Escape from L.A. (1996): Tearing Down the Machines

Escape From L.A.

    John Carpenter is easily one of my favorite directors at this point. “The Thing” is one of my favorite films as are both his “Escape” films. “Escape from L.A.” is better from “Escape from New York” in my opinion because the characters are more memorable and everyone has more agency, it also is much more of a protest too as we see Snake do much more than troll the President to finally end this film. All of these things make it the stronger film with the only thing being less being the cinematography.

     “Escape from L.A.” was directed by John Carpenter who co-wrote it along with Kurt Russell and Debra Hill with Debra Hill and Kurt Russell also being the producers behind the film.

     The story is in 2000 after a huge Earthquake has turned L.A. into an island. A theocratic President blames L.A.’s sins for this and turns it into a prison Island to put all the “undesirables” from the United States. Things come to a head when Cuervo Jones, the leader of the Shining Path seduces the President’s daughter Utopia in order for her to steal a Super Weapon which is transported to L.A. as Cuervo Jones plans the conquest of the United States. Snake is brought in again to stop him as he is infected with a super-virus giving him only 10 hours to complete the mission.

The Pros: The Premise – The idea of the Earthquake making things worse since the last film makes sense, as is the rise of theocracy in the United States as people would be seeking stability and blaming of “the Other.” We’re already seeing that blaming of the other right now with how the Syrian refugees are being seen here in the States as fear takes over rationality. In that way what brings about the premise hits very close to home.

The World – The World is factionalized with the Third World on one side fighting for revolution with Cuervo as their leader and the President on the other seeking to uphold the status quo of inequality. Both are dictators though as they each silence dissent in the same way.

The Themes – The themes are about getting back to the base of what it means to be human. Are ways of escaping that base humanity and seeking to control others (the President and Cuervo) or ourselves (the Plastic Surgeon and mutants) runs throughout the film as it is only when Utopia and Eddie work with Snake that there is any chance for things to change as either side winning is the loss of freedom for all.

The Action – The action is once again solid as we see Eddie, Hershe and Snake to an air assault on gliders against Cuervo and Cuervo taking out Snake when Snake is taking out his men in the first car chase is really good too.

The Soundtrack – Shirley Walker and John Carpenter do a great job of keeping the sci. fi. feel from the last film in the soundtrack while adding a much more apocalyptic feel as well as everything is bigger and more desolate than before.

The Characters – The characters are all compelling, whether they are antagonistic or not and I anytime any of them appeared I wanted to see what choices and decisions they would make.

Taslima – Is a small role but shows Snake the fearful on the Island. She speaks for the vulnerable and is super trusting too. At one point her and Snake escape from the Surgeon and his plastic surgeon mutants before she is eventually killed. Valeria Golina did a great job as this minor character.

Brazen – Michelle Forbes (Ro Laren from “Star Trek: TNG”) is awesome as Mallory’s second-in-command as we see someone who is calm and collected and is always looking towards the bigger picture.

Commander Mallory – Mallory is a true believer unlike is predecessor and at one point tries to kill Snake until he realizes he was played out he had played Snake with Snake only appearing as a hologram before taking away all power from the world. He felt threatening too and we see him force the President to stay and face the consequences of making the weapon. He isn’t a coward. Stacy Keach does a great job.

Utopia – Utopia starts out as one dimensional but becomes a full character over the course of the film as we see her realize that Cuervo is just as corrupt as her father, leading her to helping Snake fight back and escaping along with him, only to be sent to the electric chair by her father. She is a character who is trapped and is only freed when all the power around the world is shut down for good by the Super Weapon when Snake activates it.

Map to the Stars Eddie – Eddie is a double crosser who in the end chooses Snake after he sees that Cuervo cares nothing about him. Steve Buscemi did a great job as the quick talking salesman whose tape about L.A. is used to mock the President when it is played at the end. He is comedic but is a schemer who you end up taking seriously. He doesn’t make it out of L.A. as he shoots Cuervo but Cuervo fires the rocket before dying forcing Eddie to jump out of the helicopter.

Cuervo Jones – Cuervo is a great enemy. He is the dictator of L.A. and is connected to the oppressed as a symbol around the world. He is brutal though and cannot see past himself. He doesn’t dehumanize his enemies like the President but he is just as brutal and corrupt as he even turns on his allies. Georges Corraface did great.

The President – The President is the worst of the Religious Right as all racial, religious and political minorities are sent to L.A. He is brutal and clearly is a functioning dictator in the United States, though he was elected as the timeline doesn’t tell us anything different. He is a true believer like Cuervo as we see him willing to sacrifice his daughter to death for having been with the enemy. Seeing him literally lose power and get mocked at the end was rewarding. The guy was a great antagonist. Cliff Robinson was awesome.

Hershe – Is a transgender heroine and also Snake’s ex-partner. It is she who gives Snake the air support he needs to stop Cuervo and get the weapon. She thankfully manages to escape to the mainland and is off the copter before the troops arrive to take Snake. She is a great leader and the only faction standing against Cuervo and his corruption. Pam Grier played my favorite character in this film.

Snake Plissken – Snake is back and is a much better person in this! He doesn’t threaten people nearly as often and we see him go from setting out to kill Utopia to protecting her pretty quickly. He also does more than just troll and chooses to take away power from both Cuervos Revolutionaries and the President, both who are fighting with the same mentality of silencing all opposition and using murder as the way to enforce will upon the world. Snake isn’t a hero but he does the action that changes everything before he disappears once again.

