Blu-ray Review: Escape from New York (Collector's Edition)

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John Carpenter’s Escape from New York has been reissued as a two-disc Blu-ray special edition and fans will be pleased with its array of special features, most of which are found on the second disc. The Shout Factory reissue, out on April 21, also ports over a number of previously available features. The movie itself continues to find favor, even if it really hasn’t aged terribly well. The concept, which involves the entire island of Manhattan having been converted to a penal colony, is an interesting one. The execution, however, has such an overriding air of juvenile underachievement that it never takes flight.

The year is 1997, which of course seemed like “the future” when the film was released in 1981. The hijacking of a plane with the intent of flying it into a building in New York City was fantasy when Escape hit movie theaters. It goes without saying that since 9/11 this story element has ceased to resemble pure escapism. The plane in this film happens to be Air Force One, with the U.S. president (Donald Pleasance) on board. He cheats an almost certain death by slipping into a bright orange, egg-like “escape pod.” The hijackers are part of a National Liberation Front that’s wreaking havoc on a planned peace treaty between the warring world powers.

Truth be told, it would’ve been cool to see what life was really like on the island. It’s a mass population of life-sentenced convicts running amok without any type of supervision or order. What factions have developed and how do they interact with one another? We do meet a bunch of cartoon character-level goons like Brain (Harry Dean Stanton) and the Duke (Isaac Hayes), but in general the entire concept plays out like some adolescent day dream. The real star, of course, is Kurt Russell as infamous special ops solider Snake Plissken. Snake tried to rob the Federal Reserve and wound up with a life sentence on the island. His one chance at a pardon is recovering the missing President and he must deal with authority figures like Brian and Duke to do so.

The film’s cult following is well established, so let’s move onto the supplements. Disc one contains no less than three commentary tracks. Though two are old, there’s an all-new one with female lead Adrienne Barbeau and cinematographer Dean Cundey. The track is moderated by Sean Clark, who appears to steer the discussion clear of topics covered at length in the older tracks (one, with Carpenter and Russell, is sourced from a 20-year-old laserdisc release, the other is with producer Debra Hill and production designer Joe Alves).

Escape from NY bd cover (201x280).jpgNew featurettes on disc two include “Big Challenges in Little Manhattan” (15 minutes) which focuses on visual effects. Alan Howarth, who co-composed the score with Carpenter, is the focus of “Scoring the Escape” (19 minutes). “On Set with John Carpenter” (11 minutes) offers an examination of photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker’s on-set photos. “I Am Taylor” (nine minutes) features cast member Joe Unger, whose work as the character Taylor didn’t make it into the final movie. “My Night on Set” (five minutes) features production assistant David DeCoteau and he explains what it was like working on Escape. Carried over from an older release is “Return to Escape from New York” and “Missing Reel #1,” which contains ten minutes of deleted material (presented with optional Carpenter and Russell commentary).

Having not seen the film since its original DVD release, there’s not much useful I can offer in terms of whether Shout’s new Collector’s Edition improves technically on the previous Blu-ray release. The audio is offered in both DTS-HD MA 5.1 and DTS-HD MA 2.0. The latter was not included on the original Blu-ray. The transfer was struck from a “new 2K scan of the inter-positive, struck from the original negative.” Again, without being able to make any direct comparisons to the original Blu-ray, I can’t report on the level of improvement this new transfer offers. The movie certainly looks pretty good overall; it should go without saying it’s an improvement over any previous standard definition incarnation. The bevy of additional bonus features is the main draw for Escape from New York Collector’s Edition.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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