• Escape From New York

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: April 21st, 2015.
    Director: John Carpenter
    Cast: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Donald Pleasence, Adrienne Barbeau, Ernest Borgnine
    Year: 1981
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    The Movie:

    John Carpenter’s 1981 film Escape From New York is, in every sense, a classic. It remains a dark, riveting action film with some great elements of science fiction and horror worked into the storyline and it served as the world’s introduction to one of its most iconic action heroes – Snake Plissken.

    When the movie begins, we’re launched into the future of… 1997. The island of Manhattan has been turned into one big prison where only the worst of the worst are shipped off to, never to be seen again. Unfortunately, The President Of The United States (Donald Pleasence) finds himself trapped there when his plane goes down and crash lands on the island. Now, the Feds, led by Hauke (Lee Can Cleef), know that they can’t realistically go in there and get him, so they enlist the aid of the one man tough enough to pull it off solo – a hardened criminal named Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell). If Snake agrees to go into Manhattan and get the President out alive, he’ll be forgiven for his past crimes.

    Snake begrudgingly agrees to the deal, and before you know it his glider has landed and he’s running around what’s left of Manhattan trying to find the President. Along the way he’ll get some help from a cab driver (Ernest Borgnine), run into an eccentric named Brain (Harry Dean Stanton), meet a beautiful stranger named Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau) and cross the man in charge of New York… The Duke (Isaac Hayes).

    Slick and stylish but simultaneously tough and gritty, Escape From New York is dystopian action at its best. The ‘New York’ created for the film is a dank, dark and dire place, inhabited by the criminal element that society no longer wants to acknowledge, let alone deal with, and in his own way, Snake fits right in. He’s an antihero in the truest sense of the word and Russell plays the part to perfection. The stubble, the eyepatch, the cigarette seemingly glued to his lip and the tough talk – it all comes naturally, or at least it seems like it does – because Russell is just so well cast here. Sure, you could argue that he’s channeling Clint Eastwood, and you’d be right, but he makes it work and he puts enough of himself into the role that he makes it his own. At this point in time it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing as good as job in the role as Russell did here and he is a huge part of what makes ESNY work as well as it does.

    Of course, the fact that the movie boasts a talented and eclectic supporting cast doesn’t hurt things either. Donald Pleasence is an odd choice to play the President but he pulls it off in his own strange way while Lee Van Cleef is awesome as the shifty man behind all of this. He’s seen here a little advanced in years but remains at his shifty, steely-eyed best. Ernest Borgnine is fun as the man source of comic relief in the film, his cabbie helping Snake get around with a lot more energy and wacky enthusiasm than you might expect from the man and it’s a kick to see him cast against type here. Adrienne Barbeau adds some welcome sex appeal to the cast while Isaac Hayes is just about as cool as it gets as Duke. The cast, which also includes Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Atkins and quick appearances from Season Hubley and George ‘Buck’ Flower, really do excel here.

    Carpenter’s contributions can’t be understated, however. His penchant for telling dark stories is definitely an asset here and he paces the movie quite well. The camerawork, courtesy of cinematographer Dean Cundey, is top notch and there is some really impressive compositions on display here. Though the vast majority of the film takes place at night, there is also some interesting use of color throughout the movie. The visuals and the whole aesthetic behind them also jive perfectly with Alan Howarth’s score. This is one of those movies where it all comes together, a film completely deserving of its huge cult following.


    Shout! Factory presents Escape From New York in a new 2k transfer in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 2.35.1. Taken from an ‘interpositive struck from the original negative’ the image is a bit brighter here than it has been in the past – opinions will vary on whether or not this is ‘right’ for the film. Colors are reproduced quite well and black levels are solid. Some minor compression artifacts can be spotted here and there but the image isn’t plagued by this issue. The picture is quite clean, there aren’t any serious problems with print damage at all, just some very minor white specks now and then, while grain is evident without ever being overpowering. There are times where the movie is a bit soft but a quick spot check to past releases will point to evidence indicating that this is just how the movie was shot, not so much a transfer related quirk. But again, this is a movie where so much takes place at night that there’s not a whole lot of pop here. Shadow detail can sometimes look good, other times it’s murky. Some may note that the image isn’t quite as ‘blue’ as over presentations have shown it to be but in general the colors here look quite strong. Skin tones look lifelike and there doesn’t appear to be any obvious noise reduction here.

