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  1. #1
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    AN OFFICIAL DVD REVIEW: JOHN CARPENTER'S ESCAPE FROM L.A. (Paramount)

    SNAKE IS BACK!

    Alright, alright.....here we go.....let the flaming begin and burn on.....

    After all the talk about this film in the last Carpenter review I did, I decided to take this off the shelf tonight and re-visit it.....and it re-assured my disbelief in some of Paramount's earliest DVD efforts.

    Lets get this straight right away.....no matter WHAT your take on either the original Escape From New York or this exact-copy-followup, there is no denying that this is pretty much a horrible script with a ridiculous plot with even WORSE usage of CGI.....probably the worst you will ever see. The CGI used in this film --- which was in its infancy when Carpenter experimented with it here --- looks downright cartoonish at times and really takes you out of this sequel to Carpenter's blockbuster Escape From New York --- I call it a "sequel" because, quite literally, it was, but in reality, it was more like a complete parody of Escape From New York --- and Carpenter WANTED it that way.

    I can remember waiting to go into see this film when it came out in the lobby of a theater with an ex of mine and watching the reactions of the people coming out --- they were utterly confused, upset and angry that they had spent money on seeing this, and I couldnt help but recall what Carpenter himself said to me when I spoke with him at a fan convention one time......it was because they just DIDNT GET IT and a good majority of the people seeing this probably never saw New York; most were looking at each other as they exited the theater saying "what the hell was that that we just saw?" and it just made me chuckle to myself because I KNEW going in that this was going to be a complete carbon copy of Escape From New York, just set across the country in the other "big city".

    Carpenter really never wanted to do a sequel to his first "Escape" film, and he really never visioned one.....until Kurt Russell, who played the Snake Plissken character in the first film, and producer Debra Hill, approached him with an idea to bring "Snake" back.....and as the back of the DVD box proclaims, "John Carpenter and Debra Hill do to the Big Orange what they did to the Big Apple in Escape From L.A.!" Carpenter agreed, as he is good friends with Russell and enjoys working with him, and Russell actually co-produced this film along with Debra Hill.

    If you thought the idea of the first "Escape" was a bit far fetched (and Im a massive fan who owns the recently released remastered Collector's Edition released by MGM), just wait until you hear the convoluted plot behind this one --- the film is, as I said, an almost EXACT copy of the first "Escape," right down to Jamie Lee Curtis' voice narrating the very beginning, explaining how in 2013, a massive Earthquake has hit Los Angeles, breaking the city off from the rest of the country and making it its own island. Cliff Robertson (yes, Uncle Ben of Spider-Man) plays the President of this again government-controlled police enforced United States, and orders L.A. become a deporation prison for all undesirables and criminals --- like Donald Pleasance's President did in New York in the first film. Guess who they catch once again, this time charged with "gunfighting for hire"? Thats right --- the one-eyed Snake Plissken, who has become somewhat of a legend outlaw since his famous escape from New York; once again, like in the original film, a deal is struck for Snake --- he will get a full pardon for all the crimes against him if he goes on another rescue mission for the government.

    It seems that the President's daughter (played by a rather sexy AJ Langer first in a short skirt and later in leather mini-shorts that look great on her) has stolen a top secret device from a government lab --- a simple "black box" that has the ability to shut down all the power sources on the planet, and Langer uses the box to hijack Air Force One as well as uses it as a threat to use the box if all the "wrongfully accused" inside L.A. are not released; I know, this is stupid, but bear with me here......it seems Langer ends up becoming the girlfriend of Cuervo Jones (George Corraface), the leader of the biggest, baddest gang in L.A., the Masculito Justice, and now he has control of this "power box" and, like "The Duke of New York" in the first film, makes a deal with the police --- he wont use the black box to shut down the power of the world if they agree to send a helicopter into L.A. so him and his bad asses can escape. And hence, Snake is sent into L.A. under the threat, this time, of the "Plutoxin 7" virus, which the government tells him is injected in him and will kill him within a certain time period if he does not get this black box back to the President.

    This time, instead of a stealth glider, Snake is sent into L.A. via the San Fernando Sea, with a turbo-powered submarine. This is where the horrendous CGI work begins --- the underwater ruins of the doomed Los Angeles --- including the remains of Hollywood Studios, some pieces of L.A. highways, and a horrendously fake-looking shark that tries to take a bite of Snake's sub as he glides by --- all look downright cartoonish and almost animated and it really looks bad; now, some have suggested Carpenter was going for a "campy" feel and look with all this cartoonish CGI --- I believe the technology was in its infancy stage and wasnt used correctly and simply overdone. Even the sub he is piloting looks fake and animated.

