Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Escape From New York

directed by John Carpenter

Escape From New York poster  
Take the hysterical scaremongering of the early 80s evening news, project it forward a few years and turn it into a movie, and more or less what you will end up with is the plot of Escape From New York. At that time the rising crime rate was a hot topic, and the media was full of it. So this movie is based on the idea of crime levels that continue to increase unchecked.

The situation is so bad that the whole of Manhattan Island has been sealed off and made into a prison. People sent there are shot if they try to escape, and it's guarded only on the outside. Within the island the prisoners are left to create their own version of society, or their own hell. So when the President's plane is hijacked and he's taken hostage within the island only one renegade tough guy has what it takes to go in and rescue him.

Lt. S. D. "call me Snake" Pliskken (Kurt Russel) is an elite soldier gone bad, himself facing imprisonment in the island. He's given the chance of a pardon if he can rescue the President (Donald Pleasance) within 24 hours. But the police commissioner (Lee Van Cleef) doesn't trust Pliskken. So he has tiny bombs implanted in Pliskken's neck, set to detonate if he doesn't return in time with the President.

It's a pretty absurd setup. When the President is in trouble don't you always pick your rescuer from the equivalent of Death Row? And when siting a maximum-security prison for the country's worst offenders, why put it in the middle of nowhere when you could wreck prime New York property instead?

Escape From New York is basically just an excuse for a lot of battles in an urban wasteland peppered with famous landmarks. Throw in some crazy punks with bad haircuts, a car chase, a few fights, and a ticking time-bomb for good measure. It could be exciting.

However Snake Pliskken is surly without being witty, and the overall effect is that he's about as charismatic as a nematode. The other characters don't fare any better, being little more than clichés. The movie may be action-packed, but it's hardly engrossing when its characters are so unappealing.

Unfortunately the characters aren't the only part of this film to be badly thought out. The story is more future fiction than science fiction, and it's the result of an extrapolation taken to extremes. This oversimplified scenario is never fully explored so we aren't told why the crime rate rose, or why Snake Pliskken went off the rails, or why the President is so unpopular with a certain group of terrorists. All of this is incidental to the more important business of crashing into stuff, blowing things up, and staging fistfights. There goes another promising almost adequate premise, ruined by testosterone.

Film Details

Decade: 1980s

Categories: Films

  Science fiction

Classification: 15

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2 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson