Director John Carpenter developed a cult following among horror and science fiction fans from his work in the 1970s and '80s. During that run, the post-apocalyptic Escape from New York (1981) was notable for introducing the eye-patch-wearing, antihero Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), who had to rescue the President from Manhattan, which had been walled off and turned into a prison where criminals ran wild. It took 15 years for Carpenter and Russell to return Snake to the silver screen in Escape from L.A. Unfortunately, the sequel is essentially a more expensive yet inferior remake.
In 2000, a 9.6 earthquake hits Southern California, resulting in the greater Los Angeles area to break off and become an island. This leads to the U.S. Constitution being amended and the newly elected, evangelical President (Cliff Robertson), who suggested the quake was God's wrath, accepts a lifetime term of office. Immediately, it's clear this film is a fantasy since even back in 1996 when the movie was shot there was no chance of adding a change like that to Constitution. Los Angeles Island, as it is now known, is no longer a part of the United States. It is used as a deportation point, guarded by the police, and no one who enters is allowed to return.
In 2013, the President's daughter, Utopia, has stolen a top secret prototype unit that can control satellites, which can fire EMPs anywhere on Earth to stop motors and send things back to the Stone Age. She brought the unit to Cuervo Jones (Georges Corraface), a Peruvian terrorist and leader of biggest gang in L.A. Snake Plissken, now a criminal again, is forced to take another pardon deal after being given a virus and less time to complete the mission. He is ordered to return the unit and kill the girl.
After taking a submarine into Los Angeles, Snake takes a detour into Beverly Hills where he encounters a mad doctor, the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills (Bruce Campbell), who forces people to lose body parts and endure plastic surgery operations, a comment on the era which still holds true. Snake gets captured and brought to Cuervo. Rather than being killed, Snake is brought to the L.A. Coliseum to entertain. He is thrown into a fenced-in basketball court and has to make 10 points. The rules are Snake can't miss a shot or he gets shot and he can't exceed the 10-second shot clock or get shot. Cuervo, being a purist, declares “no three-point bullshit.”
Naturally, Snake always finds to succeed whether outsmarting or outfighting his opponents. Carpenter and the stunt team capture good action sequences with Snake battling on a motorcycle and from a hang glider (although gliding from the Hollywood sign to Anaheim might be the most unbelievable thing in the movie). Carpenter and the effects team stray into the comedy, intentional or not, when Snake surfs a tsunami wave through the city. There are a few good plot twists at the end, but it's a shame the script wasn't as smart beforehand.
Given a a new 4K scan from the original camera negative, the video has been given a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The film uses a dark pallette with lots of blacks and browns in the exteriors. Blacks are inky and even with numerous black items in a scene don't crush. Interiors appear under brighter lights, such as the command center overseeing Snake and the Surgeon General's theater. The image captures sharp focus and texture detail of costumes and sets. The one negative is the CGI shows its age in high definition so those effects can ruin the illusion.
The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The score by Carpenter & Shirley Walker and soundtrack of songs by the likes of Tool and White Zombie fill the surrounds as does the gunfire. The helicopters move across the channels as do vehicles, but the action effects usually thunder throughout. Punches crunch with extra power. At times, the massive rumblings of the bass shake the system.
Although the main parties don't take part, the Special Features, in HD, present interviews with cast and crew talking about themselves and their work on the film. They include:
- A Little Bit Offbeat (8 min): Actor Stacy Keach (Commander Malloy)
- "Beverly Hills Workshed" (9 min): Audio only with Bruce Campbell
- Part of the Family (26 min): Actor Peter Jason (Duty Sergeant), who reveals he started acting in high school because he wanted to hang out with a girl he had a crush on. It's nice for a journeyman actor get so much time in the spotlight.
- Miss a Shot, You Get Shot (15 min): Georges Corraface
- One Eye is Better Than None (18 min): Makeup artist James McPherson
- The Renderman (19 min) CG supervisor David Jones, who is candid about the limitations he had.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD, 1 min)
- T.V. Spots (SD, 2min): Four commercials
- Still Gallery (8 min): Assorted promotional and behind-the-scenes memorabilia
While it's fun to see Snake back in action in Escape from L.A., it's a shame his mission is so similar to the previous film. Would have preferred seeing the character and this world expanded. The script refers to him working in Cleveland and hints at the world moving forward without power, both of which could have been more interesting than yet again breaking into a prison city and rescuing someone under the threat of death. Setting what could have been aside, there is fun to be had here as Carpenter and Russell pair up for their fifth, and so far their last, time together.
The new 4k scan is very pleasing in high definition and the audio comes through well. The Special Features are pleasing, though will make one wish Carpenter and Russell had taken part, especially if you have heard them together on other discs' special features. Fans of the movie should be pleased. Those new to the Escape from... films might not mind starting here.