Escape From L.A.

Escape From L.A. (1996)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Kurt Russell, Stacy Keach, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, Cliff Robertson

15 years after making the incredible "Escape From New York, " John Carpenter and Kurt Russell decided that if might be a fun idea to re-team and create a sequel to the cult classic. This 1996 film, called "Escape From L.A., " has now arrived on Blu-Ray Disc, courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment.

Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is in trouble again. After having safed the president's life years earlier, he finds – not unexpectedly – that despite all the promises the government had made him, he is once again at the top of their most wanted list for things, he would consider negligible.

When he is brought in to be sent off to Los Angeles Island, a prison colony off the coast of Southern California that has developed after a major earthquake, officials take him aside and offer him a deal. Evidently, the President's daughter has stolen an all-important gadget and has disappeared among the criminals on Los Angeles Island. Since no self-respecting officer would ever get their hands dirty with that kind of filth, they forcibly enlist Plissken, poisoning him and giving him 8 hours to retrieve the gadget before the poison will kill him.

Under such pressure, Plissken agrees and sets out to the island. With only a few high tech gadets at his disposal he immediately sets his sights on the prize. But surviving even one hour turns out to be a lot tougher than he expected,as violence and crime runs rampant in the city. Dark, gritty and dangerous, Plissken needs to chose his allies wisely when he realizes that there is no way he'll succeed on his own.

The premise of the movie is resembling "Escape From New York" closely enough to instantly create a connection with fans of the earlier movie, yet at the same time it is different enough to set apart the movie itself. Kurt Russell once again slips into the role of Snake Plissken with ease, though I do have to admit I find his ultra-coolness a bit unnatural in retrospect. It suited him very well so early in his career when "Escape From New York" was made, but after having become such a prolific and funny actor in the years in-between the films, somehow it is a little harder for viewers to accept his über-macho performance.

Be that as it may, though, because the film has other, more serious problems. One of the biggest issues is, without a doubt, the low quality of the special effects. This film was made at the dawn of CGI and it mixes CGI with more traditional matte-paintings. Sadly, the CGI looks very artificial and the matte paintings, which sometimes fill practically the entire screen, look too static to be really convincing.

For my taste, the film also lacked some of the real edginess that made the original "Escape From New York" so memorable, where characters were truly dark and ominous, and where a sense of foreboding permeated every frame. In "Escape From L.A." for some reason that was mostly missing and replaced by a desolate backdrop and a string of non-stop stunts.

Having said all that, "Escape From L.A." is still a fun ride, though, that entertains thoroughly. It just doesn't live up to be a classic or an original. A cool cast helps infuse the film with life, including Stacy Keach, Pam Grier, Peter Fonda and Steve Buscemi, but somehow you just can't shake the feeling that you've seen it all before.

Paramount Home Entertainment is presenting the film in a new 1080p high definition transfer. The image is vibrant and features some amazingly rich colors that help bring the futuristic vision of the story to life. Free of defect or blemishes, the transfer also holds an incredible level of detail – a little too much so,I fear, as it makes the special effects so much more noticeable. Black levels are incredibly deep, rendering the image with good visual depth and deep shadows that add to the film's overall look.

A Dolby Digital 5.1 TrueHD audio track supplements the feature presentation, ensuring a powerful experience throughout with a wide frequency response and clear high ends. The film has a solid dynamic range but it has to be noted that the mix is a bit unbalanced and made me jump for the remote control more than once to compensate for sudden sonic blasts.

Unfortunately there are still no extras included with "Escape From L.A.", mirroring the bare-bones DVD Version hat has been available for 12 years. For fans of the film and John Carpenter's body of work, that is a bit of a disappointment.

Revisiting "Escape From L.A." was a fun experience for me. It is not Carpenter's best work by a long shot but I found that it does have redeeming values and makes for a fun 100 minutes.