To read my full article go to this site. Here on the other hand is a (revised) excerpt of this article concerning one of my favorite films: Escape from L.A.
The film also complains the title of my blog. I will probably divulge more on this later, but it’s one of my favorite endings in cinema history (and I’m a huge John Carpenter fan) so that certainly had something to do with it.
Hope whoever is reading this loves this film as much as I do.
Apart from a few good characters, this is really not up to scratch in most departments, especially the ludicrous plot.
・Kim Newman, Empire
John Carpenter is renowned for making genre-pictures, but his social critique should not be underestimated. The fact that he makes movies starring killers with white-painted William Shattner masks or shapeshifting aliens or ghostly pirates doesn’t change. Many of his wonderfully silly movies have something interesting to say.
Carpenter, however, isn’t your typical left-wing Hollywood diva – he’s the underdog, the lone wolf, the outsider who somehow made it into Tinseltown. While his career was not focused on tackling social issues (first and foremost he wanted to make entertaining movies), every now and then he can’t help himself and in several of his most poignant films, there’s an indictment on the establishment. There’s Snake Plissken sneering at the state of things.
The script for “Escape from New York” had been inspired by the Watergate scandal, as Carpenter saw the nation descend into even greater cynicism, inspired by their then-conniving commander-in-chief. That the film co-stars a selfish and oafish president (Donald Pleasence) who Snake has to save from the clutches of The Duke (Isaac Hayes) should be no surprise then.
The setting of a dystopian New York would be partly inspired by “Death Wish”, but only in its depiction as New York as a dangerous jungle, not in its core message of right-wing vigilantism. New York, at the time of its screenplay inception, was rampant with crime with all manner of thugs and hoodlums lurking in the shadows to rob old ladies from their purses; this was until Mayor Rudy Giuliani appointed himself as a political Paul Kersey- though over the years, his credit for the eventual declining crime rate has been overstated.
“Escape from New York” is one of the few commercial successes from Carpenter, as his films have a tendency to find their places in cult stardom. The insistence of a sequel, however, came mostly from its star, Kurt Russell who considered Snake Plissken to be his favorite role.
However, this wasn’t enough to sway Carpenter who had no interest in a lame cash-in sequel. Snake had to be back for a reason; there needed to be a certain political undercurrent that would justify his return. It was then in 1994, with the Northridge earthquake and the Los Angeles riots that Carpenter found the inspiration he needed for the sequel and revived Snake onto the big screen in what would become “Escape from L.A.”
Much of the criticism is pointed to how similar it is to the original, and there’s some fairness to that claim. Like the original, Snake Plissken, a former war hero who turned to crime, is imprisoned and offered a presidential pardon if he agrees to a mission. In New York, he had to save the president and obtain an important tape that would unite the world powers.
In the sequel the president himself asks him to travel to Los Angeles, which has become a prison colony and obtain the remote control of a super-weapon called the ”Sword of Damocles”. This super-weapon is able to take down electricity of national threat to America- yup it’s a delicious B-movie.
Like before, Snake is administered something that will kill him if he doesn’t complete his mission. The characters in “Escape from L.A.” are even similar, replacing the ones that came before. In “New York”, police commissioner Bob Hauk (Lee van Cleef) offers him the deal; in “L.A.”, Commander Malloy (Stacy Keach) approaches him. In “New York”, Snake encountered Cabbie (Ernest Borgnine) to help him on his quest; in “L.A.”, its Maps-of-the-Stars Eddy (Steve Buscemi); and so on.
The film is basically a remake, using the same formula but with a bigger budget so it can have more ridiculous action setpieces. Reading this, you would think that Carpenter was simply lazy, just playing it safe and making some easy cash. What most people missed, however, was that Carpenter made a brilliant satire of America in the guise of a bloated and expensive Hollywood picture. This wasn’t just Snake’s return to the big screen – this was Carpenter mocking the madness that was rampaging his country.
It’s not really much of a secret; the two main bad guys are Cuervo Jones (Georges Corraface), a guy dressed like Che Guevara, and the president (Cliff Robertson), an evangelical nutjob who turned America’s democracy into a theocracy. These are two very misguided extremists who are willing to enslave their fellow man for the “greater good.”
Los Angeles, both the glossy haven for the fortunate and a cesspool of broken dreams, has always been a perfect setting for satire and Carpenter naturally can’t help and take a few pot shots at the one place that made him famous. Not only does Hollywood get destroyed, but Los Angeles itself becomes a prison for every act of sinful pleasure, where people are exiled if they go against the new “moral” America.
None of these are products of the time; we still have Christian extremists in Democratic suits who, if they had their way, would turn America into the theocracy they’ve always dreamed about. The social commentary is as relevant now as it ever was, and you couldn’t say that about “Escape from New York”.
Aside from all this, the film is simply a lot of fun and never takes itself so seriously. Carpenter had a lot of fun with this film and considers it superior to the original.
From the hilariously bad special effects to the zany performances of Pam Grier as a transsexual gang leader, Buscemi as a treacherous guide, a cameo from the chin-king himself Bruce Campbell as an evil surgeon (mocking the plastic surgery obsession of LA), and even Peter Fonda as a groovy hippie surfing next to Russell in another one of its ridiculous set pieces.
Best of all, it has Russell playing the role he was born to play – the role that saved him from the kiddie fodder that seemed destined for him after he started his career with Disney. It has one of the best Carpenter endings (and that’s saying something, as the man has a knack for ending his films perfectly), with Snake calmly smoking a cigarette, looking into the camera, and uttering one of the best final lines of cinema history: ”Welcome to the human race.”