Escape from New York

Escape from New York ★★★★

A couple of years before Ridley Scott’s alternative history dystopia, Blade Runner, a still precocious John Carpenter offered his own bleak extension of the post-Vietnam/Watergate future. Scott’s vision is underpinned by romanticism and hope. Carpenter’s viewpoint is cooly nihilistic, embodied by his amoral anti-hero, Snake Plissken (a superbly swaggering Kurt Russell). The main touchstone is the Spaghetti Western, hence Russell’s hilarious imitation of Clint Eastwood and the presence of talisman Lee Van Cleef. But by this stage in his career, Carpenter was the master of the Panavision lens, so the aesthetic is very much his own. Squeezing every drop out of a five million dollar budget, Carpenter and his crew of set design and special effects geniuses (which included James Cameron) create the definitive urban wasteland, imagery which still runs deep in popular culture (the last couple iterations of the video game Fallout being one example which comes to mind). It is a playground for an eclectic cast: there is a typically sharp Harry Dean Stanton as ‘Brains’, and a buxom Adrienne Barbeau as his main squeeze; Issac Hayes as the tyrannical (but still funky) kingpin, The Duke; Donald Pleasence as a President hardly worth saving (His one redeeming feature is his rabid way with a machine gun.); and Ernest Borgnine as the last cabbie in New York City. Also, listen for Jamie Lee Curtis as the voice of the narrator and loud speaker announcements.

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