Hi everyone, Bryan Here…
John Carpenter’s ‘Escape From New York‘ came out in 1981. I was born in 1981. This is not a coincidence. Ever since my dad showed me ‘Escape From New York‘, I wanted to don an eye patch, stick it to authority, and save the human race, just like Plissken does, but I knew I’d never be as cool as Plissken ever was.
The thing about ‘Escape From New York‘ is that Kurt Russell’s character Snake is such a badass, that’s it’s super rare find a hero that stand for good of the common man and also acts like he doesn’t care about anything. This is one of John Carpenter’s finest films and was smack dab in the middle of his greatest movies, in between ‘Halloween‘ and ‘The Thing‘, which are two of my favorites of all time. Carpenter didn’t have access to the modern technology of CG back in 1981, so he relied on a great team to construct miniature models of New York City, along with matte paintings that are ultra realistic.
These practical effects provide that good old nostalgic feeling for us kids of the 80s, because more often than not, movies today only use computer generated effects, which in my opinion, take you out of the film all together. All these aspects come together to conjure up a damn near perfect and highly entertaining film in my opinion. A film that after more than three decades, still holds up today.
It’s a hell of a story too. A highly decorated US soldier and recent bank robber Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is taken out of prison in a futuristic 1997 where the world is mostly a post apocalyptic scene to rescue the President of the United States (Donald Pleaseance), after his Air Force One Place is hijacked and crashes into a building. If that weren’t enough, he has to navigate the war-torn streets of New York City while avoiding crazy murderers and rapists who are all out to kill him. Luckily he does find a little bit of help with an old cab driver known as Cabbie (Ernest Borgnine), Brain (Harry Dean Stanton), and Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau), as they try to find the President who is being tortured and held hostage by The Duke (Isaac Hayes) and his insane minions.
‘Escape From New York‘ is the ultimate badass movie. It never slows down and each character is so particular and fun, that each one has become iconic. There’s just something about this film where anytime it’s on, you can’t help but watch, and now that this Blu-ray Collector’s edition is out, you’ll be able to watch the best video and audio presentation thus far of this movie. I have a feeling like in another three decades, ‘Escape From New York‘ will be just as good, if not better. Long live Snake Plissken.
‘Escape From New York‘ has been a sore spot for most fans in terms of home video releases. Perhaps the be best release was the DVD collector’s edition that came out several years ago. Then a couple of years ago, this iconic movie came out on Blu-ray for the first time, which was met with criticism to say the least. There were just a lot of problems with the video transfer. Problems that were noticeable and that somewhat took away from the viewing experience. Now we have a new Blu-ray release from the excellent studio that is Scream Factory with a an all new video transfer that says this is a new 2K scan from the original negative.
Reading that had me quite excited, because finally, we were going to have an awesome video presentation for this movie. That being said, this new video presentation of ‘Escape From New York’ is an improvement over the past releases, but it might not be the great quality video we have all been hoping for, so don’t get too excited about it. Again, this has a new 2K transfer in 1080p and is presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The detail and clarity of the image has been improved upon, but only slightly improved. Don’t expect to see every individual Snake Plissken hair, and don’t expect to see fine textures in faces or costumes.
More or less, the big improvement comes from the image as a whole being a little brighter. The film already has a dark tone to it, but now we can make out more detail in background objects as well as a decent amount of makeup effects and dirt on the actor’s wardrobe and faces. It’s not exactly dripping with clarity, but it is noticeable. The black levels look good here too, although there is quite a bit of crush throughout, just like on the previous releases. Here though, the crush has weakened a bit. This isn’t the most colorful film. It’s dreary and gloomy, and takes place mostly at night in the dark corners of a city with no lights. In fact, most of the lighting comes from actual fire. Nothing really pops off screen, but the neon design of the computer interface does pop though with those nostalgic 80s pastel colors.
There are also some issues with the image in the form of fluctuations of clarity and grain, as well as a weird line that appears throughout the film. Some scenes look better than others, but these fluctuations in clarity along with the horizontal line that creeps up has to be derived from the source material and not from this Scream Factory remaster, because I haven’t noticed anything like this before on their previous releases. One of these days, Criterion or Scream Factory will manually go through the original camera negative and clean up any imperfection with the supervision of John Carpenter, but until then, this is the best there is.
Now let’s talk about the audio presentation. This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 option as well as a DTS-HD 2.0 stereo option. The stereo option is quite good and offers quite a bit in the form of depth that the 5.1 option does, but the 5.1 is the better choice here, because the rear speakers and surrounds do get a work out. Dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to follow and free of any pops, cracks, and hiss. There were no shrills either. The iconic John Carpenter and Alan Howarth score sounds fantastic as the bass rumbles and the full set of speakers balances each note gracefully. Sound effects of gun shots and explosions sound loud, robust and layered, offering some great directionality to the entire presentation. You’ll definitely be nicely immersed into this post apocalyptic city with Plissken with this audio mix.
Audio Commentary #1 – Actress Adrienne Barbeau and DP Dean Cundey give us a new commentary track after all these years. Horror fan Sean Clark moderates this commentary as both Barbeau and Cundey discuss their memories of working on the movie with some inside information. It’s slow to start, but picks up quickly. Definitely worth listening to.
Audio Commentary #2 – This commentary track is with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell from 1994. Yes that’s the laser disc version. This is a fun commentary track and a must listen as these two talk about making the film.
Audio Commentary #3 – Here is Producer Debra Hill and Production Designer Joe Alves from several years ago as they discuss making the film and what it was like to work with Carpenter and Russell.
Big Challenges in Little Manhattan: The Visual Effects of ‘Escape From New York’ (HD, 15 Mins.) – This is a new extra with a great title that has the special effects team talk about how they used miniatures and matte paintings to create the post apocalyptic New York.
Scoring the Escape: A Discussion with Composer Alan Howarth (HD, 19 Mins.) – Also a new extra, Howarth gives us a tour of his studio where the music and magic happens and talks about his career. He then discusses his time with Carpenter and ‘Escape from New York’.
On Set with John Carpenter: The Images of ‘Escape from New York’ (HD, 11 Mins.) – The official on set photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker discusses his time on set with some great memories and shows us some excellent photos from the shoot. Also a new extra.
I Am Taylor: An Interview with Actor Joe Unger (HD, 9 Mins.) – This is a new extra and fun interview with Snake’s sidekick from a deleted scene. Joe talks about working on the film.
My Night on Set: An Interview with Filmmaker David DeCoteau (HD, 5 Mins.) – In this new extra, David DeCoteau talks about being on set for this movie. DeCoteau was in his teens and a production assistant back when this film came out for Roger Corman. He has since directed 118 schlocky B-Movies.
Deleted Scene (HD, 11 Mins.) – Here is the original opening of the film, which was a bank robbery sequence and has optional commentary track with Carpenter and Russell. This extra was imported from a previous release.
Return to ‘Escape from New York’ Featurette (HD, 23 Mins.) – Also imported from previous release is this vintage promo reel of the making of the movie with cast and crew interviews, along with on set footage.
Trailers (HD, 3 Mins.) – A couple of trailers for the film.
Photo Galleries (HD, 16 Mins.) – Tons of behind the scenes photos, as well as promo posters and lobby cards for the film are presented here in slide show fashion.
THE ULTIMATE WORD
‘Escape From New York‘ has been released a number of times on home video. In my opinion, this Scream Factory Collector’s Edition is the one to own, at least until a better video and audio presentation is available. Even if you own past releases, the video and audio are better here, if only be a tiny bit, but there are several brand new extras, which makes this release a MUST OWN.
– Bryan Kluger