For film snobs there maybe more duds than greats, but they rarely know what they're talking about, for the average viewer the quality may vary slightly but mostly I think they find them enjoyable and for the hardened fan, I would say that Carpenter barely put a foot wrong during this period.
Even if you like some of the films more than the others, it can't be denied that he has one of the most creatively interesting, diverse, artistic and fascinating resumes since Hitchcock.
Escape from New York is his second collaboration with Kurt Russell and both of them have spoken about how Snake Plissken is a character created by and very close to both of them, sharing their attitude, strength and political beliefs. Russell plays him like Clint Eastwood's futuristic 80s love baby with a chip on his shoulder. Every single one of his mannerisms is an education in purposeful cool. The one thing you can say about Snake is Russell is playing him as a hard man without a care rather than necessarily being a hard man without a care. It's almost a pastiche of a performance but I think that's maybe one of the in-jokes, especially considering everyone else in the film from Lee Van Cleef to Issac Hayes comes up to his level nothing feels out of place and the whole film plays like the greatest B-Picture ever made.
It's got the futuristic setting mixed with the decay of the past, it's got the lone gun man with an iconic look who rides into town to do a job he doesn't want to do but he has no choice, it's got ball busting militarised police, crazy sewer dwellers, a bad guy called The Duke, a strong, gutsy leading lady with a low cut dress, a cast that includes b-movie and genre icons Donald Pleasance, Harry Dean Stanton, Ernest Borgnine and it's all filmed with a slightly hyper-real comic book style where the fact that everyone is taking it so seriously is the biggest joke in the movie. It's often been imitated and never ever bettered.
As Carpenter's career moved forward so, often, did his role. Occasionally he was just a director for hire, other times he maybe wrote, maybe did the score and in the quintessential, pure Carpenter flicks he did all three. Well just as Escape maybe the best modern example of the B-Movie it may also be the most all round John Carpenter film of them all. From the cast and crew of friends to the oh so recognisable brilliant Carpenter synth score, Escape from New York is perfectly crafted, beautifully shot and interestingly written with intentionally cliche and familiar dialogue set against an original and creative plot.
The thing you realise watching it again is it gives itself time to breathe, it's pace is deliberately slower and more artistic, allowing you to create an eerie, unsettling mood and take in the incredible art direction and set design but maintains interest, intensity and drive by using the time-running-out element.
Nowadays this film would have 50 cuts a second, a charmless non-entity in the title role, utterly redundant action scenes and a hero who, deep down would really care. A modern day Escape from New York would suck big hairless balls.
Unfortunately John Carpenter's films were raided by studios unwilling to fund a Carpenter original and instead made atrociously shitty remakes from his staggering body of work. Why? nobody knows, it makes little to no sense. I could rant, kick and scream right now but I am too tired and I hope, now that the whole Gerald Butler *shudder* remake is not going ahead that they leave this one well alone because it is just brilliant, visually interesting, amusing and cliché while at the same time being seriously original and inventive.
Nothing about it needs to be remade, it looks incredible, yes it says the future is 1997 but that's part of its charm, we don't need to update things for children, they can understand the concept of a film from '81 considering '97 the future, what are we going to do, reprint all the covers and re-do the title sequence of Space 1999 to read Space 2099?
Plus just a little bit more on remakes because John Carpenter's films have been victim to this current irritating disease (as have friend and colleague George A Romero's) so it is sort of relevant. If you must remake films and I have no idea why you must, you creatively bankrupt bunch of childhood rapers, remake old bad films with good ideas that didn't have the money first time round to realise the idea don't realise established classics.
I, for one, will not be allowing my children, if I ever have any, to watch remakes. They will watch the originals as they were intended to be seen. So that there is someone left to spread the word, it's already depressing having to add either the date or the words 'the original' to a film now when you're discussing it, lets not let these remakes take over and re-write a whole history of amazing art for future generations.
There are three main exceptions to this rule: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the 70s Don Sutherland version), John Carpenter's The Thing (because it draws mainly from the book and not the original film) and the Coen Brother's True Grit. The reason these ones are exempt from my wrath should be obvious.
Anyway, back to Escape From New York, it's a really great movie, one of my faves, one of Carpenter's best and one of Russell's best. With heaps of independent spirit, a great little politically charged twist ending and even a cameo from Tom Atkins, what more could anyone want? oh and I also like the sequel, haters of the sequel are stupid and have forgotten what it was like to be young and not so judgmental.
9 out of 10 snakes in a baguette
Points from the Wife 8 out of 10