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Escape from L.A. (1996) – Carpenter countdown #16

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Another one from Carpenter's dire 1990s.

Concept: Surely a sequel to Escape from New York can't go wrong?

Much of Los Angeles is destroyed in an earthquake in 2000 and it becomes an island. The right-wing religious presidential candidate who predicted the earthquake is elected, made President for life, and turns LA Island into a dumping ground for immoral ex-citizens. Once again, once you go in, you don't come back. It's now 2013 and once again Kurt Russell's Snake Plissken is about to be deported, this time having been convicted of 27 moral crimes, when once again it turns out that US Police Commissioner Lee Van Cleef Stacey Keach needs someone to do a rescue operation. This time, it's the President's rebellious daughter along with a doomsday device. Once more, if he doesn't come back within 24 9 1/2 hours, he's automatically dead, but this time the authorities are only interested in the device… Does he succeed? Of course.

What's good: The setup's fine, up to the point of the submarine journey to the island. The basketball scene is good, especially if you know Kurt Russell did all of the basketball shots himself. It's nice to see Snake again.

The politics are interesting and they must have known that being explicitly rude about right wing Christians (the President is happy to kill his own daughter because she won't obey him and spends some time time hiding under a table during a minor quake while everyone else gets on with it, before going off to pray) wouldn't help at the box office. On the other side the Duke of LA Che Guevara lookalike 'Cuervo Jones' looks attractive, but likes to kill people for fun. Given freedom from the rules of the US theocracy, all the inhabitants of the island want to do is kill each other, while Snake is prepared to send the whole planet back into the Dark Ages. Hmm.

What's bad: The budget is clearly bigger, but the imagination isn't. 'If in doubt, have a shoot-out' seems to have been the guiding principle.

Despite Carpenter's claims before it was released about it having more ambition, ambition is one of the big failures: it's really an attempt to re-do the original rather than be better. So there's a Brains equivalent (Steve Buscemi's Map to the Stars Eddie), an 'in the ring' equivalent (the basketball court at the noticeably underpopulated LA Memorial Coliseum), a Girl in Chock Full O'Nuts equivalent (Girl in the bushes), a 'I thought you were dead' equivalent ('I thought you'd be taller'), etc etc etc.

Plus some of it is just plain silly (I'm thinking of the surfing in particular, but the submarine journey isn't far off) and when an interesting idea is there, usually nothing is done with it (Bruce Campbell's Surgeon General of Beverly Hills, seeking to do live cosmetic surgery transplants, is the main example).

Technically, there are problems too. The wide effects shots are especially poor – when other reviewers wonder if this is a deliberate tribute to the 1980s, you know you have problems. The cinematography and lighting could also be a lot better (it's noticeable that Dean Cundey wasn't on board).

Music: Co-composed with Shirley Walker. I have the soundtrack CD for this one (it was 10p second-hand somewhere, and that's about the right price) and it helpfully says who composed which bit. The tracks he did are better, mostly because they're closer to the simpler music from the original rather than full orchestrations. For some reason, the opening title music (a reworking of the Escape theme) has whooshes over it. They're not on the soundtrack CD and it's much better as a result.

Miscellany: If it's true that Kurt Russell did the basketball shots live, why on earth didn't they take a leaf out of Jackie Chan's book, and show the outtakes for this (and other stunts) over the end credits?

Where's the electricity coming from? There's way too much light around.

Overall: The original John Carpenter / Debra Hill script is available online and there's more interest in comparing it with what was filmed (where the script was credited to Kurt Russell as well) than watching the result. At one point, a remake of Escape From New York was on the cards, staring Gerard Butler. Obviously it would have been very bad, but I am not sure it would have been worse than this.

TL;DR They had more fun making it than anyone had watching it.

Film: 1/5
DVD: 1/5

You get the film and trailer.

The DVD, Blu-ray, score CD and 'soundtrack' (i.e. assorted tracks by other people featured or 'inspiring' the music in the film) CD

Written by Ian

June 9th, 2011 at 10:32 am

Posted in Cinema,Countdown,DVDs

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