Director John Carpenter remains one of my favourite directors of all time. That’s not to say all his movies are masterpieces, but he firmly places his signature on all of them and I usually come away enjoying many aspects. The same can said for this cult favourite from 1981.
Kurt Russell plays Snake Plisken, a legendary soldier who on his arrival at a maximum security prison facility thats taken over Manhattan island in a futuristic version of New York … is about to be incarcerated for armed robbery. However after the President’s plane gets hijacked and he’s forced to board an escape pod launched into said prison island, the government call on Snake to go on a rescue mission. I remember loving this concept as a kid and hell, nobody looks more bad-ass than Kurt Russell with an eye patch and a semi-automatic. However I also recall not really being that into the movie itself.
Not much has changed. This is a particularly moody piece disguised as an action-thriller. It has all the required ingredients of pure popcorn entertainment, but somethings missing. The movie takes its time throughout and lacks any real thrills (not helped by what appears to be a tiny budget). However Carpenter helps by sprinkling several colourful characters here and there (with a stand-out Harry Dean Stanton) and along with Dean Cundey’s atmospheric and gloomy cinematography mixed with Carpenters own synth score, this still held my attention. Donald Pleasance, a Carpenter regular also pops up as the President, although lacks his usual presence. Overall this is Kurt Russell’s show and he’s great as a character way cooler than the movie he’s in, and every second the character is on screen, I couldn’t help but be mesmerised. One of those cult favourites still worth a watch, but not as memorable as its reputation might have you believe.
This new Blu-ray from Studio Canal comes in deluxe fold-out packaging boasting a poster, art cards and a detailed booklet. The movie is in decent shape (offered up in both 4K and HD editions) boosted by two soundtrack options that includes a new 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack that although far from a surround showcase, sounds heftier and sharper than the otherwise acceptable stereo score. The picture whilst understandably gloomy is detailed and does the job marred only by an overly soft presentation. I didn’t get to check out the 4K transfer as I don’t have access currently to a 4K screen. Extras consist of a 52 minute documentary, deleted scenes etc. and four commentaries – which round off a very impressive package. Oh and they threw the CD soundtrack in also.
For me director John Carpenter has been one of the greatest genre film makers probably since Roger Corman, and through the late seventies to late eighties had a streak of classic movie after classic movie. Who can argue with his pedigree when he’s made such entries as Halloween, The Thing and Big Trouble In Little China? The fact he also composes all the music for his movies as well just shows a dedication to his craft.
This 1983 effort may not get the same kind of love as the aforementioned titles but still has a status as once again another decent, if rather low-rent adaptation of a Stephen King novel. The quirky tale of a high school nerd, Arnie (Keith Gordon) who stumbles upon a 1957 Plymouth Fury in an old man’s back yard and decides to buy it and restore it to it’s former glory. Said shiny red car named Christine, of course soon changes Arnie’s persona from the nerdy victim to a somewhat cooler kid about town, attracting not only the hot girl in school but also the attention of a group of bullies. The only thing is, Christine has a bit of a mind of her own and quickly get’s protective of Arnie and jealous of anyone who tries to take him away.
Of course it’s a bit dated and the acting is passable at best, and well, everyone (especially the bullies) looks way too old to be in high school. That being said as a master of the genre, Carpenter still fills the movie with assured direction, solid atmosphere and some effective moments (the attack on the gas station, the final showdown). The mixture of Carpenter’s own synth soundtrack and 50’s rock ‘n’ roll songs also works a treat. I’d have liked it to have got a bit more violent as the kills are tame as hell … even for the time this was made. The plot also jumps from one thing to another with this viewer not really getting that invested in Arnie’s descent into madness, and well Harry Dean Stanton’s detective just seems to wonder into the movie like he’s walked onto the wrong set. But for an old-school horror, this was fun, inoffensive stuff and I’m glad I’ve finally seen it.
The Blu-ray from Indicator comes with a detailed booklet that covers not only the movie but also the director’s influences throughout his career. What looks to be a new documentary is also on the disk, split over several parts with interviews with John Carpenter as well as several cast members, as is an audio commentary from Carpenter and lead actor Keith Gordon. Add to this a handful of deleted scenes, a photo gallery and an isolated score. The image quality whilst not amazing pops with Christine’s bright red paint work and overall is very pleasing. We also get the soundtrack in a choice of the original 2.0 or a more than welcome 5.1 even if surrounds aren’t really used. Top notch treatment then for a worthwhile, but not exactly essential entry in both Stephen King movie adaptations and Carpenter’s filmography.
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