    Audio options are provided in English in your choice of DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo Master Audio with optional subtitles provided in English only. The 5.1 track is pretty decent, with some occasionally impressive surround usage throughout. Much of what comes out of the satellites is the film’s iconic score but it sounds good with nice depth to it. Regardless if you opt for the surround sound mix or the original stereo track the levels are nicely balanced and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion. Clarity and depth are quite good and bass response is solid too.

    The extras for this release are spread across two discs. On the disc with the feature itself, we get a new audio commentary with actress Adrienne Barbeau and directory of photography Dean Cundey moderated by Sean Clark. This is quite an interesting track that turns over the few stone left unturned by previous tracks, so there’s a fair bit of discussion here that surprisingly doesn’t overlap that found in the earlier commentary tracks. For the most part things are scene specific here, with Clark doing a good job of keeping the two participants talking about their experiences as the movie plays out. Barbeau talks about her relationships with her fellow cast members as well as Carpenter and Cundey deliver some more technical insight into what went into creating the movie’s specific look. It’s a good track to be sure and a nice inclusion here.

    Carried over from previous releases is the audio commentary with director John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell and the audio commentary with producer Debra Hill and production designer Joe Alves. The Russell/Carpenter commentary has been around for ages but it’s a great track. Those who haven’t heard it will appreciate not only how much detail the two men go into but also the jovial nature of their back and forth. These guys are friends and that comes across here but they’ve got a million and one stories to share. The Hill/Alves track is also good and quite informative. It’s not quite as compelling as the Russell/Carpenter track but it covers different aspects of the making of the movie and as such, it’s got plenty of merit.

    On the second disc we get some interesting new featurettes, starting with Big Challenges In Little Manhattan: The Visual Effects of Escape From New York. This is a fourteen minute piece that interviews VFX supervisor Dennis Skotak and matte artist Robert Skotak about their work on the film and what was involved in creating the New York City of the future! Interesting stuff, especially if you like effects featurettes. Also new to this release is Scoring The Escape: A Discussion With Composer Alan Howarth where the composer talks for just a hair under nineteen minutes about his work with Carpenter on this film and how he set about creating what many rightly consider to be a perfect film score. The nine minute I Am Taylor is another exclusive extra in the form of an interview with actor Joe Unger – who doesn’t actually appear in the movie but IS in that deleted scene mentioned below. He talks about being cast in the picture and what it was like working on the set for the time that he was there. Filmmaker David DeCoteau pops up in another new featurette called My Night On The Set. This clocks in at five minutes and lets DeCoteau talk about how he worked, in his younger days, as a production assistant while Carpenter was shooting this picture. Rounding out the new extras here is On Set With John Carpenter: The Images Of Escape From New York With Photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker. This runs about eleven minutes and it’s an interesting mix of slideshow and commentary with the photographer as she shares her experiences shooting the director at work and shows off some of the more interesting images that she was able to capture.

    Carried over from previous releases are some familiar but important extras, including the original bank robbery deleted scene, which runs just over ten minutes and give us some interesting information on Snake’s character. Also carried over is the excellent Return To Escape From New York featurette. This is made up of on camera interviews with John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Joe Alves, Nick Castle, Dean Cundey and cast members Kurt Russell, Adrienne Barbeau, Harry Dean Stanton, and the late, great Isaac Hayes.

    Rounding out the extras are still galleries made up of behind the sense images as well as promotional materials, a selection of theatrical trailers, menus and chapter selection. The Blu-ray case comes with a nice cardboard slipcover and some reversible cover art.

    The Final Word:

    Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray release of John Carpenter’s classic Escape From New York doesn’t offer a huge upgrade in video quality over the past release but it offers a slight one with solid audio too. Where this release really shines is in the extra features department by carrying over all of the important extras from the two disc DVD special edition that were missing from the last Blu-ray and tossing in some new and worthwhile extras that are unique to this release.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Raf A.'s Avatar
      Raf A. -
      Thanks for the review. I'll pass. These Shout! guys need to learn that a lot from Arrow. Quality over quantity.http://www.caps-a-holic.com/hd_vergl...D=1368#auswahl