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John Carpenter
Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Season Hubley, Harry Dean Stanton
Writing Credits:
John Carpenter, Nick Castle

1997. New York city is now a maximum security prison. Breaking out is impossible. Breaking in is insane.

A thrilling landmark film that jolts along at a breakneck pace, Escape From New York leapt to cult status with high-octane action, edge-of-your-seat suspense and a mind-blowing vision of lone warrior Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) battling his way out of a post-apocalyptic Manhattan.

Box Office:
Budget $75 million.
Opening Weekend
$45.033 million on 3471 screens.
Domestic Gross
$102.543 million.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 99 min.
Price: $24.99
Release Date: 8/3/2010

• Bonus DVD


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Escape From New York [Blu-Ray] (1981)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 9, 2010)

We all know the classic question: “If a tree fell in the woods and no one was there to hear it, would it make a sound?” But how about this one: “If they turned Manhattan into a giant prison, would anyone notice the difference?” Such is the premise of 1981’s Escape From New York, a decent action movie from over-rated director John Carpenter.

Frankly, I can’t understand why Carpenter continues to get work into the 21st century. The guy’s reputation was built around one certified classic - the popular and enormously influential Halloween from 1978 - and a few other minor successes like 1984’s Starman and 1982’s The Thing, which actually flopped theatrically but built a strong following in later years.

Escape From New York falls into the category of “mini-hit”. It certainly didn’t bomb, but it didn’t rock the box office either. As with The Thing, it earned good popularity on video, though the former remains the more prominent title.

However, since the mid-Eighties, Carpenter has produced nothing but duds. From 1988’s They Live! to 2001’s Ghosts of Mars - his most recent offering - each film has died a quick and painful death. That list includes the sequel to Escape, 1996’s generally disliked Escape From L.A.. It’s unclear if Carpenter’s nine-year absence from the big screen occurred because he wanted a break or because producers finally figured out he produced nothing but box office flops, though the director does have a new flick due sometime in 2010.

Due to a laserdisc clearance sale, I actually saw LA before the original Escape, which I’d never watched prior to its DVD release in 2000. The sequel wasn’t a total disaster, but Escape from New York clearly provides the superior movie. Note that I didn’t call it a great flick, because it’s not. However, Escape has enough going for it to make it a generally fun experience.

The story takes place in the then-future of 1997. As I previously mentioned, Manhattan has become a prison island, one from which no one ever leaves. Until the president (Donald Pleasence) crash lands there, that is, and a rescue mission has to take place.

That attempt involves only one man: super-tough Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), a war hero turned crook who is given a shot at freedom if he pulls off this task. For reasons unknown, Russell plays Plissken in full-on Clint Eastwood mode, but surprisingly, it works; yeah, it’s an imitation, but it’s a fun and frisky one that never feels as derivative as it should.

As for the movie itself, I found it enjoyable, though it never quite lived up to the fascinating possibilities of its premise. Granted, the movie probably seemed fresher in 1981 than it does now, mostly because so many post-apocalyptic films have emerged in the interim. No, Escape doesn’t take place after any kind of doomsday war that scarred the earth, but it may as well have considering the desolate landscape of the movie’s Manhattan. This is a moody and dark place where freaky gangs run wild. Hey, everyone there’s a vicious criminal - one would expect such an outcome!

Essentially Escape manages to remain interesting and fairly compelling from start to finish. However, I can’t say it includes any distinct highs. In some ways, it seems surprisingly lackluster; scenes exist that probably should feel really exciting but they often appear a little ho-hum.

That said, the movie features no substantial lows either. At worst, it remains entertaining and watchable. It’s somewhat mediocre at times, but still packs enough of a punch to be largely winning. With a killer premise, it would have taken a lot to truly botch Escape From New York. At times John Carpenter flirts with disaster, but the film always stays on the positive side of the equation and makes for a generally fun flick

One note: after September 11 2001, some folks worried that they’d clip out shots in which a plane crashes into a building. While part of the flick’s action takes place on and around the World Trade Center, the aircraft doesn’t hit that building, though we do see a shot in which it zooms vaguely toward the edifice. This seems rather creepy now.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio A-/ Bonus D

Escape From New York appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This wasn’t an especially vibrant presentation, but it seemed to represent the source material well.