    Eventually, Snake crashes on L.A. island and, after losing his sub for an escape back to safety once his mission is complete once an earthquake hits, he is immediately surrounded by some "surfer mafia" characters with machine guns, headed by Peter Fonda. It seems these surfer bad-asses, notably Fonda, recognize Snake immediately (like everyone did in New York) and instead of everyone saying "I heard of you, Snake Plissken --- I thought you were dead" (as everyone did in New York) here in L.A. everyone says to Russell "I heard of you Snake" or "You're Snake Plissken, arent you? I thought you'd be taller....." Whatever. Once getting away from Fonda and his goons, Snake makes his way toward the Hollywood Bowl in search of Cuervo Jones (George Corraface) and the President's daughter (Langer), but along the way runs into some really weird characters trapped on this prison island.....Steve Buscemi turns in a comical role as "Map to the Stars Eddie" who advises Snake that he needs one of his pre-recorded "star maps" in digital format in order to survive walking through what was once Beverly Hills, but Snake doesnt listen. Once outside the Beverly Hills Hotel, which has now become some kind of strange hiding place for "surgical failures" (Carpenter uses a lot of California/L.A. stereotypes here, such as every L.A'-ers need for plastic surgery) who are worked on by a demented "Plastic Surgeon of Beverly Hills" (Bruce Campbell), Snake is captured by Campbell's hooded goons, along with a chick who is hiding from them as well, and who immediately gets the hots for Snake (like Season Hubley did in New York), and both of them are tied up for Campbell to operate on in a most greusome method; of course, Snake gets his way out of the situation with a secret weapon he was hiding in his mouth, given to him by the police --- a stunning "dart" which he fires into Campbell's forehead, knocking him out. Him and the girl escape this weird dungeon of misfits, only to be on the run again outside.

    The girl eventually gets shot and killed in a drive by shooting once they are outside, and then Snake is back-stabbed by Buscemi's character, who drives up to rescue Snake from the drive by shooting only to shoot him in the chest with tranqulizer darts --- it seems Buscemi is working for Cuervo Jones, and Jones wanted Snake captured after he escaped him earlier in the film during a motorcycle shootout/chase scene. Tied up and helpless, Snake recovers from the dart fired at him as Cuervo (Corraface) goes on TV and contacts the President and the police (lead by Stacey Keach) and tells them that because they attempted a rescue of the black box by sending Snake in, there will be a peanalty to be paid --- and that peanalty is shutting down the power of the President's hometown and now capitol of Lynchburg, Virginia. Why these issues of shutting down power seems to important to Carpenter is uncertain, but Ill tell you what --- its stupid.

    While Corraface warns the police that they have to send a helicopter to "The Happy Kingdom" (which is ACTUALLY supposed to be Disneyland in Anaheim, California --- and we actually see some cartoonish CGI landmarks of the theme park like the Matterhorn Bobsled mountain) in return for him not using the black box to shut down the world permanently, he then puts Snake into a deadly basketball game (in the same way he fought Ox Baker in New York in the middle of that boxing ring) whereby he MUST make 10 points in 10 seconds otherwise he will be shot and killed. Plissken makes all 10 points, amazingly, but Corraface wants to shoot him anyway, that is, until another earthquake hits and saves Snake from being hit by Corraface's bullets.