Okay: The Cinematography – There are a few moments where green screen use is obvious and took me out of the film a little bit, the most glaring example being when Snake is surfing the largest wave. It’s an odd statement to say but this film is much more cartoony than it’s predecessor but it works and fits the tone.

    This was a great film with only certain cartoony moments in regards to cinematography as the only real downside. The characters are much more colorful than in “Escape from New York,” and Snake is more sympathetic as we see him act for more than just himself on multiple occasions. The antagonists are good too with the Socialist Dictator Cuervo on one side and the religious theocratic President on the other. Both are extreme sides of fanaticism that are rejected by Snake in the end when he makes the decision to take away their abilities to control and destroys the machine that’s been using him during this film and the last one. John Carpenter did an amazing job creating these two film and I can see how they inspired the character of Solid Snake and the world of the “Metal Gear” series. I highly recommend both the films.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

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Escape From New York (1981): Trapped in the Machine

Escape From New York

    “Escape from New York” and “Escape from L.A.” were stories I was only really familiar with through the game series that they helped inspire. Solid Snake was drawn from the ex-soldier and protagonist of this series Snake Plissken. Both of them are isolated soldiers forced into situations of their control and must race against time to complete the mission and save themselves. The biggest difference is the “Metal Gear” series is much more sci. fi. based while the “Escape” series is more dystopian and apocalyptic. Suffice to say I really enjoyed “Escape from New York,” and consider it a favorite film even though it does have some obvious problems that I will go into.

       John Carpenter wrote and directed the film while it was co-wrote by Nick Castle and produced by Larry J. Franco and Debra Hill.

   The story begins in 1988 when there is a 400% increase in crime leading to the United States turning Manhattan Island into a high security prison. It is in 1997 and Air Force One get’s hijacked and crashed into the prison that is Manhattan forcing the New York Police Force to send in Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) to rescue the President and save the tape that is needed for the Peace Summit with the Soviet Union and China. From here Snake is in a race against time as he is infected with capsules that will kill him in 22 hours unless they are removed.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise of society falling apart leading to a tyrannical government rising in the United States is fascinating, especially as we see how the disregard for life of those who aren’t among the privileged has decreased drastically. Whether it is Snake having the capsules put into him that give him a death sentence unless he completes his mission or all the rules that you see the moment you come in, as well as the fact that all those entering Manhattan Island have the choice to commit suicide rather than going to Prison. The disregard for life it at it’s height.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful. It is dark and shadowed and captures the feel of being trapped extremely well. Everything is hidden, which sets up how we don’t see what happened to the President until much later in the story and we don’t meet the Duke of New York until later in the story either. Dean Cundey and Jim Lucas did a great job.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is very 80s and it works. There is a tense synth feel that pervades the film which captures that this is supposed to be a future really well. John Carpenter and Alan Howarth did a great job.

The Action – The action is extremely solid. Whether it is Snake having to fight against his dying body and different crooks or facing off against the Slag in a bat fight in the Duke of New York’s arena or finally racing across a mined bridge being chased by the Duke…every action scene moves the plot forward and establishes the strength and guile of our hero or the motivation of those around him.

 Maggie – Maggie is the girlfriend of Brain who was once Snake’s partner but ran away. She comes to Brain’s defense but also sees the bigger picture too as she and Brain help save the President from the Duke. This leads to the Brain eventually dying and her using the last of her energy to try and kill the Duke. She was a great character and gave us a picture of someone making it in Manhattan. Adrienne Barbeau did great.

Brain – Harry Dean Stanton is great as the double crosser who eventually comes to stand by his friend. He’s smart and that is what keeps him alive as we see him outsmart both Snake and the Duke on multiple occasions and in doing so keep his head. He does eventually die on the bridge and can’t make it out but he makes possible Snake and the President’s escape, saving Manhattan from being bombed by the mainland.

Duke of New York – Isaac Hayes (Chef from “South Park”) is a great villain. He is a guy who is confident who sees himself as number one. He’s rose through the ranks of the prison to the point that he owns it now and just wants to get revenge on the world that put him there. He nearly succeeds too, only being stopped by Brain and Maggie when they change sides and help Snake free the President.

Snake Plissken – Snake is a bitter ex-convict who also served in the army at one point. Among the people he is seen as a bit of a folk hero and most people in Manhattan eventually recognize him. He’s ruthless but has a good heart as we see him go from threatening Brain and Maggie to trying to use all he can to help them escape. He’s pretty anti-authority too and we see him give cabbie’s tape to the President, embarrassing him on live television before China and the USSR while Snake himself destroys the tape that the government was going to use. His story is resisting the machine even as he is forced to be a part of it. Kurt Russell does a great job.

Okay: Bob Hauk – He is the guy who injects Snake with the capsules forcing him to race against time. He believes in Snake and has a respect for him as at the end he asks Snake if he’d like to join his team.

The Cons: The President – He’s a tool and wasn’t all that memorable. He wasn’t bad but he wasn’t written with much depth as we see him dismiss the lives that were laid down so he could escape and him cringing everytime he is threatened.

Romero – Romero just looks crazy but we never get why the Duke made him his second in command. Because of this he is just kind of there.

   This story has great world building, but I didn’t feel as attached to the characters as I did in “Escape from L.A.” I think a big reason for this is a lot of what the story does is world building and tone setting. It is “Alien” to “Aliens” and in both cases in order to experience the world we don’t have the time to really grow attached to a lot of the characters. It is still a film I’d recommend to anyone who loves a good dystopian or apocalyptic story and it sets up “Escape from L,A” and the story beats “Escape from L.A.” will use really well.

Final Score: 9 / 10