Escape From New York
Snake Plissken was a decorated soldier, the youngest man to receive the medal of honour from the President. And then he died, robbed the federal reserve, and wound up with a life sentence.
The year is 1997 and crime is so bad that Manhattan Island has been converted into a maximum security prison. While en route to a summit meeting, Air Force One is hijacked and crashed onto Manhattan. The President survives the crash in his escape pod but he's now inside the prison. Meanwhile, Snake is being processed on Liberty Island before being sent inside. He strikes a bargain with the police commissioner: rescue the President and receive a full pardon. Snake battles street gangs, an old and former friend, and Isaac Hayes in his mission to save the President. He gets poisoned by the commissioner, shot at by Isaac's men, pummeled by a large Turk, and nearly blown up. And he still maintains his cool.
Escape From New York was made in 1981 and set 16 years later. Kind of hard to believe things would turn to so bad so quickly, and I personally don't like it when movies date themselves like this one does. But looking beyond my own (irrational) biases, the film effectively creates a post-apocalyptic feel without actually being post-apocalyptic. Of course, I'm watching this in 2008, 27 years after its release and 11 years after its setting. But I stand by my statement.
Like the films that have preceded it, Escape is a fairly straightforward plot. Everything is laid out for you right at the start, and you get only a hint of backstory every now and again. Nobody talks very much, which I like, and when they do it's solely to move the story forward. Escape is an action movie, and there's nothing worse than having your action get bogged down in useless dialogue. Also, the minimal dialogue paints Snake as a man of few words and his stoicism rubs off on the people around him. It's also an effective contrast to the loquacious Isaac Hayes, whose pimped-out character of the Duke of New York is the antithesis of Kurt Russel's spartanic Snake.
The film is not without its problems, however. Unfortunately, there's a return to strange pacing. At one point, Snake is caught and knocked unconscious. This happens at night. When he wakes up it's clearly the next day. And when he finally escapes his captors, which takes him about half an hour at most, it's the dead of night again. Furthermore, Snake's mission is time-sensitive. When he wakes up in captivity, he's got about 2 hours left, maybe three of the 22 hours he was given at the start of the film. That means it should be night again when he wakes. Really, it's a minor problem, but the abrupt change from day to nighttime is jarring and takes you out of the movie for a second.
Escape is not a total departure for Carpenter. Recall that Assault on Precinct 13 is essentially an action movie. However, Escape is, in my opinion altogether a whole lot crazier than anything that has come before. The minimalist storytelling keeps it on this side of the line, but its bleak outlook and pessimistic ending up the crazy factor.
Craze-o-meter: 2.5, like when I drove the 401 in blizzard at night