Escape From New York [1981]

I just witnessed, quite possibly, the most bad ass film that exists on this planet. It was called ‘Escape from New York‘, and it managed to infiltrate my top ten movie list, elbow one of the movies right in the face, smoke a cigarette, save the president, and return to being straight up cool. The story is simple and yet brilliant: Crime in the US has risen by 400%, authorities have pretty much given up on Manhattan and have walled its entire perimeter and turned it into a prison, however; its prisoners are totally free to do whatever it is that they do. Out of sight, out of mind is the principle value factored into this zany equation. But when the president’s ship, en route to an important meeting, crash lands in the middle of Manhattan’s mayhem filled streets, it’s time for the big dogs outside to pull some strings to get him back. Meet Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), an ex special forces war hero turned criminal, called into action by USPF Commisioner Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef – The Good, the Bad & the Ugly). A deal is made: Snake must infiltrate Manhattan, find the president, and then escort him past the walls, back into safety. The catch: Snake only has 24, no wait… 22 hours to do it!

Escape From New York

With Escape From New York John Carpenter very successfully allows the viewer short glimpses at a very disturbing slice of dystopia: a society shut off from the rest of the world, fueled by crime and violence, and of course, synthetic blade runner esque sounds. The soundtrack in this film is amazing, and it really helps set up the tone and suspense of the desolate landscape the film is set in. The best thing about this movie is how it watches like a video game, from the first 5 minutes you are literally glued to the screen, playing it in your mind as though it were a first person shooter. It has it all: the bad ass anti-hero with a hinted at back story, the cop briefing you on your mission (metal gear solid style), gadgets, silenced weapons, stealth, a couple of sluts, lots of enemies and a sci-fi soundtrack. It’s a perfect blend of Fallout, Perfect Dark
and Metal Gear Solid, and it’s very, very entertaining. I won’t ruin the movie for you, you will just have to watch it for yourself, but I will leave you with an excerpt from Hideo Kojami, the creator of the Metal Gear Solid series, and his opinion on this fantastic film and how it influenced his games:

“This time I would like to talk about a film I saw not on TV but at the movies, based on my own will. And the 3rd film turns out to be the movie that influenced me the most in the birth of MGS hero Solid Snake – Escape from New York (the Japanese title was New York 1997).

In Spring 1981, I was a high school student. I went to the movies with my friends. Considering myself an avid film fan, I certainly knew of John Carpenter. Although I did have him in mind, I was not a worshipper yet. The lights were turned down, and the film began. Only text is shown on the black screen. A calm melody with a monotone rhythm, analog electric sounds… a simple and even tasteless opening – but I was drawn to it. My skin could feel the unique atmosphere and what was about to happen. Then came a brief description of the setting (Manhattan Island turned into a prison). There is no room for questions for such a wild setting. A computer voice talks emotionlessly about how the future will be in the next 10-20 years. All this time the audience gets no live footage. All the audience can do is imagine based on the data and wire frame (actually models whose edges are colored with fluorescent paint). Various images of the future flood the minds of the audience and cause a mental panic. The next cut shows a panoramic view of Manhattan the prison. “This is gonna be great!” The next hour and a half, I was glued to the innovative idea and punk atmosphere. “How could such a cool movie exist!” It wasn’t simply a fun movie. The movie and I shared similar chemistry. The colors, the smell, and the air were things that the director and I shared in taste. There is no logical explanation. I believe everyone has had this kind of experience with music and film. It might not have been a movie popular among the public, but it was definitely the movie I got into the most.

I was especially electrified by the hero, Snake Plissken. Being in the midst of my rebellious period, the antihero “Snake” resonated harmoniously! He was a dark hero that separated himself from the orthodox hero who was either part of some organization, enslaved by the system, or was justice personified. Noire novels and stories and movies with evil heroes are common now, but this was quite rare back then. Although he gets used, he ultimately lives by his own ideology. Although confined as a criminal, he was not truly evil. Instead, he was a new type of hero with “justice not bound by others.” Snake’s words, actions and every move looked so cool. I’m sure that when people came out of the theatre, they were all dragging their right leg just like Snake (who gets injured by an arrow). My friends and I were no exception. (By the way, I had one eye shut like Mel Gibson after seeing “Mad Max 2.”) The line “Call me Snake!” became a fad in school.

The name ‘Snake’ in MGS comes from “creeping up on someone silently like a snake.” The adjective ‘Solid’ expresses Snake’s strong and blade-sharp image – paradoxical when combined with a snake’s litheness. Normally, ‘snake’ and ‘solid’ do not get along. It’s like talking about hot ice. I came up with this name to express this lack of balance and equilibrium. But when I decided that the codename would be Snake, the character itself was more Plissken than snake-like at the subconscious level. If I used a different name (animal) for Snake in MGS, he probably would have been a totally different character.

This movie is another example that contains the very important synopsis element of “infiltration, rescue, and escape”. What adds greatly to the suspense is the 24-hour “time limit”. What plays a big role as a direction tool is his very obvious watch. You could ask, “Does it really have to be this big?” but showing this watch instead of an on-screen timer works really well. Snake takes a look at his watch at the very moment the audience wishes to take a look. The time is not spoken. The audience has to read the time just like Snake. Towards the end when it is only minutes away from the limit, the watch is no longer shown. Only Snake’s facial expression is shown. It is a mean but calculated means of direction. Carpenter is great with such small touches. The device indicating the president’s location, the cassette tape necessary at the summit, the bracelet with the hidden switch, the nanocapsule that dissolves in blood and causes and explosion, the diving glider, the egg-shaped escape pod… the cool use of all these neat gadgets adds to the enjoyment of this film.” Hideo Kojami – Source.

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3 thoughts on “Escape From New York [1981]

  1. Pingback: Escape From New York Soundtrack | end of the game

  2. Pingback: Metal Gear Solid Soundtrack | END OF THE GAME

  3. i also loved this film and carpenters obvious homage to the Sergio Leone movies, its essentially as he describes it, a western in the future. Snake is the number one gunslinger and Lee van Cleef was a deliberate casting choice. Kurt Russell went on to mimic Clint Eastwood for the role. I also loved the missing crime scene that was meant to be in the movie(showing how Snake became a prisoner) and that James Cameron was the special effects man on this before he broke into films himself with Terminator

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