    Langer wants to come back with Snake after learning what Cuervo wants to do with the black box, and after a really stupid, CGI-infested scene of Russell surfboarding on a Tsunami wave with Peter Fonda, who he runs into again at the end of a drain pipe (and does this after being SHOT IN THE LEG), he gets to Buscemi for double crossing him and demands to see a character named "Hershe" who Fonda says can help him against Cuervo's forces; Buscemi gets Snake to Hershe's hideout, which is the Queen Mary ship (actually docked in L.A.), and after being introduced to this "Hershe", Snake realizes that this is actually a guy he knew back in Cleveland named Car Jack Malone --- it seems Car Jack has had a sex change operation or something and has now become "Hershe" (played by Pam Grier).....after the two guys exchange some challenging words about double crossing each other years ago (JUST like Harry Dean Stanton did with Russell in New York), Hershe agrees to help Plissken get to The Happy Kingdom in order to battle Cuervo Jones and his boys and to get to that rescue helicopter that is supposed to be landing there. By this time, the supposed "Plutoxin 7" virus is making Snake feel really ill, but Hershe tells him this virus is just government propaganda and not real. At any rate, Snake and Hershe and his/her crew (named Siagon Shadows) along with Buscemi, arrive at the Happy Kingdom with gliders on their backs, and begin attacking Cuervo and his army and a huge gunfight ensues at the end of the film. The group manages to get into the government chopper, which has arrived, but Cuervo is not done with Plissken.....after losing a hand to hand fight with Snake, Cuervo launches a rocket at the helicopter as they are flying away from L.A. island, blowing up half the chopper, killing Hershe and the members of Saigon Shadows that were on board.....only Snake and the President's daughter (named Utopia) are alive inside the burning chopper.....as they crash on the ground once outside L.A. island, near police headquarters, the drama for Snake is JUST beginning......

    Because the President accuses Snake of "not finishing the mission" by not killing his own daughter (which he wanted) and because Snake switched the power box aiming device for one from "Map to the Stars Eddie" (Buscemi's voice) (JUST like he did at the end of New York, with the President's tape he needed to broadcast), Robertson orders Snake to be shot and killed by Stacey Keach's men live on TV......but Snake is smart, and uses the holographic camera given to him as a weapon before he left for the island, projecting a holographic image of himself when the police shoot at him, so they dont actually kill him. They told him before he left for the mission that he "better save the holographic camera for when it really counts because there is only one use of it", and Snake used it when he needed it the most --- to fool the cops trying to kill him. The President has his daughter sent to the electric chair for treason, but Snake still holds the REAL power box device that has the ability to shut down ALL power sources on the PLANET, which he decides to do at the end of the film, despite the begging to do the opposite from Keach and Robertson.

    It is also revealed to Snake before this point, by Robertson and the police, that the "Plutoxin 7" virus WAS really a fake --- what they really injected Snake with was a hard-hitting case of the common flu. This was just to get Snake to take the bait and do the mission for them. Something that pisses this one-eyed hero off something fierce, leading him to hiss "I told you you'd better hope I didnt make it back........." Gotta love the Snake Plissken character; its actually my favorite Kurt Russell character.

    This whole idea of this "power box" was just a ridiculous plot line for this sequel, and Im sure Carpenter could have come up with something better in this regard --- where in New York, the President's plane crashes in the city and he is taken hostage and Snake must rescue him, THAT made a bit more sense than this convoluted plot about "shutting down the Earth" and its power sources; that, plus the HORRIBLE --- and I do mean HORRIBLE --- CGI usage were the biggest downfalls of Escape From L.A.. Otherwise, if you KNOW exactly what Carpenter was going for in Escape From New York, and you can follow that plotline and screenplay in your mind almost by heart if you're a fan (like I can), you can appreciate this sequel because THAT'S what Carpenter was TRYING to do --- COMPLETELY COPY and RE CREATE Escape From New York but within another backdrop; unfortunately, the special effects ruined most of this experience.

    There is only one version of this film available from Paramount on DVD, and although its part of their somewhat pathetic "Widescreen Collection," the disc needs some work in a LOT of places --- but don't expect any kind of Special Edition or Collector's Edition due to the lack of interest this film developed from most everybody who saw it; its really reserved for those with a soft spot for Carpenter's campy, offbeat work. To throw salt on a wound, Paramount didnt even make this disc anamorphically enhanced.....

    VIDEO SPECIFICATIONS:
    NON-ANAMORPHIC WIDESCREEN TRANSFER

    Paramount doesnt even bother putting an ASPECT RATIO on the back of the box for this thing, and Im guessing --- since there was MASSIVE letterboxing on my TV's STANDARD mode when I played this disc and required me to zoom in using EXPAND mode to fill in the black areas --- this was either a 2:35:1 or 2:40:1 scope because of the amount of letterboxing that was apparent at first and then reduced when I zoomed it.

    Lets just say that this is not the best print you will ever see on DVD......there is a grain that runs through almost the whole length of the DVD presentation, and maybe its because the image needed to be blown up because of no anamorphic enhancement, but, even not blown up, I noticed, from the opening Paramount logo on, that the print looked pretty bad --- not dirty or scratchy, but grainy and blocky, mostly. Its just not a great DVD transfer. And the lack of anamorphic enhancement should make Paramount ashamed of themselves.....but, Disney/Buena Vista doesnt care that most of their titles come this way, so why should Paramount, I guess, right? Whatever.

