Review: ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Wednesday, 27 November 2013


Kurt Russell is iconic as Snake Plissken in this sluggish, but fairly entertaining futuristic actioner.

Mention the name of John Carpenter and Kurt Russell side by side, the answer would be ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK -- one of their most famous collaborations among die-hard fans that eventually went on becoming a cult classic. However, I personally thought it was overrated when I first watched this movie a long time ago.

After the crime rate skyrocketed in 1988, the island of Manhattan has been turned into a maximum security prison and completely walled in to separate it from the rest of the country. Flash forward to 1997: the Air Force One is hijacked and crash-landed on the island. The U.S. President (Donald Pleasance) survives the crash but immediately being taken by a group of vicious criminals, led by The Duke (Isaac Hayes). In order to rescue the President, the government enlists Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), an ex-war hero who is recently sentenced to the island for bank robbery. A bomb is injected into his vein, and he is given less than 24 hours to get the President out alive. If he fails, the bomb implanted inside him will detonate. If he succeeds, he will be set free for the crime he has done earlier.
At the time of its release back in 1981, the setting of the movie is relatively fresh and imaginative. For a low-budget production, the dark and futuristic look of 1997 New York is certainly impressive. Credit also goes to Dean Cundey's atmospheric cinematography and John Carpenter's catchy synthesizer score.

Prior to ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, Kurt Russell is mostly known for his Disney movie and this is first foray as an action hero. But Russell has successfully made his Snake Plissken character as one of the most iconic characters in a futuristic action genre. In fact, he made quite an impression incorporating Clint Eastwood-like whispery voice. Supporting actors including Lee Van Cleef, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau and Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasance and Isaac Hayes are equally engaging.

Despite the "race-against-the-time" premise, the movie is surprisingly lack of adrenaline rush. Instead, the pace feels sluggish while the plot is uneven. Some of the action scenes fail to generate much excitement required for this kind of movie. It's a shame that most of John Carpenter's direction feels lackluster as well.

While ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK hardly qualifies as one of John Carpenter's best efforts, it remains among the most influential movie that paves way for countless B-grade movie in the future.

EXTRA: For those who have watched ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK before, here is the deleted opening scene (previously omitted from cinema release) featuring Snake Plissken on a bank heist before he gets arrested by the police.

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