With an Escape from New York remake in the works, we decided to have another look at the cult 1981 classic starring Kurt Russell as the enigmatic anti-hero Snake Plissken . . .

Last year 300 star Gerard Butler, who were to play the Russell role, walked out of the planned Escape from New York remake citing that old standby of “creative differences”. Butler has been involved in the project from the very start and since then Die Hard 4 director Len Wiseman also left the project, and so has X-Men 3 / Rush Hour auteur Brett Ratner.

Word has in that Terminator 3 director Jonathan Mostow has since been brought in do another rewrite of the screenplay and might ultimately direct. But with no definite star and director attached, New Line’s remake of the cult 1981 movie by director John Carpenter seems to be stuck in the deepest recesses of development hell for now. And perhaps it is for the best . . .

One can see why Hollywood is attracted to this particular project. Made at a low low budget of $7 million back in 1981, Escape from New York turned out to be an international hit grossing over $50 million worldwide and becoming a cult movie in the process. With ‘Eighties nostalgia such as Transformers and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull translating into big bucks at the box office nowadays, Escape from New York comes with the sort of pre-branded awareness that makes studio marketers literally pee in their pants out of sheer excitement. It may not be Indiana Jones-like big, but it is amazing just how many people besides sci-fi geeks still remember this movie . . .

Also it boasts a kick-ass premise for an action flick. When crime skyrockets out of control in the States, Manhattan Island is turned into a federal maximum security prison where hardened criminals are simply left to their own devices. In this “future” 1997 (remember the movie was made in 1981) a huge wall has been erected around the island while all the bridges out have been mined and cordoned off. Helicopters and boats constantly patrol the river. The prisoners may not be able to escape, but they rule themselves inside the prison’s walls – the authorities have no or little control over what goes on inside this vast makeshift prison.

"Snake is a cross between Clint Eastwood and a Hell's Angel . . ."

Things however become unglued when Air Force One with the U.S. President aboard is hijacked by the members of an extreme terrorist organisation and is made to crash land on the island where he is promptly taken hostage by the inmates. With the president scheduled to attend an important summit deciding the very future of the planet itself, time is running out. A new soon-to-be-an-inmate named Snake Plissken (“Call me Snake…”) who used to be a covert commando-type before taking to robbing banks is consequently coerced into launching a one-man rescue team.

Snake is a bad ass. When told about the President’s unsavoury fate, he snarls “so get a new one.” His plan is probably to fly right out of there to Canada instead of rescuing him. However two explosives timed to explode within 24 hours unless he completes his mission are injected into his bloodstream. As played by a hoarse and swaggering Kurt Russell, Snake is a cross between Clint Eastwood in those spaghetti Westerns and a Hell's Angel. The character channels all of director Carpenter’s own self-admitted “problems with authority.” Snake doesn’t like being told what to do – and it is this aspect of his character which has made the character such a cult figure. Snake essentially does what we want to be like but cannot be in real life . . .

escape.jpg (11948 bytes)Snake infiltrates this futuristic prison with a glider which he lands on the roof of the World Trade Center (one bit which no doubt has to be changed for the remake). The President, played by a whimpering Donald Pleasance who also appeared in Carpenter’s Halloween, has been taken hostage by “The Duke”, the leader figure who now runs most of the island, played by soul singer Isaac Hayes. Along the way Plissken recruits the help of a cabby (Ernest Borgnine), the Brain (Harry Dean Stanton) who is The Duke’s right-hand man and his busty “squeeze” played by Adrienne Barbeau. Interestingly Barbeau was married to director Carpenter at the time, but that didn’t prevent him from having his wife display as much cleavage as humanly possible.

In many ways Escape from New York seems ripe for a remake. Watched today the movie seems pretty dated with its late-1970s fashions and hairstyles not to mention all the clunky technology – dig that oversized watch with a red digital display Plissken is made to wear showing him how much time he has left! The low-budget special effects mostly in the form of matte paintings are still pretty neat, but can be done much better today using digital technology – witness the submerged New York in Steven Spielberg’s 2001 A.I. Artificial Intelligence for instance. Action-wise it has dated too. Action movies nowadays are much faster paced (not that Escape ever bores) and spectacular. In fact Escape from New York would seem pretty anti-climactic in many ways today to younger audiences weaned on the likes of more modern action movies such with their over-the-top and hyper-stylized action sequences edited for attention deficit teenagers.

But here comes the weird thing . . .


Next: "Any Escape from New York remake will probably improve on the flawed original movie in many ways . . ."




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