'Escape' Sequel Looks To Bury L.A. (The Flint Journal/Aug 07/1996/US) By Ed Bradley


As if the reputation of Los Angeles weren't blemished enough, here come director John Carpenter and his favorite star, Kurt Russell, to bury what used to be the City of Angels.

In Escape From L.A., the sequel to their 1981 science-fiction film adventure, Escape From New York, most of the Left Coast metropolis has been submerged by The Big One, the massive earthquake feared by Californians for years.

What remains above water is a brutal, anarchist state - just the kind of place that the taciturn desperado Snake Plissken is primed to flee.

Carpenter directed Russell-as-Plissken in Escape From New York, a moderate commercial hit that has attained cult status over the years. The maker of Halloween and Starman says that serious talk of the sequel, which opens on Friday, began in earnest only after the real Los Angeles earthquake of January 1994.

"Kurt came to me after that, and we talked about everything that has happened in Los Angeles - the earthquake, the biggest riots in history, the fires, the floods," Carpenter said from his office in that city.

"The only reason that we don't run away in terror is that we're all in denial," he said, speaking of Angelenos in general. "We don't want to leave while there's a party going on. The idea of settling in L.A. is that danger is almost an aphrodisiac." Carpenter jokes that the initial delay in making a sequel came about because "we could never come up with a way to stick it to L.A.," but he believes that the impetus for it stemmed from "Kurt's emergence as a major player in the film industry."

Russell, in fact, was so enthusiastic about doing a sequel that for the opening scene in the new film, he wore the same Snake Plissken costume he'd donned in the 1981 film. It was the only costume from any of his films that Russell had kept.

Carpenter (who co-wrote the screenplay for the earlier film) fashioned the script for the sequel with Russell and a longtime associate, producer Debra Hill. Escape From L.A. takes place in 2013, 16 years after Plissken's daring flight from a New York City prison. America is ruled by a theocratic president (Cliff Robertson), who has decreed that all moral offenders - from murderers and rapists to smokers and beer-drinkers - be deported to what is left of Los Angeles, which broke off from the U.S. mainland in the killer quake.

Plissken, the eyepatch-wearing hood dressed in black, is promised freedom by the president if he will penetrate the new Sodom and retrieve a doomsday device that, if activated, would send humankind back to the Dark Ages.

Carpenter, 48, calls the Escape films "Western noir," and he describes Plissken as an "Old Western bad guy. He's so cool. He's individualistic, people like him. Women like him because he's inaccessible to them, hard to get. He can take care of business, and go from one tough situation to the next."

Like the first film, Escape From L.A. mixes a sense of humor with its futuristic action. Easy Rider counterculture star Peter Fonda plays an extended cameo as a burned-out surfer named Pipeline. The cadaverous character actor Steve Buscemi appears as a weaselly hustler named "Map to the Stars" Eddie.

Various L.A. attractions - the Coliseum, Universal Studios, the Queen Mary - are shown as crumbling, and sometimes underwater, relics. The film makers worked in areas still damaged from the 1994 quake, and they constructed a massive, three-quarter-mile long set to represent a destroyed Sunset Boulevard.

Carpenter made Escape From New York for $7 million; inflation boosted the production costs of the new movie to $50 million. Much of its filming - 70 days worth last December through February - had to be done at night for the appropriate atmosphere.

Despite the ample special effects of the new Escape, Carpenter is priding himself on a film that is "never effects-driven. It's always driven by plot. We had to do what he needed to do to tell the story, unlike a lot of movies today that are driven by spectacle."

Carpenter rose to prominence in the 1970s, first with the critically acclaimed low-budget films Dark Star and Assault on Precinct 13 and, more dramatically, with the extraordinarily influential 1978 slasher thriller Halloween, which made Jamie Lee Curtis a star and spawned a handful of sequels and scores of imitators.

But his '80s output - highlighted by Starman (which brought Jeff Bridges a Best Actor Oscar nomination), Big Trouble in Little China (again with Russell) and the remake of The Thing - was inconsistently received. The Chevy Chase sci-fi comedy Memoirs of an Invisible Man came and went in 1992.

Carpenter's latest horror features, In the Mouth of Madness (1995) and Village of the Damned (1995), made little impact, although the first was well reviewed. He has fared better of late in television, winning a Cable ACE Award for the screenplay of the TV Western El Diablo. He made the horror trilogy John Carpenter Presents Body Bags for Showtime.

In 1994, he participated in the "director's cut" laserdisc release of Escape From New York. Ten minutes of deleted footage from the 99-minute film were restored, and Carpenter added narration on an analog track.

"It was really interesting to revisit the movie and look at it more objectively down the road," Carpenter said. "Kurt and I narrated it together. We sat down for an afternoon to talk about it. So our relationship is pretty much represented forever."