Of all of the American classic-modern horror filmmakers revered today – the Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, George Romero – John Carpenter is probably my personal favorite. His output during the 1970s and '80s was the most consistent, and most consistently interesting, although Halloween is good enough by itself to earn him permanent canonization. There's a certain amount of classicism in his films – the Howard Hawks influence, no doubt - that gives them a timelessness that transcends their budgetary limitations, conceptual shortcomings, or period details. And even if the events in Escape From New York seems especially hokey given that they were supposed to have taken place in 1997, the film suffers none thanks to a great performance by Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, and of course the brilliant rendering of a futuristic post-apocalyptic world by Carpenter.
Fox Home Entertainment recently released Escape From New York on Blu-ray, which is the reason for this otherwise unprovoked rumination on the merits of Mr. Carpenter. And while I won't devote more attention to deconstructing the quality of the film itself, it seemed like a prime candidate for the latest installment on "Making the (Up) Grade," especially since it's the sort of film that benefits from improved presentation and expanded bonus materials.
What's Already Available: Escape From New York was released on standard-definition DVD several times, including in a 2003 special edition set that featured two commentary tracks, one by director John Carpenter and Kurt Russell, and one by producer Debra Hill and production designer Joe Alves, a deleted opening sequence with commentary by John Carpenter and Kurt Russell, the featurette "Return to Escape from New York," the making of John Carpenter's "Snake Plissken Chronicles" comic plus an exclusive comic book, and a photo gallery.
What's In The New Set: The two-disc Blu-ray features high-definition presentation of the film on Disc One. On Disc Two, there's a standard-definition transfer of the film, as well as the theatrical trailer.
What's The Difference In The Movie Itself: The high-definition presentation of the film is fairly amazing: because the film was shot using so little light, it's one that has the potential to suffer from a lot of blocky black spaces and artifacting, but thankfully the transfer eliminates virtually all of this, and looks clean, vivid and beautifully bleak. That said, this isn't window-clarity high definition as one might have become used to, thanks to the film's dearth of illumination, but it suffers none because of that and in fact seems to feel truer to the tone and artistic intent (especially its visual content) of the way it was originally conceived. This isn't necessarily reference-disc presentation in terms of blowing away the other Blu-rays in your collection, but it's the most fully satisfying presentation of this particular film yet available.
What's The Difference In Everything Else: Keeping in the unfortunate trend established by the initial releases of Robocop and Predator, Fox elected (either by design or legal necessity) to not include any of those previous bonus materials in this release. As awesome as the film's theatrical trailer is, it doesn't make up for the absence of two terrific commentary tracks, not to mention a featurette that revisits the production.
What's The Final Grade: C-. Escape From New York is an awesome movie whether you're a fan of Carpenter or not, and it seems to be an essential geek childhood staple, at least for my generation. Which is why the transfer alone makes this worth checking out, at least as a rental. But the complete absence of bonus materials makes this an inessential purchase for anyone but the biggest fans of the film, and a must-skip for casual collectors. Of course, Fox eventually put out a Predator special edition that featured all of those extras and a couple more just for good measure, so who knows; but as it stands, Escape From New York's latest home video iteration is not worth capturing your wallet.