Jan 15 2010

Article X – In Which I Try (Read: Succeed) to Escape this Column

Cloverfield totally didn't rip this off

Cloverfield totally didn't rip this off

Another week another column.  Apparently, there are a lot more science fiction movies that I had previously thought, according to Wikipedia.  I figured there may be like 2-3 per decade MAX.  Turns out there’s like 20 per YEAR.  Who could have known, right?

So, the 1980s have finally rolled around in my little random movie generator.  Yes, I have a very sophisticated method of picking which movies make the cut for this first round of columns.  Maybe I’ll tell you someday, when you’re old enough.  For now, the movie is Escape from New York.  The time: 1997 (now, the past future, and our real life past).  The awesome eye patch?  Luxurious hair?  Another movie with crazy gang members who do crazy stuff for no reason at all?  I THINK SO.

The film begins like every film should: Exposition an opening title card.  We learn that in 1988, the crime rate in the US has risen to unprecedented levels and New York City (not unlike Australia) is closed off and used as a maximum-security prison.  Turns out Air Force One just happens to be flying by tonight and a crazy freedom fighter takes over the plane and crashes it into the prison.

The President is then captured by the sinister forces within the New York City Prison, and the Security Chief (Lee Van Cleef) is forced to bargain with Snake Plissken, Kurt Russel’s greatest contribution to film history…wait, we have R.J. MacReady, too…and Jack Burton…Jack O’Neil…shit.  Well, Kurt Russel may just be the greatest actor in the history of everything.

Anyways, Snake is injected with some crazy pills and basically he has 24 hours to find the president and help him to…escape…from New York.  We call this internet poetry, folks – and I invented it.

Okay, the most awesome thing about this movie was the conversation started by it’s classification.  Is it a post-apocalyptic film?  I describe it as such.  However, we are explicitly told in the beginning that New York is different from the rest of the world, which is in the middle of World War III.  So I’d place it somewhere between apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic.  Apocalyptic-in-progress?  Perhaps this is another chance to have my loyal Filbots chime in with their amazing autotuned voices (only Fil has a naturally moving and satisfying voice).

The setting of the film is really the highlight of the movie.  John Carpenter (who directed this movie and some other really awesome Sci-Fi movies) makes full use of the atmosphere in this awesome “world gone wrong.”  There’s trash everywhere, the streets are empty, the cops have guns and awesome motorcycle helmets, HAIR IS OUT OF CONTROL.  It looks like Detroit.  ZING.

The acting.  Whoooooo boy, what to say about that?  When I first saw Russell’s Snake, I thought, “Man, this is the dumbest thing ever.”  But while rewatching it, I was totally able to take it as the camp that it was somewhat meant to be.  The entire idea of the film is a little ridiculous.  So are half the premises of the 1980s (everything, not just science fiction).  Snake is a total badass.  Like Dutch in Predator or Ripley in Alien.  He’s a different kind of character, the sort of cookie cutter anti-hero, but he pulls it off amazingly well.  Just imagine it like this: Snake Plissken is Wolverine without the claws and healing factor and with better hair.  Did I just blow your mind?  I have a license to do that.

Yes, I know he has an eyepatch...BUT LOOK AT THE HAIR

The story is, of course, ridiculous, but then, if we don’t allow our ideas to run free, we won’t ever get anything other than Rocky or, god forbid, Gone With the Wind.  Sometimes you just have to run with it.  John Carpenter shows us over his long career that he knows how to take an idea and really ingrain it into our minds.  This is one such film.  Love it or hate it or kind of like it a little, but not really care to buy it on DVD – you have to admit that it is memorable.

I’d love to talk about the lighting and the cinematography and all that – but let’s be honest, I have no idea what the hell I’m talking about, and you would only pretend to understand me if I did, so I’ll just go ahead and say some general stuff that the lowest common denominator would understand.  The cinematography is amazing, the minimalist attitude taken in the film is brilliant, and serves to create a feeling of utter hopelessness and despair.  The lighting supports this, contrasting the high tech and bright security bunkers with the Medieval feel in Manhattan.

Does this qualify as a science fiction?  There is some science in it – of course, the high tech tracker bracelet (when will that technology come around?) and the cool Air Force One escape pod.  But really, this movie is a sci-fi more because of the dystopian and apocalyptic feel to it rather than anything else.  Your main character is a disenfranchised war hero who hates everyone and everything because he can’t change the whole world.  Intense feelings of hopelessness, a dim view of human nature, and the exploration of the dark inner core of the government really make this film feel alien.  And these ideas are what science fiction is all about.  This movie takes an idea and isn’t afraid to run with it.

This dude is so badass he smokes while holding guns.

And now we come to that time again where I tell you all how to think.  I liked the film.  It’s campy, sure, and corny in a lot of places, but in general, the movie is incredibly enjoyable if you just let yourself ignore all those pesky things that tell you that a movie should be bad.  The premise is solid, kind of, and the action is decent.  Is it the best film out there?  No.  Is it a cinematic experience no one should miss?  No.  If you want to watch something fun – this is where you’ll find it.  Unless you’re a humorless dick.  In which case go read the New Yorker.

I’ve got an idea for the next review.  How about YOU watch a movie and write one thousand words on it.  Then I’ll publish it and take the millions as if I wrote it.

God, I’m so brilliant, why didn’t anyone ever think of doing this before?

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