I’ve been trying to write movie reviews for the better part of a decade. How is it that I never watched Escape From New York?
All that really matters though, is that I watched it yesterday and found that it lived up to its 1980s campy hype. In a near-future with (naturally) a dystopian feeling spreading across our nation, Kurt Russell’s eyepatched “Snake” is the only man capable of retrieving our President from the miles-stretching prison wasteland formerly known as Manhattan. The premise is simple and the plot doesn’t muddy it with unnecessary complexities or preconceptions of what the film is. John Carpenter keeps his big-picture ideas nuanced in genre films and prioritizes audience enjoyment, an admirable trait, particularly when many films of similar flavors try to force-feed an agenda.
And as Escape From New York goes along there are the standards ideas of redeeming old comrades, moral dilemma, and weeding out criminals based on levels of chaos and levels of merely corrupt ethics. Its not too dissimilar from the more recent The Suicide Squad which could be seen as a sheer evolution of this classic. If it says anything profound to you, you weed it out through the laughter and visceral popcorn entertainment that John Carpenter and James Gunn are so eager to deliver.
This is the quintessential and authentic 1980s environment that Stranger Things tries so desperately to replicate. For if it did not bear the name Carpenter, it’d likely still be made for a lower budget, marketed as the B-picture it unsubtly is. What it lacks in depth of character, it makes up for in commentary of the ever-growing prisoner population of our country, as well as the disconnect we feel from our politicians (this was a single year after Reagan’s election, just thought I’d observe that).
While Russell’s stoicism and wit carry Escape From New York, it features an unmatchable cast of genre actors such as Harry Dean Stanton and Donald Pleasence. Lee Van Cleef even makes a trademark-villain appearance in his final years. These characters, albeit one-note, bring a surprising amount of humor and awareness to Escape that bring it almost to They Live levels of satirical parody, paving the way for the more meta works of humor in decades to come.
The music helps define not only the campy mood contrasted by the serious predicaments, but also contributes to the 1980s “cyberpunk” aesthetic that film and literary fanatics of today would remain so fond of. A true craftsman of film scores, Carpenter himself collaborated with Alan Howarth to create such sleek and futuristic sounds.
As much as John Carpenter is a household name, I often feel his illustrious body of work is overshadowed by his horror films, particularly Halloween. But what Carpenter truly is, a master of genre and suspense, shines more thoroughly when observing his science fiction and satirical works (I.e. Christine, The Thing, They Live). In a world with a multitude of worldwide arthouse films, it is important to not brush off the as-subtle or even subtler aspects brought on by exercises of scenarios more fantastic and imaginative.