Scream Factory’s predilection for John Carpenter’s filmography is well established and they also have a strong relationship with MGM. Thus, it was inevitable that they would eventually make their way to doing their own special edition release of Escape From New York, an enduring Carpenter cult fave that MGM owns the rights to. They gave it the red carpet treatment, including a new transfer and enough extras to spread across two separate blu-ray discs.
The packaging says the transfer used for this set is a new 2K transfer taken from an interpositive. The results aren’t revelatory but offer a slight step up from the transfer of the old MGM blu-ray. The new transfer is a little brighter overall, with nice color representation. Detail is okay in the new transfer, which is at least partly a reflection of how much of the film was shot in extreme low-light conditions.
Both 5.1 and 2.0 stereo mixes are provided here in lossless form: the 5.1 track was used for this review and it offers a solid mix with subtle surround speaker usage. Carpenter’s electronic score really shines in this presentation.
Where this set truly excels in its barrage of extras, which include both new and old items. For starters, there are three (!) commentary tracks that dominate the bonus features on disc one.
The first is the newest, gathering cinematographer Dean Cundey and star Adrienne Barbeau with commentator Sean Clark. Barbeau shares memories of her castmates, paying tribute to Donald Pleasance’s sense of humor, and also gives some insight into working with Carpenter from the actor’s perspective. Cundey covers lighting tricks and practical visual effects techniques, also waxing nostalgic about the autonomy he enjoyed working Carpenter. Clark asks plenty of questions and lists off trivia with a fan’s enthusiasm.
The second track is a vintage, mid-’90s era sitdown with Carpenter and Kurt Russell. The two are famous with fans for their rapport on commentaries and they don’t disappoint here, swapping production stories and cracking jokes. Carpenter covers a lot of nuts-and-bolts detail and storytelling choices while Russell tells some great stories from the actor’s perspective, particularly his memories of his big fight scene with a wrestler. Both share fond stories of Van Cleef, who battled physical troubles to pull of his role. In short, it’s informative and fun for fans.
The third track pairs producer Debra Hill with production designer Joe Alves. The two offer a lot of specifics on how multiple locations were stitched together via clever editing to create the film’s settings. Other topics include why St. Louis was chosen to double for New York, how the streets were dressed for the right post-apocalyptic look and interesting details on how the convincing plane wreck was created. Overall, it’s a nice supplement to the other tracks with plentiful practical info for the hardcore fans.
A series of five new featurettes were produced for this set. The first is “Big Challenge In Little Manhattan” and it devotes 14 minutes to interviewing visual effects designers Dennis and Robert Skotak. The two reveal how they created the film’s convincing scale miniature of Manhattan, the different models used to create the film’s glider and fond memories of collaborating with James Cameron on the visual effects. They also share some fond memories of Carpenter’s directorial skills.
“Scoring The Escape” is an interview piece that features Sean Clark interviewing Carpenter’s musical collaborator, Alan Howarth. He talks about how his sound effects work on the first Star Trek film led to his long association with Carpenter, lots of technical detail on how the scoring was done and how he put together the film’s successful soundtrack album. He discusses all these topics in a charmingly humble style and even plays one of the score cues live for the camera.
“On Set With John Carpenter” is a 14-minute chat with set still photographer, Kim Gottlieb-Walker. She talks about the challenges of shooting stills in low-light situations, shares some set stories and reveals the clever trick that Hill used to get her many non-union crew members into the union on this shoot. “I Am Taylor” offers nine minutes with actor Joe Unger, who appeared in the film’s unused prologue. He offers fond memories of Carpenter and Russell, discussing his cutting-room floor fate with class.
“My Night On Set” closes out the new featurettes, dishing up a quick five-minute chat with director David DeCoteau. At the time of the shoot, he worked as a production assistant at New World Pictures and he reveals what shots from the film were done at the New World studios. He closes with a nice anecdote about Barbeau.
From there, the disc delves into some vintage extras familiar to those who owned the old MGM special edition 2-DVD set. “Return To Escape From New York” is a 23-minute making-of piece that includes expected people like Carpenter, Hill, etc. plus appearances from others who don’t appear anywhere else on this disc like Harry Dean Stanton and Isaac Hayes. It includes some thoughtful musings on the antihero appeal of Snake Plissken, talk about how the cast was chosen to fit their roles and some nice tributes to Carpenter from his cast.
There is also the original first reel of the film that was deleted pre-release with optional Carpenter/Russell commentary. The two discuss memories of the shoot, which took them to Atlanta, plus thoughts on why it was cut from the film. Elsewhere you get two trailers – a teaser that focuses on the cast and another one that sells the action and sci-fi elements – plus a pair of image galleries. The first gallery is a behind-the-scenes collection that includes some cool VFX shots in addition to the usual stills and publicity photos while a poster and lobby card gallery includes an array of promo materials, including a shot of a board game inspired by the film.
In short, Scream Factory has delivered another worthwhile entry in their line of Carpenter reissues. The extras alone make this edition of Escape From New York well worth the purchase for any of the director’s serious fans.
To read Schlockmania’s film review of Escape From New York, click here.