Escape from New York

Escape from New York and Kalifornia on Blu-ray Disc

MGM Home Entertainment has started releasing some Blu-ray discs in a combo-pack format, blending the new HD format with conventional DVD's. In the case of the two releases reviewed here, they've coupled the Blu-ray with two-sided DVD's that offer both widescreen and Pan&Scan versions, designed undoubtedly to sweeten the deal, giving you more flexibility for playback as well as an incentive to buy the package even if you haven't made the move to the high definition discs yet.

It's a nice break for consumers who haven't bought Blu-ray yet, because it lets you enjoy the DVD until you do make the transition (and we recommend that you do if picture and sound quality are important to you), at which time you can start playing the Blu-ray version without having to go out and buy the movie again.

As for these movies, we're long time John Carpenter fans so we were predisposed to like Escape from New York, which we've seen many times, and hoped its transition to the high definition disc would be worth the effort.

It is, even though the disc itself is pretty Spartan, with none of the extras that were available on the special edition DVD released a few years back. Still, if we have to sacrifice something, it's the extras - especially if that means the storage space on the disc is used to optimize audio and video quality.

That appears to be the case here.

John Carpenter has made some dandy movies over the years, and Escape from New York stands up with the best of them. It’s an imaginative “what if” tale about a war hero gone bad who's sent on a mission to rescue the president of the United States after his hijacked plane is crashed onto Manhattan island.

Why would they need a rescue mission?

Well, you see, after a 400 per cent increase in the crime rate in the late 1980’s, New York City (Manhattan, specifically) was walled off and turned into a huge maximum security prison. There, the inmates run the show and the authorites, other than occasional forays into the site, pretty well leave them to their own devices.

So when the president’s (Donald Pleasence) plane is hijacked by some typical leftist revolutionaries and crashed into New York, it’ll take more than just a quick chopper ride over there to get him back. Especially since, when they do take a quick chopper ride over to the prison, they're met by a whacked out guy who delivers the message - and one of the president's fingers - that they'd better make themselves scarce if they ever want to see the POTUS in one piece - well, two now - again.

Enter Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell at his most Clint Eastwood-like). While Plissken is a war hero, he has since then become decidedly anti-social, convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to New York. But Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef), ex-military guy who’s riding herd on Manhattan, grabs him before he can be sent into exile and offers him the rescue mission in return for a pardon. Plissken’s going into New York anyway, but if he comes back out with the president, alive, all will be forgiven.

Hauk has a few tricks up his sleeve to ensure Plissken sticks to the plan, much to Snake’s chagrin.

So Snake zips quietly into Manhattan via a glider, lands on top of the World Trade Center (hey, the movie's set in the "future" of 1997) and finds himself in an anarchic Big Apple. Can he find the president and bring him out alive before his time is up?

“Escape” is a wonderful sci-fi adventure, intelligently written (despite the basic silliness of turning Manhattan into a prison) and with production values that belie its meager budget. John Carpenter has always excelled in the arena of low budget films and this is one of his best.

The movie has a wonderful look and feel to it, a terrific John Carpenter musical score that captures the mood perfectly, and wonderful performances from Russell, Van Cleef, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Ernest Borgnine and Isaac Hayes (as the Duke of New York, chief bad guy).

MGM has done this cult classic justice on Blu-ray. The movie looks great, featuring a 1080p picture at a 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio that's clean and crisp and as colorful as a movie that's mostly set at night or in dingy locations can be. It's actually better than we had expected considering the film's age and budget compared to many of that era's blockbusters. We can't really fault the picture at all.

Audio has been mixed into dts HD Master Audio 5.1 surround and though there isn’t a lot of surround the overall audio quality is very good, quite dynamic.

KaliforniaMGM has come up with the definitive version of this great movie in this Blu-ray, just what you'd would want and expect , but not necessarily get, if you're going to plunk down your cash for a favorite film.

We wish they'd given the abundance of extras that appeared on the deluxe DVD. There, you got a pair of running commentaries, including the always-entertaining comedy stylings of Carpenter and Russell, who come across as a couple of old friends hanging out together to revisit another old friend - the movie. The DVD comes with a trailer.

If you're a Carpenter fan, chances are you have the deluxe DVD already so you can access the bonus features there when you want to. As for the movie, it's best served by Blu-ray and the movie is certainly done justice.

Escape from New York from MGM Home Entertainment
99 min. 1080p widescreen (2.35:1), dts HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
Starring Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes
Produced by Larry Fanco and Debra Hill
Written by John Carpenter and Nick Castle, Directed by John Carpenter

The title released onto Blu-ray/DVD/ combo along with Escape from New York is Kalifornia, a violent tale about a couple of "urban intellectuals" (David Duchovny and Michelle Forbes) who bite off more than they can chew when they pair up and sally forth across America with Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis, who turn out to be ruthless killers.

Pitt is usually good and Kalifornia is no exception - his performance is the best thing about the movie.

The 'Kalifornia' Blu-ray is of the unrated edition; the DVD comes with that and the theatrical version, on another widescreen/Pan&Scan flipper disc. The front of the package makes it appear as if the Blu-ray has both versions, but it doesn't.

As with Escape from New York, MGM has given us a very nice 1080p widescreen picture (2.35:1) with very nice blacks, accurate and rich colors and excellent detail.The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is a bit of a disappointment. Though it's from the early 1990's, there are other and older movies that sound more alive, with better bass. It's mostly front-centric, though there's some nice surround use in places. It's quite clear, though.

Kalifornia, from MGM Home Entertainment
118 min. 1008p widescreen (2.35:1), dts HD Master Audio
Starring Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis, David Duchovny, Michelle Forbes
screenplay by Tim Metcalfe, directed by Dominic Sena

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

Buy the eBook
Ransom for the stars
of Jim Bray's
fantastic Sci-Fi Adventure