Director: John Carpenter.
Screenplay: John Carpenter, Nick Castle.
Starring: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Adrienne Barbeau, Harry Dean Stanton, Season Hubley, Tom Atkins, John Diehl, George “Buck” Flower,
During my childhood, I enjoyed many movies from director John Carpenter but it’s been a long time since I’ve revisited any of them. If truth be told, I kind of avoided them incase they didn’t hold up on reflection and quite frankly, I didn’t want my memory of them to be tarnished. The reason I’ve revisited this one is because Eric, who runs The IPC blog asked me to collaborate on a “double-take“, where we would compare our thoughts on a specific film. I’m glad I took part as this cult classic from my younger years still holds many memorable moments.
In the year 1997, the entire city of New York has become a maximum security prison, holding all of society’s criminals. All the bridges leading into the city are cut off, a large wall is built along the shoreline and a large police force is based there to stop any attempted escapees. Things take a turn for the worse though, when the President’s (Donald Pleasance) plane is shot down and he has to eject. Unfortunately for everyone he lands in New York forcing a rescue mission. It’s here that prisoner and ex-soldier Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is sent into the decaying city. If he manages to rescue the president then he’ll win his own life and freedom in return.
Straight from the off-set, this film sets the tone with Carpenter’s own foreboding music score, luring you into an anarchy ridden, post-apocalyptic New York. Like all of Carpenter’s works during the 70’s and 80’s, the concept is sheer brilliance. There are very few directors these days that have the vision or originality that this man had. Unfortunately, Carpenter can’t seem to hit the same heights these days but he was way ahead of his game around this time and this film stands as one of his most recognised and has a fervent cult following. Like a lot of cult movies though, it has it’s flaws; the settings are basic and it has the old flashing computers with an abundance of lightbulbs on show but it’s testament to Carpenter’s vision that his concept overrides these dated faults and the film still manages to remain suitably futuristic. Granted, in some cases it can come across as amateurish – even self-conscious – but good sci-fi primarily works on it’s idea’s and Carpenter certainly applies the idea well here. This is a film that confidently relies on it’s premise and it works an absolute treat. It is also helps that it doesn’t take itself too seriously and has it’s tongue stuck firmly in it’s cheek. That’s thanks-in-large to Kurt Russell, who delivers a string of great one-liners in a memorable and iconic central performance as Snake Plissken – one of cinema’s finest anti-heroes. Unfortunately, the film does succumb to some formulaic action material but it’s credit to Carpenter’s pacing and Russell’s wisecracks for keeping the films head above ground. Despite it’s style and substance becoming a casualty to the action, it’s still a lot of fun, regardless of it’s occasional wandering.
A great sci-fi cautionary tale that a contemporary audience can still identify with. It can also proudly take it’s place amongst the great B-movies and cult classics of our time and lasting proof, that John Carpenter was one of the finest directors working during the 1970’s & 80’s.
To read the “double-take” in full, visit Eric’s site here.