Release Date(s)1996 (May 26, 2020)
Studio(s)Paramount Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C+
Fifteen years after John Carpenter gave the world Escape from New York, there was an option for a sequel, and since Kurt Russell was eager to jump back into the role of Snake Plissken, Escape from L.A. became a reality. Though given a large marketing campaign by Paramount Pictures, the film did poorly theatrically and received a mixed reception from audiences and critics, some of whom felt that a second drop into the well was perhaps unnecessary.
Taking place three years after the events of the first film, in the year 2000, a massive Earthquake turns a portion of Los Angeles into an island where society’s “corrupt” are detained under the rule of a theocratic president for life (Cliff Roberts). After brainwashing the president’s daughter (A.J. Langer), the Cuban revolutionary Cuervo Jones (Georges Corraface) comes into possession of a briefcase containing a weapon that can render all of the world’s electronics inert at the push of a button via orbiting satellites. The recently re-captured criminal Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is brought in by the president and a commanding United States Police Force officer (Stacy Keach) to infiltrate the island and retrieve the weapon, but with the added ticking clock of a virus that will kill him within 10 hours. Forced to comply, he makes his way to Los Angeles, fighting his way to Cuervo Jones, along the way encountering a resourceful surfer (Peter Fonda), a double-crossing swindler (Steve Buscemi), an inhumanely-detained inmate (Valeria Golino), an obsessive and dangerous plastic surgeon (Bruce Campbell), and a transgender gunrunner (Pam Grier).
While Escape from New York can be considered a slow-moving action film, Escape from L.A. is its total opposite. It’s the overcaffeinated version of the same story, but with different characters and a new setting. John Carpenter is attempting the same sort of politics as well, but on a much larger and more impactful scale, especially considering the film’s ending (which leaves the door open for another sequel in which old man Plissken is now forced to escape the US). However, the setup for the why and how of Snake’s mission is more complicated. There’s far too much plot getting into the way, whereas in the original film, it was more straightforward. Also not doing the film any favors is the CGI, which even at the time, didn’t look good. It’s aged just as poorly as you would think, but under the right conditions, isn’t so bad to look at (more on that later).
Unfortunately, lightning doesn’t strike the Escape universe twice. Escape from L.A. is uneven and over-the-top in execution, particularly with the hard rock score which is almost constantly blaring in the background. The villain is also not as interesting compared to the Duke of New York (played by Isaac Hayes). Snake also takes part in odd actions, including flying a hang glider, playing basketball (albeit to survive, I’ll grant you), and the most infamous of all, surfing into the back of a speeding car. That all said, Escape from L.A. is still much better than many give it credit for. It certainly isn’t the original film by any means, but it has plenty of decent moments and moves quickly toward its conclusion. Snake’s character may not have been served as well as he perhaps should have, but it’s still quite watchable.
Scream Factory brings Escape from L.A. to Blu-ray for a second time in a new Collector’s Edition, complete with a presentation utilizing a new 4K scan of the original camera negative. The previous Blu-ray release was often too bright, which made many of the sequences involving the obvious CGI harder to look at. This new transfer helps the CGI out a bit more, though it’s still not up to modern standards. Grain is virtually invisible, but everything appears natural and clean throughout, leaving nary a speck behind. The color palette offers a surprising variety of hues, and with the many locations in and around post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, there’s plenty of opportunity for variety. The previous Blu-ray leaned towards blue tones, whereas this new release is more natural, with particular regard for skin tones. Black levels are deep, though they hide a bit more detail than the previous release (though organic), while overall brightness and contrast levels are satisfactory. The image is stable throughout as well. In other words, it’s an improvement.
The audio is included in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. The new 5.1 mix is strong, full of ambient and low rumbling muscle. Some of the sound effects don’t have an enormous amount of weight to them, but enough of them do to give the surround speakers plenty to work with. The score and music selection, including the likes of Shirley Walker and White Zombie, is also quite boastful. Dialogue exchanges are clear and discernible, and there are no leftover instances of hiss, crackle, dropouts, or distortion. The 2.0 track does a fine job as well, but with obviously less space to work in.
The following extras are also included:
- A Little Bit Offbeat: Stacy Keach on Escape from L.A. (HD – 7:55)
- Beverly Hills Workshed: Bruce Campbell on Escape from L.A. (HD – 9:10)
- Part of the Family: Peter Jason on Escape from L.A. (HD – 25:55)
- Miss a Shot, You Get Shot: Georges Corraface on Escape from L.A. (HD – 14:37)
- One Eye is Better Than None: James McPherson on Escape from L.A. (HD – 17:58)
- The Renderman: David Jones on Escape from L.A. (HD – 19:04)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:34)
- TV Spots (SD – 4 in all – 2:26)
- Still Gallery (HD – 102 in all – 7:31)
Sadly, there is no audio commentary with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell, but I’m sure Reverend Entertainment tried their best to facilitate one. Instead we get a series of interviews with some of the cast and crew. Stacy Keach speaks about how much he enjoyed working with John Carpenter, on both Escape from L.A. and Body Bags, but also how much the cast and crew liked working him too. Bruce Campbell is interviewed over the phone and talks about how he got involved with the project and the facets of his character. Peter Jason speaks on how he got into acting in high school, being a bit of a wild card in his youth, and eventually getting into the film business. Georges Corraface talks about learning multiple languages, traveling, taking different acting jobs, and how excited he was to work on the film. Jim McPherson speaks about working in Los Angeles for the first time, meeting Rick Baker, and his work for the film. David Jones talks about his previous work, moving to and working in L.A., and his visual effects work on the film. The animated still gallery features 102 images of press materials, on-set photography, promotional shots, behind-the-scenes-photos, posters, lobby cards, and film programs.
Scream Factory manages to bring John Carpenter’s Escape from L.A. to Blu-ray with an excellent A/V presentation and a decent extras package. The film itself has more to appreciate than what most thought at the time of its release, and even since, so it’s nice to finally have a high quality version of it, as opposed to its mostly bare bones DVD and Blu-ray releases of the past.
– Tim Salmons