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Often copied, never equalled, Escape from New York stands as my personal favourite among the cornucopia of 1980s dystopian action cinema, and one of John Carpenter’s finest films. There’s a good reason an entire sub-industry of Italian filmmaking revolved around ripping the film off, and unlike most repeatedly mimicked formulas, the Escape from New York model continues to create genuinely entertaining action hybrids to this day, including Neil Marshal’s overlooked, ultra-violent homage Doomsday. George Miller’s Mad Max and The Road Warrior ( Mad Max 2) are arguably the more impressive dystopian productions in terms of action, but never quite compared to Carpenter’s film stylistically speaking, whereas Walter Hill’s The Warriors nearly matches it on stylistic levels, but lacks the pace and balance. The director’s willingness to embrace camp without overselling it and his openly under-explained world also work in favour of the repeat viewings that created the indelible cult status. The moderate camp nicely covers some rather heavy-handed, post-Nam political allegory, allowing Carpenter to make his point without slathering those of us just looking for a little fun.

Escape From New York
Escape from New York took its cues from the man on a mission movies of the post-war era, and like most of Carpenter’s film is a post-modern work. It might even be Carpenter’s most post-modern early effort in that he references so many different kinds of movies, rather than putting his personal stamp on a single genre at a time ( Halloween being his take on Gialli, The Thing being his take on ‘50s paranoia monster movies, Big Trouble in Little China being his take on supernatural Kung-Fu, and so on). Escape from New York’s narrative style anticipates modern, long form videogames (the Metal Gear series even ‘borrowed’ the character’s name), and like I said in my less glowing, more thoughtful Escape from LA review, I’m shocked there hasn’t been an officially licensed game. Carpenter’s kitchen sink mentality was never as entertaining as it was here either. Instead of feeling overloaded with episodic elements (like Escape from LA or Ghosts of Mars), the film’s forward thrust rarely gives the audience a chance to think to hard about anything.

Escape From New York

Video


Following their Predator Blu-ray cock-up well founded fears have begun circling other cult favourite Fox releases. I’m happy to say that Escape from New York remains grainy, dark, and unmolested by DNR enhancement. The film was made on a pretty modest budget, and is a rougher looking product in general than Carpenter’s other Dean Cundey lensed classics, so there was never any real hope of this transfer matching Halloween, The Thing or Big Trouble in Little China. My expectations were based on the previous DVD release of the film, and for the most part these expectations were matched or surpassed. The night shots of New York, and the darkened sets don’t go too far beyond the previous special edition DVD in terms of details or sharpness, but well lit interiors are much brighter, sharper, and more colourful. Carpenter is more concerned with quantity than close-ups when it comes to filling his widescreen frame this time around (as was kind of the norm for the director until The Thing), so there aren’t many fine textures, but the volume of elements does play havoc with the DVD version, which displays compression artefacts, and reasonably thick edge-enhancement. The anamorphic lenses lead to some understandable problems with blurry edges, and stretched character, but the overall sharpness is strong enough to notice many otherwise missable elements, like Snake’s facial scar, for example. Despite the grain the overall clarity of the black levels is impressive, and cuts nicely against the occasionally expressive colours, specifically neon lights, and bright, primary gels (aircraft interiors being good examples of the transfer’s abilities in these cases).

Escape From New York

Audio


From the second Carpenter’s indelible electronic score slowly springs to life over the opening credits it’s clear that this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is going to bring the goods in the necessary areas. Some of the added surround sound effects don’t quite work, and create an unfortunate echo effect, but the sound designers don’t overstep their source material’s boundaries, and occasionally induce awe with their directional capabilities (helicopters especially). Explosive elements are plenty punchy, though the most common culprit when it comes to the unfortunate echoing and doubling effects, while most car stunts feature solid impact sounds, and well placed spatial effects. Dialogue is occasionally a bit inconsistent in terms of volume and fidelity, but at no point is any important spoken element left impossible to discern. The score is probably the most sonically expressive element on the track, and features prominently in all three frontal channels.

Extras


Hmmmm. There don’t seem to be any extras on this Blu-ray. Perhaps the included DVD has those special edition extras. Nope, not on side one, but I’m positive side two will… a full frame copy of the movie in standard definition!! What the hell guys?

Escape From New York

Overall


The best darn ‘80s dystopian action flick comes to Blu-ray, and it looks pretty darn good, at least considering the source material’s consistent darkness and grain. The details are sharper, and the colours are brighter, but this transfer isn’t quite mind blowing enough to require an upgrade for fans with the older special edition DVD, especially since there aren’t any extra features on this particular release—like none at all, unless you count the DVD copy and its solitary trailer, which I don’t. I suppose the best bet comes down to owning both releases.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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