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Thursday, March 08, 2018

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Escape from New York

Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin.  I watch one of the DVDs or Blu-Rays I own, and then blog about, so it feels like I actually accomplish something when I sit at home watching movies instead of going out and having a life.  Today, we roll out the 1981 classic Escape from New York.  This is in my notes on August 26, 2017.

I was picking up Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 the other day (spoiler warning:  that'll probably be the next entry) when, right next to it, I saw the new limited edition Steelbook of Escape from New York, so I figured, "Why not?"

Escape from New York is the cult classic sci-fi film from 1981.  It was the last of the great dystopian sci-fi films of the 1970s.  You know...films like Soylent Green and the later Planet of the Apes films that depicted the war against the humans and the apes for control of the planet.  The idea that humanity is screwed, so we're all just trying so survive.  Writer/director John Carpenter was starting to become a big deal, thanks to the success of Halloween, and this was a career turnaround for Kurt Russell, who was still primarily know for being a Disney kid of the 1970s. 

My first exposure to this universe was actually it's 1996 sequel, Escape from L.A.  Summer vacation was winding down, I was ready to head back to my second year of college, and during back-to-school shopping, I figured, "What they hey?"   So when I was back in school and finally got around to renting Escape from New York from good ol' Video Update, I was quite surprised.  Escape from LA is a lot campier than Escape from New York.  When you watch Escape from LA first, then Escape from New York feels more like the gritty reboot.

Our opening narration tells us that, in the year 1988, the crime rate rose a shocking 400%, so the government responded by turning the USA into a police state.  The island of Manhattan is walled off and turned into a maximum security prison.  Inmates are dropped off, then left to fend for themselves.  We then jump ahead to 1997.  (Hey!  I just realized I first saw this film in the year 1997.  Cool).  On the way to a peace summit, Air Force One goes down in Manhattan, and the inmates capture the President.  Now, the race is on to get in, and get the President out before the summit starts.

Enter our anti-hero, Snake Plissken, played by Kurt Russell.  Legendary soldier of fortune, recently captured and sentenced to Manhattan for attempting to rob the Federal Reserve.  The warden offers Plissken a deal:  get the President out in 24 hours, and be given his freedom and a full pardon.  To ensure Plissken's loyalty, he's injected with some microexplosives that detonate and blow off his head at the end of the allotted 24 hours. 

Plissken gets into Manhattan, and sees how the city has become a dark shadow of its former self.  But he finds allies, like the upbeat cab driver Cabbie, and his old partner in crime, who now goes by Brain and has turned the New York Public Library into his personal fortress. 
There's also Brain's girlfriend Maggie, who sadly doesn't get much to do.  Plissken learns that the President has been captured by the Duke of New York, the crime-lord who now runs the city, and sees the President as his ticket to freedom. 

Man, watching it again tonight, I forgot how dark this film was.  Not just in tone, but in colour-pallette.  Even with the brightness turned up on my TV, I was having trouble making out what was going on.  And it's almost not as action-packed as I remembered, making it more of a thriller than an action film.

But the sight of a New York that's completely gone to hell is a striking one, and no wonder Snake Plissken is such a memorable character. Russell captures those archtypical silent bad ass tropes so wonderfully, that you just can't help but root for the guy.  Even at the very end, when you realize that after all they've been through, Snake was the only guy who actually gave a shit about human life. 

Not much more to say here.  But I do enjoy Escape from New York, and it's deserving of its cult status.

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