collaboration between director John Carpenter and cinematographer
Dean Cundey, ASC is one of the great underrated partnerships
in recent film history. This might seem like a bold claim,
given that the union lasted for a short number of years
and resulted in only five films, but the level of visual
invention in those films and their enormous influence (particularly
in the case of Halloween) cannot be denied. Carpenter
and Cundey's cinematic universe is one in which every part
of the widescreen frame is used for maximum expressiveness
and emotional impact, with lighting, composition and camera
movement coming together to tell the story.
style and intelligence Cundey and Carpenter brought to
their films are on glorious display in MGM's new special-edition
DVD of Escape From New York. Though a few of the
plot devices in this futuristic action film have aged rather
poorly - the fact that the fate of the free world depends
on a flimsy audiotape seems pretty unlikely - Carpenter's
deft choreography of action and his fierce celebration
of individualism are as passionate as ever.
its core, the picture is a Western, and its dubious hero,
Snake Plissken (played with a Clint Eastwood-like growl
by Kurt Russell), is a variation on a quintessential Western
archetype: the gunfighter without allegiances and without
a home to call his own. The filmmakers update this classic
figure with a deeply ironic, post-Watergate cynicism, and
present a Darwinian world in which the island of Manhattan has been turned into
a maximum-security prison.
new high-definition transfer is a marked improvement over
previous home-video incarnations of the picture and does
full justice to Cundey's richly atmospheric cinematography.
The film is comprised largely of night exteriors in urban
locations, and Cundey rose to the challenge by utilizing
Panavision's then-new high-speed lenses, as well as the
Panaglide, which he had employed to legendary effect on Halloween.
Cundey brilliantly takes advantage of the new technology
with lengthy tracking shots lit by natural sources (particularly
fires) to create a dark urban vision that's both terrifying
and strangely beautiful.
of the DVD's supplements, including a deleted prologue
and an entertaining audio commentary by Carpenter and Russell,
will be familiar to those who own the laserdisc previously
issued by New Line, but several new extras were produced
specifically for this package. These include an entertaining
documentary called Return to Escape From New York,
which contains interviews with Carpenter, Cundey and production
designer Joe Alves, among others. The documentary is filled
with nifty anecdotes and has some instructive explanations
by Alves and Cundey that convey how the filmmakers combined
sets, locations and matte work to overcome budgetary restrictions.
The relatively inexpensive production, which cost $5-7
million, used St. Louis to double for Manhattan, and Alves and Cundey's
descriptions of how they matched the urban location work
with footage shot in California and on soundstages is
both amusing and enlightening.
menu on disc two promises three featurettes, but only Return
to Escape From New York qualifies. The second "featurette" is
a still-frame gallery depicting the creation of a Snake
Plissken comic book, and the third is just a series of
shots from the film cut together and accompanied by some
new music. Far more informative is a new audio commentary
by Alves and producer Debra Hill that provides further
information on the movie's low-budget special effects (photographed
by future director James Cameron), and explores how the
filmmakers used camera movement, lighting, design and editing
to compensate for their lack of financial resources. Three
trailers and a gallery of production and publicity stills
round out the package.