Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Film Appreciation - The Future Is Right Now

Cody Hamman goes into the future, all the way to 2013, to show Film Appreciation for John Carpenter's Escape from L.A.

Like its predecessor Escape from New York fifteen years earlier, 1996's Escape from L.A. begins with narration by Jamie Lee Curtis that's accompanied by onscreen text and computer generated images which provide the set-up for the world of the film.

We're told that in 1998, the nationwide United States Police Force was formed to protect and defend the country from the growing strength of hostile forces within its borders, its formation spurred on by the state of affairs in the crime and immorality-ravaged city of Los Angeles.


A Presidential hopeful and extreme member of the religious right predicts that the wicked, sinful L.A., the modern Sodom and Gomorrah, will be separated from the United States by God's wrath in the guise of a millenium earthquake. When his prediction comes true on August 23, 2000, and an earthquake measuring 9.6 on the Richter scale breaks L.A. off from the rest of California, the waters of the Pacific rising to make it an island, the fact that this film had a much bigger budget than EFNY allows us to be privy to this natural disaster, with crashing vehicles, explosions, crumbling buildings and freeways, and a huge tsunami.

The candidate who made the earthquake prediction is elected President of the United States, and soon after the Constitution is amended so he can accept a lifetime term of office. The nation's capital is moved from Washington, D.C. to his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia.

Los Angeles Island is declared no longer part of the United States. A wall is built along the California shore from Orange County to Malibu to further exclude the island from the mainland, Police Force officers are encamped along the wall, and the island becomes the deportation point for all citizens deemed undesirable, whether they be criminals or just people who don't live up to the moral standards enforced in the President's America. Under his law, a person can be exiled to L.A. simply for being an atheist, a homeless person, or a runaway. The deportations are described as "throwing out the trash."

The year is now 2013, and a new arrival at the deportation center for Los Angeles Island is greeted with attention from the national media. Snake Plissken, the most notorious outlaw in the history of the United States, the Force's most wanted man, has been captured after sixteen years on the run following the events of Escape from New York. Caught while gunfighting for profit in New Vegas, Thailand, a U.S. territory, Snake has been convicted of twenty-seven moral crimes and sentenced to life in L.A.

Once in the processing center, where deportees can opt to be executed in an electric chair rather than go to L.A., Snake finds himself in the midst of a scenario very similar to the one he went through in New York.

The President's daughter Utopia has fallen under the spell of an exiled terrorist/revolutionary/gang leader named Cuervo Jones. Through hours of interaction in an advanced, virtual reality form of the internet, Jones has turned Utopia against her father's corrupt theocracy and enlisted her to help him in his plans to escape from L.A. and overthrow the U.S. government. She stole a prototype weapon called The Black Box from a space defense center, hijacked Air Force Three, then dropped out of the plane in her escape pod while it was over Los Angeles Island, delivering herself and the Black Box to Cuervo Jones.

As we'll come to find out, the Black Box is the controller for the ultimate defense system, the Sword of Damocles: mega-neutron bombs attached to satellites that encircle the globe. When the bombs are detonated they emit an electromagnetic pulse that will shut down any electronics on the Earth below it. The person in control of this weapon can either target the pulse to shut down something specific, or they could go so far as to detonate every bomb simultaneously and shut down every electronic device on the entire planet, essentially sending us back into the stone age. With this weapon in his hands, Cuervo Jones is going to lead a raid on the United States, and not just with the gang he has put together on L.A. - he has united every Third World country behind his cause. The Cubans and Brazilians are poised to invade Miami, the Ugandans and Colombians may follow...

A five man rescue team were sent in to L.A. to retrieve the Black Box and were summarily wiped out. Now that he's about to be deported to L.A. regardless and has experience with these sorts of situations, Snake is offered a deal by Police Force representatives and the President himself - if Snake infiltrates L.A., finds and kills Utopia at her father's order, secures the Black Box and returns it to authorities on the mainland, he will be given a full pardon for every immoral act he has ever committed in the United States. To provide extra incentive, the Force has infected Snake with the genetically engineered Plutoxin-7 virus, which will kill him within ten hours of the moment of infection, shutting down his nervous system and causing him to bleed out if he doesn't accomplish his objectives and return for the antidote in time.

