Crafty Carpenter Enjoys Own 'Escape' (The Tampa Tribune/Aug 09/1996/US) By Bob Ross

THE OBVIOUS FIRST question must be, "What took you so long?"

After all, the culture-conscious sci-fi/horror guru released Escape From New York back in '81. Why did director John Carpenter wait a decade and a half to deliver a follow-up?

"Well, we never really gave up on the idea," Carpenter confides in a telephone interview from his Los Angeles headquarters. "We wanted to do it as far back as '85, but we never had a story we liked."

Carpenter says that it took a series of real-life disasters to inspire him, producer Debra Hill and star Kurt Russell to co-write a suitable screenplay.

"Only after repeated calamities struck L.A. - we had the big earthquake, the riots, floods and mudslides - did we realize that we had a story. You know, Los Angeles is like the future of the whole United States. It's constantly perched on the edge of cataclysm."

When did Russell get into screenwriting? "Even before we did Elvis (the made-for-TV bio-pic)," Carpenter replies, "Kurt wanted to be a writer. For this movie, he pretty much wrote the end sequence. He also came up with that crazy basketball game, too."

Both Escape movies share one basic plot, although the sequel seems to be more blatantly satiric. Carpenter impishly insists that he did it deliberately.

"We wanted to take a comedic look at the action genre," he says, "and we also wanted to bring back the first film, which some people took seriously at the time. It was one of the first near-future apocalyptic movies. We had the same approach this time. Remember, a lot of today's younger audience hasn't seen the first one."

The veteran director (this is his 18th feature) admits a fondness for sly, topical humor, bits of which he tends to tuck between the stunts and effects that propel his yarns.

For example, when Snake Plissken (Russell) sneaks by submarine into Southern California, he passes the rusting remainders of Universal Studios, where the familiar logo and the snapping Jaws shark make quick underwater cameos.

The filmmakers needed permission to crack that one-second joke. Luckily, says Carpenter, "Ron Meyer got it." Meyer, the studio chief, "wanted his company to be part of the movie's Hollywood iconography."

On the other hand, Carpenter continues, the folks at Disney didn't like the joke so well. They said no when asked for a similar indulgence.

"I guess you could say that Universal is a lot more hip," Carpenter cracks.

He uses little pop and political jokes, he says, to add a "subversive thematic enjoyment" to stories that also work superficially as straight-out action adventures.

The movie mocks liberal extremists as well as right-wingers. "We go after everyone," Carpenter laughs. "I've always had this unnatural hatred of authority."

Will there be a third Escape movie?

"We have one more story to tell," he replies cagily. "It's up to the audience, of course, but there's another place to get away from: Earth."