Blu-ray Review: Escape from New York (1981)

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As it turns out, escaping from the poorly designed Blu-ray menu is nearly as difficult as it is for Kurt Russell's infamous bad ass character Snake Plissken to – as the film's title reveals – escape from New York. Yet unlike Snake but fortunately for viewers, when we insert the disc to go about our mission, we aren't simultaneously injected with an explosive charge that will kill us if we fail to deliver on time.

As a prisoner in 1997 about to be sent to the island of Manhattan, which was transformed nearly a decade earlier into a full blown prison minus the expense of guards and possibility of parole, former special forces soldier and two-time recipient of the Purple Heart Snake Plissken is offered a incredible opportunity to avoid incarceration when disaster strikes.

After Air Force One is hijacked by a crazed underground militia, it slams into a skyscraper, crash landing in New York before the president is held hostage en route to an important peace summit that could help bring an end to a global nuclear war. Going into full damage control mode, Lee Van Cleef's US Police Force Commissioner Bob Hauk dangles Snake a chance at freedom if he will journey onto the island prison alone and return with the president in twenty-four hours.

To this end, he's given strict instructions to rescue the president (Donald Pleasence) along with an audio tape recording of his plan to halt nuclear proliferation and end the war which is contained in a briefcase that the president handcuffed to his wrist before disappearing from Air Force One in an escape pod. Adding a greater challenge, Snake flies in undetected by landing on the World Trade Center after having been unwittingly implanted with a device that will kill him should he either fail or try to make a run for it.

Moving into action like a one-man Rambo, one year before Stallone's character hit the screen, Halloween director John Carpenter's admittedly dated yet wildly ambitious science fiction B-movie allegorical action movie was written during the aftermath of political cynicism in the wake of Watergate.

While admittedly it works best as escapist fare despite the fact that as such and just like another early '80s smash Blade Runner, it's much darker and more dystopian than audiences at that time were expecting, Escape managed to turn Kurt Russell's image around in one all-consuming role as the very antithesis of his squeaky clean All-American boy from Walt Disney's 1970s teen friendly films.

Culling bits and pieces from iconic bad boys of the past two decades with a Clint Eastwood meets John Wayne voice along with a Charles Bronson manner, Russell's Plissken became an instant hall of fame post-punk, anti-establishment character. With this in mind, the movie seems even more daring for its debut in '81 during the start of the Reagan era.

And even though some of the other characters seem a bit overly cartoonish and laughably '80s by comparison such as Isaac Hayes' “Duke of New York” that both a swing music loving cabbie and Harry Dean Stanton's "Brain" tries to lead Snake to find in pursuit of the president, the thinly plotted movie never fails to entertain.

Given the largely low-lit shots and late night setting, Carpenter's film at times appears so unbelievably dark that you're barely able to identify the characters onscreen, which unfortunately isn't improved upon at all in the high definition transfer.

While tweaking with the contrast controls on your television helps somewhat, you're going to want to watch Escape in the absolute darkest room you can find in your home to best appreciate the mad dash to escape Manhattan that follows, if that is, you're finally able to get off the equally poorly lit menu.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.