With time ticking down toward his death, Snake makes a less-than-perfect entry into the island by way of taking a one man submarine through the San Fernando Sea and sets out on his search for Utopia and the Black Box. Over the course of his mission, he'll have to overcome obstacles and adversaries like assorted criminals, gang members, and crazies, a duplicitous Map to the Stars peddler, earthquake aftershocks and a tsunami, a homicidal plastic surgeon and his legion of mutant-like surgery addicts, a life-threatening game of hoops, and ultimately go up against Cuervo Jones himself, not to mention the headache, fever, lethargy, and cough the virus coursing through his bloodstream causes him.

The idea to follow Escape from New York with an L.A.-based sequel had been brewing for many years, but didn't get off the ground until the devastating Northridge earthquake hit the area in 1994 and inspired director John Carpenter, his frequent producing partner Debra Hill, and star Kurt Russell to get together and start collaborating on the screenplay.

In set-up and scenarios, L.A. covers a lot of the same ground as New York, but with its own style, twists, and a sense of humor that skewers Hollywood culture. The budget is bigger and there's not-quite-convincing CG all over the place, but it still retains the same charm the first film had.

Kurt Russell reprised his most iconic role and again delivers the badass performance that makes the character of Snake Plissken so much fun to watch. When first introduced, Snake is wearing the same outfit he had on throughout EFNY, but when sent on his mission he gets a jump on the heroic fashion sense that would soon after also be seen in films like Blade, The Matrix, X-Men, and Mission: Impossible II - he's given a "stealth outfit" that's all black leather, including a long trenchcoat (which gets stolen from him for most of the film).

As with the first film, Russell is surrounded with an awesome supporting cast, with Cliff Robertson (Uncle Ben to Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man) as the President, George Corraface as Cuervo Jones, Reservoir Dogs' Steve Buscemi as Map to the Stars Eddie, Peter Fonda as a tsunami-riding surfer, Stacy Keach as a Police Force Commander, Revenge of the Nerds' Robert Carradine as a knife-throwing skinhead, Die Hard baddie Al Leong as a gang member, Evil Dead star/cult god Bruce Campbell under the freakish makeup of the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills, the always fantastic Pam Grier sporting hairy armpits and a voice deepened in post to play a transgender old acquaintance of Snake's, and a handful of personal childhood crushes: Michelle Forbes, who awed a young me with her late-'80s role on the soap opera Guiding Light, as Keach's Force sidekick, Hot Shot!'s Valeria Golino as a woman Snake briefly partners up with, and A.J. Langer as the President's rebellious, treasonous daughter Utopia.

I was extremely hyped up for Escape from L.A. during the build up to its release in the summer of 1996. I was always going to be excited for it, given the popularity of Escape from New York, the fact that I had just recently been able to see that film finally and enjoyed it, the fact that I was an established fan of Kurt Russell from his work in '80s films that I had grown up on like Big Trouble in Little China, and that I was a devotee of John Carpenter's due to my deep love for the Halloween franchise. But it was A.J. Langer who really sent the interest of my twelve-year-old self into the stratosphere.

Langer had first come to my attention through her role in Wes Craven's The People Under the Stairs. She was around seventeen when she was in that movie, I was eight when I watched it on VHS and I thought this older girl was super cute. A few years later she was the best friend in the TV show My So-Called Life, which I didn't watch but I saw Langer in the marketing materials and still liked her look. To promote Escape from L.A., MTV hired Langer to do a week-long hosting gig, introducing music videos and clips from her upcoming movie while hanging out poolside wearing bikinis. I watched a lot of MTV back in those days, when they still showed music videos more than anything, and I watched every episode of Langer's hosting gig. Super cute girl had grown up to be hot, I was celebrity smitten, and now she was going to be in an awesome-looking movie that I had to see opening weekend.

I did my best to get family members hyped for L.A. as well, watching New York with them to familiarize them with the first story, the character of Snake, the world it was set in, and even watching a "making of" special with some of them. Opening weekend, I was in the theatre watching the movie with my older brother and my sister-in-law. It went over well with all three of us.

Escape from L.A. didn't go over as well with general audiences or even with a lot of fans of the first film, but I maintain that while it may not be as good as its forerunner (it's hard to match up to a true classic), it's still a good, fun sequel that is quite enjoyable and totally watchable in its own right.

The only real downside is that it wasn't successful enough to earn Snake Plissken a third film.

No comments:

Post a Comment