Escape From New York (1981) 4.48/5 (3)
4.48/53

 

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Rating: The Good – 86.5
Genre: Science Fiction
Duration: 99  mins
Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Harry Dean Stanton

John Carpenter’s (partly) tongue-in-cheek, seminal sci-fi classic is set in the not too distant future (in fact it’s come and gone) when New York has been turned into an island prison run by the inmates and plagued by all sorts of horrors such as marauding gangs of underground cannibals and people with awful fashion sense. Kurt Russell plays the iconic Snake Plissken, war hero turned criminal, who is given the opportunity to escape life on the island if he rescues the President whose plane has just crash landed there.

Punk sci-fi might seem dated now but it was in movies like this and Mad Max where it crept into our subconscious. Carpenter was always an expert at giving his films an off-kilter feel and this is wonderfully realised here. The extraordinary set-design along with the miniature modelling and matte painting of New York all combine to feed this sense of other-worldliness and the result is a film unlike anything we’ve seen before or since. The film also plays well on cinematic stereotypes with Russell’s performance in particular being a delicious nod to those conventions that are closest to our hearts. There are many straight-up funny moments thanks primarily to Plissken’s no-nonsense/no-patience demeanour but Donald Pleasance and the great Ernest Borgnine are also a howl. The support players in general are brilliant and how great was it to see Lee van Cleef given another dose of scenery to chew on?

Escape from New York is classic Carpenter. The palpable attitude, the way it all plays out so unorthodoxly, according to its own rules. It’s much more than a movie built around a great antihero as the film’s architecture reflects Snake’s personality on a grander scale. In the same way that there are superhero movies, Escape From New York is an antihero movie. In fact, it’s *the* antihero movie. Critics of this movie almost invariably bemoan the absence of the formulaic signature gloss of modern Hollywood pictures, claiming there are too many moments and incidents irrelevant to the plot (talk about not getting the point and behaving like a child watching a cartoon!). These are the concerns of the movie-going consumer zombie who (by lining up for one Hollywood dross-fest after another) is responsible for the decline of the industry into remake purgatory and reboot hell. The simple fact is that movies, at their essence, are about imagination and originality and Escape from New York is a testament to that ideal.

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5 thoughts on “Escape From New York (1981)”

  1. I have always loved this movie and for all the same reasons you do. This may be my own warped opinion but this film, Road House and more than a few others struck me as modern day riffs on the old Leone/Eastwood westerns. I grew up on those and being as i saw them as a kid i recognized the similarities right away. We spoke on twitter(Atomic Dogg) and i chose this film cuz i have seen Empire Strikes back a million times and it is far easier to find ANYTHING Star Wars thanks to Lucas’ marketing blitzkriegs. But in deeper thought i chose this film because it didnt have the inevitable gonna be a hit aura Empire had. It was dark, dirty and lacked the slickness of say Blade Runner but i liked that. I am also an unabashed Carpenter fan. Sue me.

    1. Thanks for the reply AD. Yes, I couldn’t agree more with all you said. I too am a serious Carpenter fan and I’ve spoke often in my reviews about the unique feel to each and everyone of his movies. They are all unique and none of them are made to be hits. There’s a real “couldn’t care less about the box-office” vibe to his films and as a result they offer a new angle on an old story. JC was a big western fan so you are of course right to point out the nod to the “Dollars” film. The Rio Bravo scenario too is always reconfigured in his films to give us an interesting slant on the one/few against many theme. There’s so much to this film that to rate it on FX alone like so many modern movie-goers do is to just miss the point completely. Thanks for stopping by!

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