Redbrick Rewind: Escape from New York | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Redbrick Rewind: Escape from New York

Still reeling from Blade Runner: 2049 Film Critic Luis Freijo revisits another old sci-fi classic: John Carpenter's Escape from New York

Blade Runner 2049's release has resulted in a large quantity of critical literature and fan conversations about how the original Blade Runner might have been better or worse, and how it might have influenced sci-fi movies that came after 1982. However, Blade Runner was not alone in the early eighties landscape, but was framed within a boom of sci-fi films caused by the sensational success of Star Wars in 1977. Therefore, Villeneuve's sequel is a fine excuse to retrieve one of those low-budget products, which has notable similarities with Blade Runner and, actually, was made a year earlier: John Carpenter's Escape from New York.

By 1981, Carpenter was a "B" director with four feature films in his filmography. Three of them were horror movies (Dark Star, Halloween and The Fog) and the other, Assault on Precinct 13, was an undisguised remake of Howard Hawk's Rio Bravo set in a modern police station. He tackled the new sci-fi wave with a stimulating idea: in 1997, Manhattan would have turned into a giant maximum security prison, in which every criminal in the USA would be incarcerated.

The movie relies entirely on action sequences and, especially, on its charismatic protagonist: Snake Plissken
No guards inside it, only the prisoner's law and strict police vigilance around the island. Nevertheless, Air Force One crashes in this destroyed Big Apple whilst carrying the President, who is holding crucial information that could potentially put an end to a war between China, the Soviet Union and USA. Therefore, a legendary spy will have to infiltrate the prison and get the President out safe.

This simple but very effective premise is the start point of Escape from New York. After that, the movie relies entirely on action sequences and, especially, on its charismatic protagonist: Snake Plissken. Arguably one of the most badass characters in film history, Snake spends his search for the President smoking, talking in one-liners and kicking ass. Kurt Russell played him, and it's one of the best performances of his career. His cocky pose, the eye-patch and the low, menacing tone of voice that he uses make him completely unforgettable. His construction is very intelligent: the script already presents him as a military legend, so it's easier for the audience to believe so.

Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid V: The phantom pain

The spectator doesn't receive much information about him, only hints, which helps to perceive him as even more mysterious. His influence was so significant that Hideo Kojima used the character as base for Solid Snake, the protagonist of the Metal Gear videogame franchise. Russell was accompanied by an impressive cast, considering the production's small size: Lee Van Cleef (the Bad in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly), Ernest Borgnine, the recently deceased Harry Dean Stanton and Donald Pleasence played the inhabitants of that terrible prison.

Carpenter was always able to dig gold out of a tight budget

Carpenter was always able to dig gold out of a tight budget, and Escape from New York is irrefutable proof of that. Even if the production was small, he managed to make the spectator believe that he was visiting a dystopic New York. Action scenes are well choreographed and edited, and the original soundtrack, made with synthesizers by Carpenter himself, creates a very immersive feeling. In fact, Blade Runner and Escape from New York are very similar in these aspects: on the one hand, the depiction of a major american city as a dirty, dark and destroyed place roamed only by outcasts; on the other hand, the use of synthetic music in order to achieve a certain sci-fi tone.

However, even if they share some aesthetic characteristics, they are very different films. Whereas Blade Runner is a slow movie that tries to reach philosophical truth through reflexivity, Escape from New York is just so much fun. Action never stops and there is neither political nor philosophical discourse, only the exploits of a tough guy who doesn't give a damn about anything. They are, therefore, complementary films belonging to a common trend, fit for a double-bill. I'´s always a good plan to sit in the sofa, let Kurt Russell appear on the screen and repeat after him: "Call me Snake".


3rd November 2017 at 9:00 am

Images from

wallup and the escapist