    AUDIO SPECIFICATIONS:
    ENGLISH DOLBY DIGITAL 5.1, ENGLISH DOLBY SURROUND, FRENCH DOLBY SURROUND, SPANISH SUBTITLES, ENGLISH CAPTIONS

    While I never ran this disc's STEREO SURROUND track, I dont think there would ever need to be a reason to....this Dolby 5.1 mix needs help as it is; while not really bad per se, it is nowhere near groundbreaking or thunderous. The first thing I noticed is the lack of, once again, overall "power" of the track, requiring more amplifier power to really get going. The opening score sounds good, as a remixed, updated version of Carpenter's score for New York, in surround, and there are moments of discrete rear channel use, such as when the fake-looking helicopters fly over and through the surrounds (as they did in New York, too) but in general this is just not a great-sounding mix; its definitely not running at full Dolby bitrate, thats for sure, and there were some missed opportunites here by Paramount for more surround action. The audio really doesnt heat up until the end shootout scene in what is really "Disneyland", where explosions, bombs, bullets and machine gun fire just seem to come from everywhere IF you have your system up high enough to compensate for this track's low dynamic range.....there are some good moments of LFE, such as when earthquakes hit L.A., causing a rumbling in your living room, but again, ONLY if your volume is up pretty high. Dialogue, again, is a problem on the mix too, as the characters can get downright quiet sounding (especially Russell in his raspy Snake Plissken voice) as compared to the bullets and action that will accompany a next scene. The disc, in general, needs some work, and although fans like me would love to see --- and would purchase --- a remastered Special Edition of this title, its probably never going to happen.

    This was a bare-bones affair from Paramount, only including a pretty cool theatrical trailer for the film which begins with what you think is a pre-movie advertisement for an actual movie theater but then breaks into the trailer for John Carpenter's Escape From L.A. --- proclaiming SNAKE IS BACK!!

    I hope Carpenter isnt planning on having Russell "escape" from anywhere else down the road; Escape From New York will just seem to shine even brighter as a feather in his career cap if he does.....unless he can tame that CGI he went overboard with in this picture.....Lord Have Mercy........
    Last edited by Lexmark3200; 07-12-2005 at 11:26 PM.

  2. #2
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    Cool

    When i first saw L.A i felt a little let down , but after i seen it a few times i got what carpenter was doing & it was not as bad as some people said it was. you really have to be a big fan of his to understand what he is presenting in his films, even though cgi was bad & the story was too much the same, i still enjoyed it not as good as n.y. but still ok & as far as the dvd i don't know because i still have my thx ld of l.a & for now it will do.


    always fun to read your reviews !


    mike

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    Quote Originally Posted by steamboy 2
    When i first saw L.A i felt a little let down , but after i seen it a few times i got what carpenter was doing & it was not as bad as some people said it was. you really have to be a big fan of his to understand what he is presenting in his films, even though cgi was bad & the story was too much the same, i still enjoyed it not as good as n.y. but still ok & as far as the dvd i don't know because i still have my thx ld of l.a & for now it will do.


    always fun to read your reviews !


    mike
    Well, once more good friend, THANK YOU for taking time out of your own life to read a review I wrote; means a lot to me and DOES NOT go unnoticed, believe me!

    I agree with everything you are saying with regard to Escape From L.A. and yes, you just NEED to understand Carpenter and that he WANTED to create a PARODY of his New York original, just set in a different location. Nowhere near as good as New York, and this story about this "power box shutting down the Earth" was just UTTERLY ridiculous......the Laser Disc was THX certified? I didnt know that.......is it in Dolby Digital 5.1 as well? The DVD version doesnt look or sound all that hot..........

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    Yes, it's THX & DOLBY DIGITAL 5.1 & as for a LD it looks & sounds pretty good, but it's been a least a yr since i've seen it. i have read some yrs ago that non-anamorphic DVD'S are made from the LD master. do you know if that's true ?


    mike

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    Quote Originally Posted by steamboy 2
    Yes, it's THX & DOLBY DIGITAL 5.1 & as for a LD it looks & sounds pretty good, but it's been a least a yr since i've seen it. i have read some yrs ago that non-anamorphic DVD'S are made from the LD master. do you know if that's true ?


    mike
    Amazing that the Laser Disc is THX CERTIFIED and the DVD gets NON ANAMORPHIC treatment with a grainy picture to match.....

