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Featured Blu-ray Review: Escape from L.A.

May 3rd, 2010

Escape from L.A. - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

John Carpenter directed Escape from New York, his seventh film (if you include a couple made-for TV movies). It was released in 1981 and thanks to its B-movie aesthetics and an awesome performance by Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, it became a hit earning $25 million on a budget of just $6 million. It was an even bigger hit on the home market. Fifteen years later, John Carpenter and Kurt Russell teamed up for a sequel, Escape from L.A. Despite having a budget than was nearly 10 times higher, this film barely made more at the box office. Now it is coming out on Blu-ray. Is it worth picking up? Was the movie unfairly passed over before?

Escape from New York takes place in 1997 in a dystopian future where New York City has been turned into a massive prison. The hostilities between the United States and the U.S.S.R. are heating up and it looks like World War III is on its way. The President is on his way to deliver a speech when his plane is shot down and crash lands in New York City. Snake Plissken is blackmailed with a bomb and sent in to rescue him. Along the way, he meets a colorful cast of characters, all while racing against the clock before the bomb kills him.

Escape from L.A. is set in 2013, 15 years after the presidential candidate Cliff Robertson, predicts a massive earthquake will hit Los Angeles and separate it from the rest of the United States, and 13 years after his prediction came true. Thanks to this prediction, he was elected President and the constitution was amended to make that position a lifetime term. He quickly turned the United States into a theocracy and exiled all those who were not "moral" enough to Los Angeles.

At the beginning of the film, we learn his daughter, Utopia, has fallen in love with Cuervo Jones, the leader of the largest gang in Los Angeles. She stole a top-secret prototype MacGuffin and hijacked the presidential plane and used its escape pod to land in Los Angeles. Now Cuervo Jones has united the third world nations and will use the MacGuffin to lead an invasion, unless Snake Plissken stops him. But why would he? Because the government stuck him with a new virus that will kill him in ten hours if he doesn't get the antidote.

Now he has to get into L.A. to rescue the MacGuffin (the President. Along the way, he meets a colorful cast of characters, all while racing the clock before the bomb... I mean virus... kills him.

This brings us to the first problems with Escape from L.A.: it is far too much like Escape from New York. The setting is too similar, the mission is too similar, Snake even meets a number of similarly colorful characters. However, nothing here works as well as it does in the original. The story obviously doesn't feel as original, while it has too much of an episodic feel to it instead of something with an organic flow to it. Things that you think would be improved, like the special effects, look worse than the original. Perhaps that's because the original used practical effects while this film used CG effects, back in the day when CG effects were still in their infancy. 30 year later, the effects in Escape from New York still hold up, while the ones here look horribly dated.

Even Kurt Russell's performance as Snake Plissken seems off. It's like he's trying too hard to be cool.

There's not even any extras on the Blu-ray to give some added value. The video is also merely acceptable, but I'm not sure if this can be blamed so much on the transfer as much as the dated effects. On a side note, this film cost $50 million to make back in 1996. That's a lot of money back in the day. In comparison, Independence Day cost $75 million and First Contact cost $46 million. Dragonheart had a talking dragon in the movie and it cost $57 million. This was not a cheap movie to make. It should look better than this. On the other hand, the audio is better and your surround speakers do get a bit of a workout, as well your subwoofer. But for a slice of shovelware, $22.49 is far too pricey.

The Verdict

If you haven't seen the original, then Escape from L.A. is acceptable if unmemorable entertainment. However, if you haven't seen the original yet, buy that one instead. It might be a smart idea to wait for a full Blu-ray release. However, it might take a while, as the studio that owns the rights is currently being sold.

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