Starring Kurt Russell, Ernest Borgnine, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Isaac Hayes, Donald Pleasence, Lee Van Cleef, Tom Atkins
Directed by John Carpenter
Distributed by The Scream Factory
Horror fans can endlessly debate the quality of John Carpenter’s filmography once it stretched into the ‘90s and beyond, but few can disagree the man had an incredible run that began with Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) and didn’t show any signs of slowing until after They Live (1988). During that twelve year period Carpenter delivered one cult classic after the other (even if they weren’t so successful at the time); films that have withstood the test of time and become iconic, pervading pop culture to this day. Think about this – in the span of a mere three years he wrote, directed and scored Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980) and Escape from New York (1981). Those accomplishments alone would be enough to grant a lifetime pass to any director, and yet that was just the beginning of Carpenter’s unequalled reign of the 1980s. Here was a man who could produce B-movies with A-list talent, top-notch production design, and with musical scores that have influenced countless numbers of artists and composers. But there’s no point in gushing here; Carpenter’s films are a rite of passage for every nascent horror fan, and it is usually correct to assume any fan of the genre has watched his early output multiple times.
This is why a review of Escape from New York seems rather pointless. Chances are those reading this review want to know how this new disc from Scream Factory stacks up in terms of a/v quality and bonus content. Does anyone really need a breakdown of the story? This is one of Carpenter’s seminal films; a dystopian anti-hero saga, anchored by a killer performance from one of the silver screen’s strongest male actors, Kurt Russell. With Snake Plissken, Carpenter and Russell created one of cinema’s most iconic outlaws. Plissken is direct and dangerous, with no subtext, but there’s a heart lurking beneath that gruff exterior, too. He’s a man of honor and integrity… and he does not take kindly to those who get in his way. Russell is the linchpin of a cast that is an embarrassment of cinematic riches, featuring Ernest Borgnine, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Isaac Hayes, Donald Pleasence, Lee Van Cleef, and Tom Atkins. Add in the high concept of turning Manhattan into an island prison, along with Joe Alves stellar production design of a decaying, burned-out New York City, and you’ve got all the makings of a thrilling picture that maintains intensity throughout its 99 minute running time. For my money, it’s a near-flawless film that holds up perfectly upon repeat viewings.
It’s a shame we never got any more awesome adventures with Plissken…
As per the back cover, Scream Factory has created a new 2K scan from the inter-positive, sourced from the original negative. Does that mean this edition’s 2.35:1 1080p picture is better than the last release? Not entirely. To be fair, the only people who complained about the last edition were those who don’t understand low-budget filmmaking of the ‘80s. This film was shot in darkness, and while Cundey did all he could to extract detail in the image (even using new lenses designed to increase light in the frame) it is ridiculous to think the picture is ever going to look any better than it does here. It’s possible that a 4K scan could have yielded a stronger picture, and it is a bit odd one wasn’t done considering that’s an industry standard at this point. Still, the picture boasts strong color saturation, rich black levels and film grain looks very cinematic. There is no hint of DNR. It appears brightness has been boosted a bit over the previous edition; a change which is sometimes good and sometimes bad depending on the shot. Detail is also a tad sharper on this release, allowing more of the film’s astounding production detail to shine through.
The most troubling issue is an apparent scratch in the emulsion, which appears as a very thin vertical blue line about halfway across the screen that pops up at least four times. This was not as obvious on MGM’s release, and it is nearly inexcusable that it appears here. I understand Scream Factory wants to put together a comprehensive package full of new extra material for fans, but picture quality must always be of paramount importance. Always. No exception. This release should have stood tall above the old Blu-ray; however, due to sporadic blue lines and intermittent dirt appearing in the image it’s hard to call this a definitive winner.