    I believe --- but dont quote me on this one --- that you are correct in that non-anamorphic DVDs are made from a Laser Disc master; I know a few titles that were simply "ported over" from the LD and burned to a DVD-R, as was the case of the horrible looking and non-anamorphic Crimson Tide from Hollywood/Buena Vista.......

  6. #6
    BooBs are elitist jerks shokhead's Avatar
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    Guess i dont understand JC because i didnt care for NY or LA. It really doest matter if i understand anything about the Dir. It just comes down to did you like the flick or not. NY or LA didnt work for me.KR must have gotten a boat load of money to do LA. I dont think of NY when i think of blockbuster flims. How much did it take in as compared to other flims that year?
    Look & Listen

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    Kam
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    Quote Originally Posted by shokhead
    Guess i dont understand JC because i didnt care for NY or LA. It really doest matter if i understand anything about the Dir. It just comes down to did you like the flick or not. NY or LA didnt work for me.KR must have gotten a boat load of money to do LA. I dont think of NY when i think of blockbuster flims. How much did it take in as compared to other flims that year?

    Escape from New York was released in summer of 81 and made $25mill. (Escape from la, released in '96, also made $25mill) 1981 was the summer of Raiders of the Lost Ark ($209mill, opening of $8mill), On Golden Pond, Superman 2, Stripes, The Canonball Run, For Your Eyes Only, Taps, Excalibur, and... History of the World Part1 (directed by Mel Brooks) which made $31mill. All in all, Escape From New York came in 32nd in total box office that year.

    KR made $7.5mill for doing Executive Decision that same year, so he prolly made somewhere in the same amount for Escape from LA.

    Just as an FYI, (not that it means anything or is indicative of anything at all)
    Carpenter's entire collection of movies lifetime gross: $283mill
    Blazing Saddles ('74) and The Producers ('68) have grossed: $230mill
    Spielberg's lifetime gross: $3.3bill.

    peace
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  8. #8
    BooBs are elitist jerks shokhead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kam
    Escape from New York was released in summer of 81 and made $25mill. (Escape from la, released in '96, also made $25mill) 1981 was the summer of Raiders of the Lost Ark ($209mill, opening of $8mill), On Golden Pond, Superman 2, Stripes, The Canonball Run, For Your Eyes Only, Taps, Excalibur, and... History of the World Part1 (directed by Mel Brooks) which made $31mill. All in all, Escape From New York came in 32nd in total box office that year.

    KR made $7.5mill for doing Executive Decision that same year, so he prolly made somewhere in the same amount for Escape from LA.

    Just as an FYI, (not that it means anything or is indicative of anything at all)
    Carpenter's entire collection of movies lifetime gross: $283mill
    Blazing Saddles ('74) and The Producers ('68) have grossed: $230mill
    Spielberg's lifetime gross: $3.3bill.

    peace
    k2
    Executive Decision is a family fav here.
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  9. #9
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    "Guess i dont understand JC because i didnt care for NY or LA."

    Guess "so"; thats apparent.

    "It really doest matter if i understand anything about the Dir. It just comes down to did you like the flick or not."

    In the case of THIS PARTICULAR FOLLOW UP FILM --- L.A. ---- YES YOU DID need to understand something about the director. HE TOLD ME HIMSELF.


    "I dont think of NY when i think of blockbuster flims."

    The film has received a "post-theatrical fan fare" reckoning unlike many other films out there --- same as with The Thing. This film developed a VERY VERY HARDCORE fan audience once it was post-theatrical because these visions, as I have said, were reserved for Carpenter fans who understood the darkness he was trying to portray in a closed-off-from-the-world New York City; at the fan convention for Escape From New York that I went to in New York's Madison Square Garden, sponsored by MGM Studios (after there re release of the Collectors Edition DVD), the place was PACKED....absolutely PACKED with Carpenter and Escape From New York fans.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by shokhead
    Executive Decision is a family fav here.
    Do you own or plan to own the DVD yet? Take a look at my review on it first; unless you can find this title cheap somewhere (and its a fav of mine too) consider the fact that Warner didnt do that good of a job on the audio and video transfers. In fact, they feel like "ported over" LD master transfers and they aint that hot.......

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