Escape from New York

Escape from New York ★★★½

Still not my favourite Carpenter, not by a long shot, but I enjoyed it more this time around - as much for the aesthetics as anything else. The set design and lighting are pure Carpenter - comic book apocalyptic, colours popping against a black background; deep shadows everywhere and the ominous tone established from the start with low, steady tracking shots. His synth score, composed with Alan Howarth, is gold. Story-wise, it's pretty basic: ex-special forces and soon-to-be-incarcerated criminal Snake Plissken is sent in to rescue the president, whose Air Force One plane was hijacked and crashed into Manhattan Island (a maximum security prison enclosure in the future world of 1997!). He has 24 hours to get the president out alive or some nifty arterial implants will do their work, while the president's failure to show up for a critical international summit meeting with Russia and China spells out nuclear oblivion for mankind!

Plissken is an iconic antihero (though I personally prefer those other Carpenter/Russell creations, Jack Burton and MacReady) and Van Cleef is great as the leering puppet master, Hauk. Donald Pleasence is less convincing as US president - seems like an odd casting choice. Most of the characters are ciphers though really, secondary to the action. That makes it hard to be too invested in them, so there's no real suspense; it's just a fun trek through urban decay and cartoon bad guys in The Warriors mould that moves from one set piece to the next without messing around; it never outstays its welcome and delivers the goods with a ton of style.

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