Escape from New York: Special Edition

Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Season Hubley, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau. Directed by John Carpenter. Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 (anamorphic). Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 2.0 (French). Two discs. 99 minutes. 1981. MGM Home Entertainment 1005690. R. $29.98.

Picture **
Sound **
Film **

Escape from New York proves that one person's cult classic is another's puerile effluent. Director John Carpenter's 1981 cinematic ode to the lone-mercenary genre proves incontrovertibly that you can't polish a rotten boot. To qualify as a true cult classic, a movie must have at least glimmerings of wit, humor, and, dare I say it, something lovable. This film has none of the above.

A wooden, banal, witless screenplay dooms Escape from New York to leaden lugubriousness. Even actors who have, on occasion, been known to act, such as Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, and Harry Dean Stanton, can do little here besides go through the motions when their lines relegate them to cardboard-cutout characters. ("They're savages, Mr. President," says Harry Dean Stanton.) And Kurt Russell as the "hero," Snake Plissken, makes Sylvester Stallone's acting seem positively Brandoesque. The dialog is pedestrianly predictable—by the time Snake is recognized by the movie's third expendable character, you know exactly what the next words out of his mouth will be. "Snake Plissken? I thought you were dead!" How I wish it were true . . .

According to its jacket, Escape from New York has gotten the full treatment for this double-disc reissue: a new transfer and a new 5.1-channel sound mix. I shudder to think how it might have looked before the makeover. The picture is noticeably soft. The sound also lacks the presence and immediacy we've come to expect from a good action movie. However, the film was made more than 20 years ago, so I suppose that can be forgiven. Explosions don't pop, and Foley effects never startle. The music, also written by Carpenter, has a hollow, distant quality reminiscent of listening to music through a plastic tube.

The most impressive part of this Special Edition is its packaging. The embossed slipcase, multi-foldout interior, special mini comic book, and offers for the Namco video games Snake Plissken's Escape and the soon-to-be-released Snake Plissken Chronicles show that no expense has been spared in the effort to maximize this release's commercial impact. Disc 1 sports two commentary tracks, the first with producer Debra Hill and production designer Joe Alves, the other with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell. Disc 2 includes a deleted opening scene, three featurettes, three trailers, and a photo gallery.

As the late, great audio critic Julian Hirsch often wrote, "If you like this sort of thing, you'll love this one."—SS