Like peanut butter and jelly, 80’s science fiction and the dystopian motif go together hand in hand. Throw in a dash of Kurt Russell and you have yourself a classic on the cards. The film Escape from New York has all the elements that help these cult action films shine for many generations. A gritty Motown score, advanced (yet at the same time dated) technology, and a costume closet the cast of Rocky Horror would snarl at in envy. Escape From New York is just a fun movie, simply put. There’s hardly any substance to analyse but if you’re set with popcorn on your lap*, you can lay back and allow the rugged charm of Mr. Russell to ease you through a comfortable 99 minutes of classic entertainment.
In hindsight, the year 1997 was fortunately not as bad as this film had so aptly predicted. With the crime rate in the US increasing by 400%, the crackpot government decide the only sane idea in their arsenal was to cordon off the island of Manhattan, turning the once bustling metropolis into the countries largest free roaming prison. Unfortunately at this time Airforce One has been hijacked, causing the president to be ejected via shuttle into the midst of this war zone. “Snake” Plissken is our anti hero here, attributed with saving the president’s life in order to save his own. If looks could kill, his eye-patched attempt at such would do a pretty good job, but with only 24 hours to get the job done, Snake must put the rugged looks aside to save someones life in order to save his own. How exciting!
Never to be taken too seriously, the plot is simple enough to serve action that only needs a narrative for guidance. A star studded cast, including Harry Dean Stanton, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine and Isaac Hayes mean there is some decent quality behind the acting, and with little substance in script, they do well to give the film a vibe that keeps it from bordering on silly. Though despite such a prolific cast, it’s aspects such as set and costume design that allows these films to have a place in cult history for the aesthetic they offer. The state-of-the-art technology used by the government looks more at home in a WWII U-boat, and instead of critiquing it as inaccurate, it’s always fun to look at perspectives of the future and how they compared to reality. 99% of the time they’re always hilariously way, way off.
Escape From New York needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, and I think me being a fan of cult films of this sort, and furthermore idolising the enigma that is Kurt Russell does help in creating a fondness for this film. In all seriousness there is very little substance, but it fits the style of science fiction of the time, and I think if you’re a fan of the genre or the legendary John Carpenter, then it’s an instant winner.
*Unfortunately, due to this showing being at Leeds Town Hall, I am referring to imaginary popcorn. It’s not on sale at the venue. Or if it is, someone seriously needs to point me in the direction of the stand!