'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
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
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"
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
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
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