Escape from L.A. Snakes its way onto 4K disc
By Jim Bray
John Carpenter has made a lot of great – or at least very good – movies over his career, and most of them have never had sequels, or at least sequels he was actually involved in (I can't blame him for the abundance of Halloween movies that came after his, for example).
An exception is his sequel to "Escape from New York," in which war hero gone bad Snake Plissken (the always great, and often Carpenter-collaborator Kurt Russell) was forced to enter Manhattan – now a maximum-security prison – to rescue the kidnapped President of the United States. It was a ripping yarn, despite the overall silliness of turning Manhattan into a prison.
Oh, wait, hasn't the government there done that already, with its COVID crap?
But I digress…
Somehow, Carpenter got talked into doing another "Escape from" movie and what better alternative than the opposite coast, where earthquakes and the like have created an island out of what was the urban sprawl of Los Angeles? Well, they could have just skipped it and made something new.
But no! So, we get an apparently much larger budget production that increases the production values of everything on screen, except that they forget to upgrade the script. So, we have a much weaker, but much bigger, Escape where Plissken (Russell again, of course) is once again forced to enter the anarchic prison, this time to retrieve a Macguffin rather than a stuffed shirt. Oh, and to off an important offspring.
Along the way we meet the kind of larger-than-life characters that populated Escape from N.Y, except larger and more "La-la land-like." And we're treated to some interesting performances from the likes of Steve Buscemi, Pam Grier, Peter Fonda and Cliff Robertson.
It has its moments, but they're too few and far between. And the left-wing politics that has infested this version doesn't add to the proceedings. I'm actually surprised about that political stuff, because Russell is a well-known "non liberal" and his name is included in the screenwriting credits. I'd like to think his contributions actually prevented the story from being even more whacko left, but that's only speculation on my part.
On the other hand, maybe the whole thing is a parody, a satire lampooning Hollywood of the time in which the movie was made. I don't know. All I know is that this movie is worth seeing once and that's about it. And if you're going to see it once, this Paramount 4K UHD disc is definitely the way to do it.
The package comes with a single UHD disc (no Blu-ray accompanies it) and a digital code. Slap the disc into your 4K player, and you'll find a treat for the eyes, if not the brain.
It's an excellent transfer, though if your TV looks really dark when you play HDR content, you may find this one less than enjoyable. That's mostly because pretty much the whole movie is shot at night (or indoors, under dim conditions) and most of the cast wears dark colours as well, which doesn't help.
When you can make out fine details, they're terrific, especially in things like people's faces, clothes, etc. I don't know if it's the ultra resolution that makes the CGI look fake or whether it just looks fake on its own, but it's very obvious. Carpenter is no stranger to effects – and even his low budget film effects are generally fine – so this is a tad strange, unless (again) it's all deliberate.
Perhaps surprising is the lack of a Dolby Atmos audio track – though I have to admit my 5.1 home theatre didn't mind that a whit and it reproduced the disc's DTS HD-master audio 5.1 track beautifully. There's plenty of action in all channels, and without the overly booming bass of some UHD releases I could mention.
As far as extras are concerned, you can pretty much forget about them. All you get is the theatrical trailer! I was very disappointed, because Carpenter and Russell have done some great commentary tracks in the past, with other collaborations. Their commentaries are like listening in on a couple of old friends as they reminisce and laugh and laugh and laugh. Check out the commentary for "Big Trouble in Little China" to see what I mean.
That's a shame, but what can you do?
I've enjoyed so many of Carpenter's movies over the decades – he's one of my favourite directors – that I'm tempted to cut him a bit of slack. However you slice it, though, Escape from L.A. is one of his weaker offerings.
Naturally, your mileage may vary.
Copyright 2022 Jim Bray