Apocalypse Here (Los Angeles Daily News/Aug 09/1996/US) By Bob Strauss
Director John Carpenter, star Kurt
Russell and producer Debra Hill had been knocking around the idea of a sequel to
Escape From New York for a decade.
It took Mother Nature, though, to jolt them into action.
"The earthquake, and the riots also, got us going big time,'' said the
man whose name is in the title of John Carpenter's Escape From L.A.
"Before that, basically, we had no story; we couldn't figure out what is L.A. We
had a script written by a guy in 1985. That story was about Los Angeles being an
insane asylum of some sort. But it didn't work; it's funny for a second, but
there's no story involved.
"It was only after all of these disasters that we started thinking about getting
to the real nature of the place,'' Carpenter added. "And we also started
thinking about the America of the future.''
What Carpenter, Hill and Russell, who share Escape From L.A.
screenwriting credit, came up with has a really involved story - satirically
detailed on the local, national and even international level.
Set in 2013, after the Big One has separated the island of L.A. from the
rest of the continent, and America has become a moralistic dictatorship, Snake
Plissken is forced back into action. Russell's one-eyed soldier of fortune, who
rescued an earlier president from the Manhattan Island penal colony in the 1981
movie, must now cross the San Fernando Sea to retrieve a doomsday weapon the new
president-for-life's (Cliff Robertson) rebellious daughter (A.J. Langer) has
given to the ruthless Cuervo Jones (George Corraface), the leader of L.A.'s
Got all that? There's much, much more. As Plissken wanders through the
wrecked, anarchic City of Angels, he doesn't just encounter all the moral
undesirables who have been exiled there. He meets such mutant Angelenos as Map
to the Stars Eddie (Steve Buscemi), an ex-agent who is now making literal
cutthroat deals; Hershe (Pam Grier with an electronically lowered voice), a
transsexual crime queenpin who operates out of the beached grandeur of the Queen
Mary; and the grisly Surgeon General of Beverly Hills (Bruce Campbell), who has
turned the Beverly Hills Hotel into an operating theater of cosmetic surgery
Then there's a new kind of sudden-death basketball game played at a
decidedly Romanized L.A. Coliseum. And tsunami surfing down the newly formed
Wilshire Canyon. Of course, the climactic title escape is from the "Happy Land
by the Sea'' theme park (Disney would not permit the Paramount production to use
its corporate name; Universal, however, had no problem with Carpenter submerging
their landmark property).
It all adds up to a darkly comic vision of L.A. life on the edge.
"It's about modern-day Pompeii,'' said former child star, and therefore
longtime L.A. resident, Russell. "When I was a kid, I read somewhere that they
knew that volcano was going to go off and I thought to myself, how do you be
"Then Goldie (Hawn, Russell's longtime girlfriend) and I were traveling
around Italy,'' he continued. "We went to Pompeii, and there's all this
pornographic art on all the homes. You realize, well, they were having fun! They
probably said, 'Ah, the volcano's smoking, but not today. Let's have some more
drinks.' Then, one day, 'Holy - ! Too late.'
"Here we are, modern Pompeii. Our earthquake is going to happen and we
live in denial. We figure out how to live here, and it's great until that guy
pulls up in the car and goes 'Bang! Lights out.' It happens all the time here.
That's what the movie is really all about.''
While L.A. satire abounds in Escape, Carpenter and company also
take potshots at larger cultural trends that they find alarming. Plissken, who
was set up in the first movie as the ultimate authority-hating nihilist, becomes
a spokesman - albeit a coarsely grunting one - for both Russell's libertarian
and Carpenter's leftist paranoid political views.
"It's not a message movie, but it is based in a political background,''
Russell said. "In writing this movie, neither one of us felt apologetic about
having fun setting up this scenario, which a lot of people are going to take the
way they want to, which is what they should do with the movie - although a lot
are going to take it wrong, from my point of view.''
"I think it all boils down to the rules issue,'' said Carpenter, who has
put political spins on sci-fi premises before in They Live and The
Thing, one of five pictures he's made starring Russell. "It seems to me that
we're too willing now to give up as much freedom as possible, immediately, to
have some sort of order and risk-free living.
"I just don't understand that,'' Carpenter added. "That's what Snake
represents. He's the guy who says, 'Don't tell me what to do.'''
Russell expresses the Plissken point of view much more passionately than
the reticent Snake ever does.
"Where in the Constitution does it talk about a safety net?'' Russell
queried between puffs on a cigarette he lit without asking anyone's permission.
"Who is the Minister of Fun in this country? It's just all about living longer
and living safer. Yes, there's a value to that, I certainly understand that. But
there's also a greater value to me of getting something out of life. At least,
make it my choice; that's what I thought this country was all about.''
These days, Russell is at least getting more value out of one aspect of
life. After years as a journeyman actor, he has recently become a highly paid
action movie lead. The box-office success of Tombstone, Stargate
and Executive Decision upped his asking price to $10 million for
Escape From L.A. and his next release, Breakdown. He's reportedly
getting paid $15 million for his next sci-fi action outing, Soldier.
"I think he's worth the $10 million that we paid Kurt,'' said Hill, who
cut her teeth producing Carpenter's low-budget moneymakers Halloween,
The Fog and the $7 million Escape From New York (the sequel's
pricetag pushed $50 million). "He's a writer, he's a producer, he brought a lot
to the table. And he is Snake Plissken; we couldn't make this movie without him.
And he has the ability to open a picture in the marketplace now.''
"Finally, all these years of being a solid pro have paid off for Kurt,''
echoed Carpenter. "That happens rarely in this business, and when that
opportunity does come, you must take it. We were all starving and struggling at
one time, and so many people never have the chance to experience what's
happening to Kurt now.''
Which should indicate to Carpenter that good things can happen. Even,
maybe, in L.A.
"You see the struggles we have getting along,'' Carpenter said. "And we
live in a desert, on a precipice, on the edge; and we're going to get hammered
one day by a big quake.
"But I suppose you could take this story and put it anyplace. There are
disasters everywhere and the Earth is getting more and more overpopulated. L.A.
is just what life is now. I'm a short-term pessimist but, I think, a long-term
optimist. With a little luck, humanity may survive. I'm not sure, I'm concerned
for us. But truly, most people are good in their hearts and they want things to