Today’s Picture of the Day comes from ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981), John Carpenter’s classic action thriller which made Kurt Russell an action movie hero.
I’ve chosen this picture mostly because, and I think this is true for most of John Carpenter’s films, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK has only gotten better with time. Like a lot of his other films in his early career, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK was not critically acclaimed. With the exception of HALLOWEEN (1978), critics gave Carpenter’s work a hard time. There was very little love for this movie upon its initial release in 1981.
It also didn’t wow the masses, as it was made on a smaller budget than most of big budget action films of the time, and it looks it, and back then with its cheaper look it struggled to connect strongly with audiences of the time. On a purely action movie level, it was not able to compete with the likes of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981), for example.
But over the years, it has aged well, in spite of its “futuristic” science fiction plot— the action takes place in the “future” of 1997. Wow, that came and went quickly.
It has aged well because what was considered a “cheap” look in 1981, now looks artistic and special. I love the way New York City looks in this movie. The set design is dark and bleak, perfect for this story.
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is probably most famous for being the movie which changed Kurt Russell’s career, turned him from a child star in Disney films to bonefied action hero. It actually did more than that, as Russell took on all sorts of movie roles and pretty much became a household name after this film. Russell doesn’t disappoint. He’s terrific in this movie.
He almost didn’t get the part, as the producers didn’t feel he had the tough guy status to pull it off. Carpenter wrote the part with Clint Eastwood in mind, and Russell admits he played it as an homage to Eastwood. His performance works perfectly.
Russell plays Snake Plissken, a convict who is tasked with sneaking into the Manhattan Island maximum security prison and rescuing the abducted President of the United States, and unless he can get in and out in twenty-four hours, the authorities will kill him. The world which Carpenter creates inside that Manhattan prison, and the bizarre characters residing there, are the stuff of nightmares. It’s fabulous movie making.
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK also features a tremendous cast besides Russell. There’s Adrienne Barbeau, pictured above with Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, Season Hubley, and Jamie Lee Curtis provided both the voice of the computer and the opening voice-over narration.
Of course, my favorite part of this movie is the amazing score by John Carpenter. It’s one of his best. Then again, you can say that about nearly every film score he wrote.
About the only thing that still doesn’t work for me in this movie is the casting of Donald Pleasence as the President of the United States. I love Donald Pleasence, but he’s miscast here.
If you haven’t checked out ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK recently, do yourself a favor and give it a fresh viewing. It’s already considered a classic of the genre, a superb science fiction action movie from the glory days of John Carpenter’s early career, but it wasn’t always considered that way. It has stood the test of time, and what I am saying today is, that not only that, but it has gotten even better in recent years.
There’s an imagination and spirit in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK that is present from start to finish, and it’s largely because of the talent of writer/director John Carpenter.
Snake Plissken? I thought you were dead.
Nope. He’s very much alive. And better than ever.