website was an updated and expanded version. In other words, this newest version you just read is the most definitive version

 

 

A Look Back at Starman

When it comes to science fiction movies of Hollywood, the 1980s was quite an interesting decade. Released during the decade were these epic sci-fi flicks like The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and Dune. Not to be outdone were the low-budget sci-fi movies that made an impact on pop culture like The Terminator and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.

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Within the big mix of these kinds of films during the 1980s was Starman which was overlooked.

Released in 1984 to positive reviews (and later an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for Jeff Bridges), Starman was directed by John Carpenter who established himself nicely in Hollywood with 1978’s Halloween. Between Halloween and Starman, Carpenter also directed genre classics Escape from New York and The Thing.

Starman follows an alien creature whose ship (a UFO) was shot down by fighter jets that acted in defense. The alien finds its way into the house of Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen) who is grieving over the sudden death of her husband Scott (Jeff Bridges) watching a personal video of their past and drinking lots of liquor. Inside the house was an album which contained a lock of hair which the alien used to create a clone of Scott instantly from infant to full adult which is the titular Starman (also played by Bridges).

This of course shocks Jenny. She sees her husband return yet it’s not really him. Starman – the alien – clearly is not used to occupying a human body but does his best to communicate with her in English. He also carries with him seven silver spheres that allow him to do special things (specifically manipulating matter) that would appear as miracles to others. Starman wants Jenny to bring him to the Barringer Crater in Arizona within three days in order to be picked up by his fellow aliens. Otherwise he would die.

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Although frightened and hostile towards him, Jenny still was considerate enough to drive him far away.

If there is anything significant about this movie, it is the sheer depth of character development of both Jenny and Starman. Equally significant is the chemistry between Karen Allen and Jeff Bridges who made their characters believable.

Jeff Bridges is excellent in his portrayal of Starman. He’s clearly an alien who is not only struggling on being in a human body but also struggles to learn about the many ways of life and expression around him on his time on Earth. This includes learning gestures, saying words and doing things that people already find normal to do.

Karen Allen delivered a fine performance as Jenny Hayden. In fact when it comes to character development, I see Jenny a more significant character than her counterpart from outer space. While Starman adapts to life on Earth, Jenny’s character is gradually and convincingly transformed from one who is stuck with the past and being bitter into a person who gets renewed by understanding that life does have more to offer, that hope exists, that miracles do happen and finding new love and inspiration to live on.

As a Born Again Christian who went through personal transformation, who gained renewed faith in the Lord, and who left the old life behind to live on with a new purpose in life, I strongly relate with Jenny’s character development a lot. The concept of renewal and personal transformation portrayed by Karen Allen is much clearer to me than ever. Not to be outdone is the element of the healing of the soul of Jenny as a result of learning and understanding Starman.

The movie also has a solid supporting character in scientist Mark Shermin nicely played by Charles Martin Smith. Shermin is the typical sympathetic and willing-to-understand scientist who strives to discover first-hand an actual living alien which puts him into conflict the National Security Agency’s plan to capture Starman dead or alive. His talk with Starman reminds us viewers that humanity is always flawed and has many times resorted to violence as a means of accomplishment whenever a challenging situation (read: the visit of Starman to Earth by space ship only to be shot down due to fear of being invaded) happens.

With regards to storytelling, Starman is a nice mix of genre elements that goes beyond science fiction. It is also a road movie and a romance. At the same time director John Carpenter told the story with a controlled pace that gives viewers ample time to understand what’s been going on and a decent amount of spectacles that highlight Starman’s miracles.

Speaking of which, the film has elements of Christianity and the miracles of Starman are just the start of it. I could emphasize further here what the other elements are but that would mean spoiling the story and that is something I won’t do. You just will have to watch the movie to realize it.

Is Starman a wonderful movie? Absolutely! Is it one of the best works of John Carpenter? Truly it is and it deserves any moviegoer’s attention. How does it compare with other friendly alien movies like E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Compared to those two flicks, Starman has the best and most mature character development of its protagonists. Its dramatic performances are also better.

Starman is a true sci-fi classic that deserves your attention even if you are not fond of sci-fi or UFO movies. I highly recommend buying this movie on Blu-ray disc or by streaming it.

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Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this article, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to your fellow John Carpenter fans and sci-fi movie fans. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your project or business, check out my services.

Author’s Note: This article was originally published at my old Geeks and Villagers blog. What you read on this website was an updated and expanded version. In other words, this newest version you just read is the most definitive version.