Title: Escape from
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Kurt Russell, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Valeria Golino, Pamela Grier, Bruce Campbell, A.J. Langer
is a strange kind of film. When I first heard the news that a sequel to John Carpenter's Escape from New York (1981) was being
made I was excited to see the resulting film because not only was John
Carpenter back behind the directors chair, but Kurt Russell was still going to
play Snake Plissken! That’s really all I needed to know. Sadly, when I went to
the theater to see it, I came out being disappointed. Where was all the
darkness? Where was that terrifying post- apocalyptic world that I loved from
the first film? Why were characters trying to be funny? Why was everything so
silly? Why? Why? Why? Well, many years have passed since my initial disappointment
with Escape from L.A.
I’ve grown some, matured some. I had a chance to recently re-watch Escape from L.A. How do I see this
Carpenter and Russell on the set of Escape from L.A.
Well, I honestly can’t bring myself to hate it. I see why I didn’t like it when it was first released, but I’ve grown to accept this film for what it is. It’s pure unadulterated campy fun. Funny thing is that a script was written for this film way back in 1985, by a guy called Coleman Luck, but Carpenter thought the script was too light and campy. What? X-squeeze me? Baking Powder? That’s exactly what Escape from
turned out to be anyways! Ultra campy and ultra light; at least when compared to
the first film which was so dark and brooding. Escape from New York was a film that took itself very
seriously. Yeah it’s a science fiction film, but it was a decidedly serious one.
Not many laughs or jokes in sight. In
contrast Escape from L.A.
is colorful, filled with one joke after the another, and very, very campy. This
movie is obviously making fun of itself. And to tell you the truth, I like that
about it because it’s obviously what Carpenter and Russell were going for. So you’ll
be better of just erasing your expectations for this film. If you haven’t seen
this one yet, you have to go in expecting a different film than Escape from New York.
What makes Escape from
so different? It’s all about the tone of the film, the look of it. While
Escape from New York felt like a horror movie at times with it’s darkness and
freaky looking characters, Escape from L.A. is actually well lit and colorful, filled with comic book heroes, villains and
one liners galore. Take for example the character called ‘The Surgeon General
of Beverly Hills’ the one played by Bruce Campbell. This character feels like a
comic book villain, like something out of an episode of the old Batman
television show. He’s a surgeon general who has
performed so much surgery on himself and on his patients, that they have
disfigured their faces! He likes chopping up good looking people to use for his
surgeries. This is a prime example of the kind of totally over the top
characters you will find on this film. They aren’t particularly scary or
intimidating like the villains on the first film, but they are entertaining none
the less. And the comic book characters don't stop there my friends! Pamela Grier plays a transvestite who used to be Snake Plissken’s
partner in crime! Steve Buscemi plays a double crossing tourist guide! Peter
Fonda plays a surfer who likes to ride Tsunami tidal waves! And so on. But even though this film is filled with funny, entertaining characters such as the ones I’ve
mentioned, this doesn’t make Escape from L.A.
a bad film in book, just a different kind of film than its predecessor.
Bruce Campbell's 'Surgeon General of Beverly Hills'
Both Escape from
and Escape from L.A.
are decidedly anti-establishment films. They both have this cynical view of the
government; in these films, the government is not to be trusted. There are terrorist
attacks aimed at the government on both films. On the first one they hijack and crash Air Force One;
forcing The President of the United States
to fall into the hands of the freaks inside Manhattan. On this second one, the president’s
own daughter is the one that rebels against the government and decides to live
with the leader of the criminals; a guy called ‘Cuervo Jones’. And here’s what
I liked about this movie. While it does criticize fascist forms of government,
it also criticizes rebellious leaders who instigate their followers towards committing
violent acts. So it doesn’t side with anyone. On this film, both sides are
wrong. The film pleads for a new beginning, it’s asking governments to forget
their old grudges and start from scratch. Snake himself says it in one scene: “I
shut down the third world, you win, they loose. I shut down America, they
win, you loose. The more things change, the more they stay the same” This is
one of the ideas presented in the film that I truly liked. The idea that both
sides should just call it quits and bring on the peace, bring on the freedom. Again,
this last bit demonstrates how much of Kurt Russell’s Libertarian views are on
this film. After all, he wrote a lot of it himself along with John Carpenter
and Debra Hill. These are three life long buddies writing a movie they would
find amusing, which makes this film a labor of love. This is probably why the
film has a more laid back, ‘were having fun here’ vibe to it.
That being said, the film does have some faults going for it. The visual effects for example are freaking horrendous, I mean this was a 50 million dollar movie, one would think that better effects could have been afforded. There’s this painfully bad effects sequence in which Snake drives this mini-submarine through the underwater ruins of L.A….wow, there’s some bad CGI for you. I mean, granted this was early CGI, but even for 1996, these effects where half assed in my book. The scene where Snake Plissken rides a tsunami wave on a surfboard with Peter Fonda, while campy and kind of cool in a way (it’s all about that Hippy attitude!) the scene just comes off as one bad special effect. The scenes with Snake and crew flying these gliders, wow, you could just tell those things weren’t really flying; the list just goes on and on. So expect lots of cheesy effects on this show.
But don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate this movie. I quite enjoyed it actually. I mean yeah, I loved the first one a whole lot more. It’s just darker and scarier; it’s got more of an edge to it. This second one is tongue in cheek every step of the way. Watching Escape from
L.A. feels like watching a cheap Italian Rip
Off like 2019: After the Fall of New York (1983), but with a bigger budget. Actually, Escape from L.A. has a lot of similarities with 2019: After the Fall of New York, so in a way, this is Carpenter's pay back for all those cheap Escape from New York rip offs that the Italians made. Ultimately, I love both Escape from New York and Escape from L.A. for different reasons. And for
all the tonal differences between both films, they still have many similarities.
No matter where, Snake Plissken will always be Snake Plissken, you can tell
Russell has lots of love for this character. Plissken is what kept me watching.
The opening and closing segments of the films are extremely similar as well. And
here’s where we get to the best part of the film, the ending. Not gonna spoil
it don’t worry, but I will tell you that it is the best thing about the movie.
Russell himself came up with it and I applaud him for it, it encapsulates
everything Snake Plissken is in terms of attitude. That idea that maybe the world
would be better off if we simply started again, from scratch, screw the way things are, let’s
try something new! Welcome to the human race my friends, welcome to the human
Rating 3 ½ out of 5