Escape from New York is just as fun and enthralling as the day it was released. Carpenter, Russell, and Cinematographer Dean Cundey create an amazing vision that many will attempt to emulate, but never successfully replicate. It is a classic B-movie that is a true gem. And finally, we are given a release that lives up to its reputation. Not only are we given its best video transfer by far, but we are given a box set worthy of putting up for display, and enough Special Features to satisfy any fan of the film and make this easily a Highly Recommended release... if you can find a copy.
In the 80’s, no one could make a B-movie quite like John Carpenter. By merging his distinct filmmaking style with his Anti-Reagan-era politics, he made some of the most memorable B movies we have today. Yet, at the time, it seems like the filmmaker did not get the recognition he deserved. Most of his films were meet with critical and audience panning, and Escape from New York was no different.
There could be no other actor more perfect for the iconic role of Snake Plissken than Kurt Russell. His minimalist, but stoic performance is perfect for the film. In a futuristic (and now alternate reality) 1997, Snake is recruited by special ops Captain Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) to enter a segregated New York City in order to save the President (Donald Pleasence). Its oversimplified plot is its strong suit, allowing for rich world-building while still giving us that B-movie flavor we love.
The world-building in Carpenter’s early films is what sticks with me, and it's no different here. Entertaining a jailed off New York, we are introduced to a seedy part of the new society through the eyes of Snake Plissken as he ventures deeper into the crime-ridden city. And just let me say, any film that has Isaac Hays as its big boss is an instant recommend right there. Add in its iconic synth score, and moody cinematography by the great Dean Cundey, which creates an atmospheric mood to a film that will stick with you for days. This movie is awesome in ways that modern films, even B-movies, just aren’t anymore. To read the full review check out our 2010 Blu-ray coverage HERE.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Studio Canal brings Escape From New York to 4K in grand fashion with a UK boxed set that is now the cream of the crop in my ever growing Ultra HD collection. Inside the large keepcase we are presented with a separate foldable keepcase (with its own unique artwork) that includes four discs:
Along with the four discs, we also are given one poster, five art cards, and a booklet that features writing by journalist Kim Newman. The whole boxed set looks great (even if I prefer the original artwork), which makes the purchase a worth-one even if I lack a Region-B capable player to enjoy the Special Features. Also worth noting: once the booklet is taken out of the keepcase, it’s hard to fit back in.
Hey, who turned on the lights? I can finally see Escape from New York without adjusting settings with this 2160p H.265 encode that honestly, makes all the difference with this film.
Escape from New York was shot with Panavision Panaflex Gold cameras on 35mm. For this 4K UHD release, the original negative was scanned in 4K and then restored/mastered in a 4K Digital Intermediate with HDR10 and Dolby Vision.
From the very first scene of the inmates attempting to escape the island, we are given a much cleaner and clearer image. Grain haters beware, there is still grain here, but it is largely tempered down and feels natural. I honestly wouldn’t want a slick new transfer as the grain gives it that gritty B-movie charm. At first glance, clarity might not seem like the biggest boost (especially in wide shots), but comparing it to any of its (American) Blu-ray counterparts, this 4K release is, indeed, a substantial improvement. Once the first hour goes by (after Plissken is captured by The Duke), we finally enter daytime and clarity and detail get the biggest boost. This portion of the film actually has some sharp edges and boasts quite a bit of detail, not just in close-ups with Russell’s perfectly permed hair, but with the wide shot as well, displaying how beautiful the apocalyptic landscape can be.
Since the first half of the film is so dark, HDR and Dolby Vision implementation seem subtle at first. Skin tones appear more natural than the previous Blu-ray, and are less affected by elements such as fire and explosions. But once we hit that hour mark and transition to the light of day, the HDR kicks itself into high gear and really gives us some beautifully rich colors that truly pop off the screen. The biggest example would have to be the green grass behind The Duke as he is shooting at the President. Especially with Dolby Vision, the color palette has a richness that makes it feel like you are truly watching a different film that you haven’t seen before.
Black levels are expertly cleaned up as well, giving us a more distinct image that does feel a bit more lightened up, while still retaining those deep and inky blacks that are a staple for Carpenter and Cundey. And lastly but certainly not least, all the pesky artifacting from the previous Blu-ray release has been fixed, which makes this 4K release instant pick up on that fact alone.
Escape from New York will never get a razor sharp, glossy remaster. But I for one don’t want it to. This is the same dark gritty film we all have come to love with a deeply satisfying transfer that fans have been wanting for years.
While there's no new Dolby Atmos or DTS:X mix available, Escape from New York hits the 4K format with the same 5.1 DTS-HD MA track from the previous Blu-rays as well as the original LPCM 2.0 mix.
Starting with the positives, hearing Carpenters iconic synth score in 5.1 surround is a true treat, and this mix does not disappoint. Bass response fares quite well in general, considering the age of the film. And, during action scenes like the car chase towards the end of the film, the surrounds come to life, offering a wide soundstage.
But for the large majority of the film, this is a front heavy mix that results in the field of sound feeling quite limited for long stretches of time. Speaker separation is also a tad bit limited as well, due to the age of the film. Vocals can come across a bit muddled at times but are at a decent volume.
While we would have preferred an Atmos or DTS-X mix upgrade, the 5.1 and 2.0 options accurately reproduce Escape from New York while offering little nuance.
Escape from New York is the exact definition of a B-movie film. Cool, low budget action, world-building ideas, and the ability to set a mood thanks to the cinematography and a kick-ass score. This isn’t Carpenter’s sharpest film as far as political subtext goes (that would be They Live) but it is a damn good one nonetheless from a director at the top of his career.
As a 4K Blu-ray, this UK boxed set features a new 4K Dolby Vision / HDR10 transfer that makes the movie look better than ever, solid 5.1 and 2.0 audio options, and an excellent collection of Special Features and Collector's Edition bonus materials, making this package Highly Recommended for any Carpenter fan.
The only problems? If you're based in the states, it's not cheap ($55 to import with shipping). If you don't have a Region-B capable Blu-ray player, you can't watch any of the Special Features. And, as we're writing this review, it seems to be sold out most places.
Here's hoping this new transfer makes its way to a worldwide 4K Blu-ray and 4K Digital release.