Nearly three decades after its theatrical release, the cult classic and highly influential masterpiece Escape From New York (1981) has finally seen the light of day in Blu-Ray format. Fans of the film will rejoice at the prospect of viewing this film in 1080p widescreen format with 5.1 DTS-HD sound… or in layman’s terms, “this movie looks and sounds better than it ever has before”. Being a low budget film shot mostly at night, Escape From New York might not seem like the optimum film to be converted to Blu-Ray, but I’m happy to say that in this case, it works very well – largely because the grit and grime of the film is still intact. It’s been cleaned up, but not so much that it loses the visual flavor that have helped make it so appealing as one of the finest B-movies ever made.
That being said, one of the downsides to cleaning up a film that didn’t quite have the bankroll of a major studio behind it is that some of the cheesier effects wind up looking twice as cheesy this time around. A matte painting that might’ve served as an effective backdrop in a previous edition now stands out as a glaringly obvious false setting and there are a few special effects that made me wince. On the other hand, some of this actually adds to the appeal, giving the film a much more surreal, comic book style, which suits the tone rather well in the opinion of this reviewer.
On to the movie itself. While others would argue that Halloween is John Carpenter’s masterpiece, I would put Escape From New York second only to The Thing when ranking the director’s body of work. To call it iconic is an understatement and to refer to its hero, Snake Plissken, as the quintessential badass doesn’t come close to describing how incredibly awesome this character is. You can have your Han Solo and your Man With No Name; Snake Plissken could wipe the floor with ‘em and not even break a sweat. He is the anti-hero personified and Escape From New York is one of those touchstone genre films of the early 1980s.
Set in a dystopian future in which Manhattan has been walled off and turned into a maximum security prison, a group of radicals has kidnapped the President of the United States and intend on using him as a human shield in order to make a mass exodus. With WWIII on the wane, the President is required to attend a three-way summit with the Soviet Union and China. The fate of the world is at stake and former U.S. Army Lieutenant-turned-hardened criminal Snake Plissken is brought in to save him. There’s a lot more to the story, including double-crossing, Isaac Hayes, Adrienne Barbeau’s boobs (which seem to have a mind of their own and insist on leaping out of her dress) and more badassery than you can shake a stick at, but you really ought to just watch the movie for yourself. And if you’ve already seen it, you know you love it, so let me reassure you one final time: yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and yes, Escape From New York still holds up after all these years.
Oh what’s that? You’re not convinced? Well then, let me throw three more words at you: Lee Van Cleef. That’s right, this movie threatens to literally explode with badassery. We’ve also got Harry Dean Stanton, Ernest Borgnine, and the distinctly beautiful minimalist soundtrack provided by Mr. John Carpenter himself. If you need to take a moment to process all of this awesomeness, go ahead. This review will still be here when you get back.
Okay, so on to the bad (and despite everything I’ve just said, there’s plenty of it). Remember when this movie was released on DVD a few years ago with all sorts of supplemental material including commentary tracks, behind-the-scenes features, and deleted scenes? None of that is included on this collection. The only “bonus” we get is the original trailer for the film, which is included on the DVD and to make matters worse, the DVD is one of those ones you flip over: one side has the film in widescreen format, the other is fullscreen. Really? Who watches fullscreen movies anymore? How is this considered a bonus feature? Why is the DVD even included, and for the love of God, how can MGM justify making people spend $24.95 for it?!?!
For as much as I love Escape From New York and as much as I might implore you to view it, I cannot condone this atrocity. It’s a clear money-grab intended to milk suckers who will double-dip if and when a more fitting collector’s edition is released down the road and I find it quite shameful. My recommendation: if you don’t care about the lack of bonus material, go ahead and buy it on Amazon where you can get it for under $15. Obviously, it’s a movie that is well worth adding to your collection, but this release does not do the film justice.