Much of the flick takes place at night, so expect a dark presentation. It entered daylight for its last half-hour or so, and those sequences definitely provided the most attractive images. While blacks appeared fairly dark and dense, shadow detail was a problem. The nighttime setting often came across as rather murky, and it wasn’t especially easy to make out the action. However, this appeared to be the way the movie was shot, so I found it hard to slam the transfer for that issue.

All the darkness affected definition as well. Sharpness was an issue, as quite a lot of the film – almost always during those nighttime shots – seemed just a tad on the soft side. When the movie boasted better lighting, clarity improved as well; the brighter shots demonstrated very nice delineation. However, the darkness that occurred during so much of the film left us with lackluster definition. Again, I didn’t want to come down too hard on the transfer, as it duplicated the film’s look.

No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I saw no edge haloes. Source flaws remained absent, and colors seemed fine. This wasn’t a movie with a big, broad palette; occasional instances of lively hues emerged, but it usually stayed with a dark tint. Within those parameters, the tones appeared good, and when they got a chance to shine, they were quite attractive. Objectively, the movie didn’t look great, but subjectively, I thought it deserved at least a “B”.

I don’t need to offer any qualified comments about the excellent DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack. I thought the audio provided a surprisingly engaging and active environment that seemed much fresher than one would expect from a 29-year-old track. The forward spectrum displayed a lot of lively and discrete sound from all three speakers, and the audio usually blended together neatly. The directionality of the front channels was strong, and surround usage seemed engrossing as well.

The rears provided a positive ambient experience, and they really kicked in nicely during some of the louder sequences. Especially terrific were any scenes that involved helicopters. Those vehicles sounded bold and bright and swirled about effectively.

While the audio could be a bit dated, it still sounded good. Speech occasionally came across as a smidgen reedy, but the lines usually appeared pretty natural and distinctive. The film’s dated but workable synthesizer score presented nice dynamic range and often offered solid low end; bass always stayed tight and firm.

Effects betrayed the thinness typical of recordings from the early Eighties, but they still had decent heft at times. These elements were satisfying and clear much more often than not; for every slightly harsh bit, I heard many more that seemed surprisingly full. This soundtrack rarely betrayed its age, and I thought it deserved a solid “A-“.

How did the picture and audio of this Blu-ray compare to those of the 2003 Special Edition DVD? Both showed improvements. The audio was clearer and more immersive here, while visuals appeared tighter and better defined. Sure, I had problems with the latter, but it still looked noticeably clearer than its DVD predecessor.

Unfortunately, the Blu-ray totally omits all of the supplements from the 2003 SE. It includes only one extra: a bonus DVD. The package’s producers could’ve thrown in the first disc of the SE so at least we’d get its two audio commentaries.

Instead, the DVD offers a bare-bones affair that seems to replicate the original DVD from 2000. Like that one, this DVD provides both 2.35:1 and 1.33:1 transfers of the film, and it offers a trailer. I say that this disc “seems to replicate” the old one for this reason: its files were dated November 2003, the same timeframe as the SE. I expected them to show dates from 2000.

Still, I would be surprised to learn that anything differs when compared to the old 2000 release, and that limits the usefulness of the “bonus DVD”. What self-respecting Blu-ray buff wants a decade-old inferior DVD as an “extra”?

As it stands, Escape From New York largely fell in the “mediocre” category. The movie itself was a decent little action flick that consistently entertained me, though I didn’t think it provided any particularly special thrills. The Blu-ray offers appropriate picture and terrific audio but lacks any real supplements.

That latter fact makes the Blu-ray a disappointment. Unquestionably, fans who want the best visual and auditory rendition of Escape will pursue this Blu-ray, as it looked and sounded better than ever. However, it’s a shame that those same fans can’t retire their seven-year-old DVDs; the Blu-ray really should’ve included the SE’s supplements.

To rate this film visit the Special Edition review of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK

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