Escape From L.A. (US - BD)
Gabe plays a game of horse and catches a sewer wave with Snake Plissken...
Escape From LA is John Carpenter’s Godfather Part III. Both films saw beloved directors returning to some of their most (more) financially successful work following a string of iffy productions. Both films were disappointments for core and passing fans, and in the end, both films were more or less unnecessary. Godfather Part III made decent money, and managed to trick the Academy into nominating it for Best Picture, but I’ll still take Carpenter’s film over Coppola’s most days of the week, because even at his worst Carpenter is rarely less than entertaining ( Memoirs of an Invisible Man notwithstanding). The story is simple—war hero turned criminal Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is once again forced into a bad situation. This time instead of being burdened with the rescue of the President from a New York prison island, Snake is sent to the walled city of Los Angeles, which broke off of the mainland during a massive earthquake in 1998. His mission: retrieve a remote device from revolutionary leader Cuervo Jones (Georges Corraface), and kill the President’s runaway daughter before he dies of a ten hour virus he’s been infected with.
Escape From LA is a campy comedy first, genuine action movie second, but there are times the film skews a too far into parody for my comfort. The tone is so campy it often feels more like the film was made by a Carpenter impersonator (I’m thinking Robert Rodriguez?) rather than the man himself. I have a feeling that even if it had been a genuinely good film Escape From LA would’ve been a flop due to its exceedingly silly tone, which all but requires the audience to have seen the original film to get the joke (the $50 million budget, Carpenter's all time highest, certainly didn't help the grosses). The cast is among the most impressive B-movie congregations in history, and everyone does their job from top to bottom, especially Russell and Pam Grier, but it’s still hard to care, and there’s no one worth quoting. The visual silliness would seem to dictate the need for colourful characters, but Grier and Bruce Campbell are the only ones given much to work with, and Campbell’s scene zips by without much thought. The R-rating doesn’t really make any sense either, because Carpenter pulls almost every violent punch. He probably should’ve just cut whatever offended the MPAA and taken a PG-13, as the movie probably would’ve scored more young viewers at the box office (I know I wanted to see it at the time, but wasn’t quite eighteen).
Most production reports point towards the film being made based on star/producer Kurt Russell’s insistence, rather than Carpenter’s interest, and it certainly shows. The storyline follows the original film too closely, pointing to a lack of ideas. Perhaps Carpenter and Russell were hoping their fan base was large enough that audiences would be happy cheering for familiarity (I imagine premier audiences hooted and hollered through most of the film). Instead most of us just wanted to watch Escape From New York again instead. The Alice in Wonderland motif still works well enough, but the set piece to set piece momentum would make a better video game than movie. For the record I’m surprised there hasn’t been a Snake Plisskin video game yet, base on the apparently decent sales of the Warriors and Evil Dead games.
It’s been a very long time since I saw Escape From LA last, so I’m unable to conjure any solid memories of the DVD transfer for comparative purposes, but according to sources all US DVDs were non-anamorphic. Fortunately, like pretty much every John Carpenter Blu-ray release, the film looks like a brand new release (likely thanks to director’s love of anamorphic Panavision). Darker scenes feature minor edge-enhancement, and some definite traces of digital noise reduction (grain is nearly non-existent throughout the entire transfer, which seems wrong), but overall there’s very little to complain about. The majority of the film takes place at night, which makes black but the costumes and sets are often quite colourful, and Carpenter’s compositions feature an almost three-dimensional layered look, where foreground, middle ground and background are very specifically defined (the use of deep focus sometimes causes some blurring on the edges, which is not the transfer’s shortcoming). The details are sometimes so sharp during these wider layered moments, and Russell’s wardrobe is so perfectly black that he often appears to be standing in front of a blue screen, even when he isn’t. The actually composition shots look pretty terrible in hi-def (the blue and green edges around the subjects are quite obvious), and the bad CG graphics are done no favours, but the matte paintings look pretty great, even if they aren’t particularly convincing. Close-up detail is just as impressive, especially Russell’s craggy, stubble infested face.
Escape From LA makes its Blu-ray debut with a solid Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. The track starts strong with Carpenter’s credit overture music, followed by the noisy destruction of LA via earthquake. Carpenter didn’t have the budget to destroy the city Independence Day style, so the sound design is important to convey the utter chaos. From here the film is pretty consistently loud, though the sound design is a little less immersive than most modern action flicks, especially during non-action moments. The rear channels aren’t utilized as often as they could have been, leaving most of the ambience to the front channels, but there are a few pointed moments that make their presence worth the disc space (thunder, a few gun shots). Explosions, car gags, aftershocks and shootouts are all plentiful enough to appreciate the finer points of the sound design, and the centred dialogue track is consistent and clear. Back on the subject of Carpenter’s music, this score is vintage from top to bottom, and the synth style tends to be a little thin by modern, big-budget standards. The transfer overcompensates occasionally by adding too much bass to the drum sound, but is successful when the stereo spread is taken advantage of. The other soundtrack music follows suit, featuring only a slight rear channel echo effect.
Oh come on! Nothing but a trailer, Paramount? We all know there’s a Carpenter and Russell commentary track out there, just give it to us already. Bah!
It’s no Escape From New York, or even a Prince of Darkness, but despite its never ending torrent of flaws Escape From LA is an entertaining film, and it features a great ending (that sets up a third film we’ll never see). Apparently there’s an official Escape From New York remake in the making, but I don’t see the point between this and Neil Marshal’s Doomsday (which I just found on sale and purchased, as a matter of coincidence). Fans of Snake Plissken’s second adventure should be very happy with this Blu-ray release’s beautiful high definition transfer, but will be saddened by the missing extras. Rumours of director’s cuts continue to perpetuate, but it doesn’t appear we’ll be seeing them any time soon.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 4th May 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Easter Egg: No
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Kurt Russell, Steve Buscemi, Bruce Campbell, Pam Grier, Peter Fonda
Genre: Action, Adventure and Comedy
Length: 101 minutes
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