There appears to be little change in the film’s English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track from the prior Blu-ray. In fact, I’d argue the 2.0 mix included on the disc is perhaps a bit more focused and concentrated than the multi-channel option. There’s very little rear activity at all, anyway. Carpenter’s score is among the best heard in any of his films, which does say a lot, and it has presence and strong fidelity here in lossless audio. Dialogue is balanced and clear, never too low in the mix to be heard. Explosions lack power and depth, adding virtually nothing to an already weak low end. Sound effects enjoy perhaps a little more discreet placement in the 5.1 track, although not enough to say it’s the better option. I kept switching back and forth repeatedly and neither was noticeably superior. Subtitles are included in English.
The first of three audio commentaries is a new one, featuring actress Adrienne Barbeau and director of photography Dean Cundey, as moderated by Sean Clark. If you’re looking for a different perspective on making the film, this one is moderately successful. Barbeau just around from one recollection to the other, some on topic some off, while Cundey is his usual slightly reserved, very measured self.
Next up, a returning favorite – director John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell sit down and shoot the breeze. At this point it’s common knowledge listening to these two discuss their work is always worth one’s time.
Finally, the late producer Debra Hill is joined by production designer Joe Alves. This track delves deep into technical details, with Hill covering most budgetary issues while Alves talks up locations, optical shots, matte paintings, etc.
“Big Challenges in Little Manhattan: The Visual Effects of Escape From New York” (HD) features a few members from the film’s visual FX crew discussing the difficulties in bringing the Big Apple down to scale, as the details needed to be matched perfectly if it was to be convincing. At the end, there’s a little bit regarding James Cameron’s work on the film.
“Scoring the Escape: A Discussion with composer Alan Howarth” (HD). Carpenter’s legendary co-writer shows off his new studio before talking a little bit about each subsequent release of the film’s soundtrack.
“On Set with John Carpenter: The Images of Escape From New York” (HD) is an interview with Kim Gottlieb-Walker, was on the set for many of the Carpenter’s most iconic films, capturing every still image and acting as a “gatekeeper” of the materials shown to the public. She takes her craft seriously, and every horror fan should definitely buy her book – it’s fantastic.
“I Am Taylor: An Interview with actor Joe Unger” (HD) is a discussion with the man who played Snake’s unfortunate accomplice during the film’s cut opening bank robbery, talking about the legend of that cut sequence and what it was like working on the film.
“My Night on Set: An Interview with filmmaker David DeCocteau” (HD). At the time this film was being shot, DeCocteau was an intern working for Roger Corman. When Corman’s team was brought in to assist with visual effects, this dude wound up working on the film.
“Deleted Scene: The Original Opening Bank Robbery Scene”. Although presented in “HD”, this still looks quite rough. This first reel shows how Snake wound up in police custody, and it also shows he’s got a bit of heart – something Carpenter felt spoiled the character a bit. There is optional audio commentary from Carpenter and Russell here, the former of which dissects the scene while the latter barely remembers filming it.
“Return to Escape From New York Featurette” (SD). This carryover from the special edition DVD has interviews with all the main cast & crew, including Carpenter, Hill and Russell. Some of the information is redundant if you’ve listened to the commentaries, but this is still filled with some solid nuggets of information.
A couple theatrical trailers (HD) and photo galleries featuring movie stills, behind the scenes photos, posters & lobby cards are also included.
- NEW 2K High Definition scan of the inter-positive, struck from the original negative
- NEW Audio Commentary with actress Adrienne Barbeau and director of photography Dean Cundey
- Audio Commentary with director John Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell
- Audio Commentary by producer Debra Hill and production designer Joe Alves
- NEW Big Challenges in Little Manhattan: The Visual Effects of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK
- NEW Scoring the Escape: A Discussion with composer Alan Howarth
- NEW On Set with John Carpenter: The Images of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK with photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker
- NEW I Am Taylor: An interview with actor Joe Unger
- NEW My Night on the Set: An interview with filmmaker David DeCoteau
- Deleted Scene: The Original Opening Bank Robbery Sequence
- Return to Escape from New York Featurette
- Theatrical Trailers
- Photo Galleries – Behind-the-Scenes, Posters, and Lobby Cards