Escape from New York

Escape from New York ★★★★★

It's odd, but although I've been a John Carpenter fanboy pretty much forever, Escape From New York is one movie I've never quite shared the love for. I liked it, but it just never really grabbed me like the other films from his stellar early-80's run. I have owned this on blu-ray for about a decade and I'm sure I revisited it a few years ago with my opinion unchanged, but this rewatch really felt like the first time in ages. There were whole reams of this thing I had no real memory of. I don't think I've actually seen this since renting the VHS when I was a kid. Either that, or this was part of that evening I sniffed too much glue and woke up with that male Marilyn Monroe impersonator - my third worst night out ever.

It did strike me this time around that watching this on a VHS or an old cathode ray TV must be a bit of a futile exercise. This movie is so fucking dark. Don't get me wrong - it's not like The Relic where you literally can't see anything even on a high quality version with the backlight all jacked up. The low lighting in Escape From New York and the use of thick shadow and darkness is all very deliberate and masterfully applied by Dean Cundey. This is a film with an aesthetic beauty which is really quite unique. It doesn't really look anything like Carpenter's other films (maybe a bit like the use of darkness in Halloween, but to a completely different effect) and definitely nothing like the countless rip-offs it spawned. It's fucking breathtaking.

Again, it's just the old Carpenter well-oiled machine. Minimalist where it needs to be and generous where we want it to be. Kurt Russell is just plain fantastic - of his three great Carpenter roles as MacReady, Burton and Plissken, I'm starting to think Plissken might be his best. Such a fucking misanthrope, but I can't agree with the idea (that I think Carpenter himself puts forth) that this is a guy totally devoid of humanity. He stops and tries to convince Adrienne Barbeau to get off the bridge when he's literally got 5 minutes left to live - explain that to me, John-boy!!! And I prefer him this way - with a glimmer of decency. I can totally get behind him not wanting to go on a suicide mission to save Donald Pleasence (I would, but you know, I really love Donald Pleasence) but there has to be some reason why we get so invested in such a silent, undemonstrative character.

The visuals are just so stunning here. I felt like I could transport myself back to 1981 and react to some of the artwork here in a different way to how we do now - especially those green-screen animations of the city blocks as he glides his plane over it. And those matte paintings are just to die for.

It's just so spare and taut and yet beautiful to look at - all the things I love about Carpenter, along with that dollop of fun high adventure that he drenches all the stylistic stuff in.

It's possible that I am far too happy about the fact that I have properly "discovered" this movie now - it's like finding a new favourite movie I never realised I had. Like they say in the movies (but not this one) "You know... sometimes true love is just right in front of you, you just never noticed it." I think we just shared a genuine showbiz moment, folks. Give me a hug.

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