Scene Anatomy 101: 'Escape From New York'
(411mania/Jun 06/2007) By
George H. Sirois
Do we really need to know what happened to Fresno Bob?
On March 12 of this year, Variety posted an article stating that
New Line Cinema has
the rights to distribute a film produced by Neal Moritz (The
Fast and the
and starring Gerard Butler (300).
This created a great amount of
around the internet. Film fans were up in arms and Kurt Russell winced
about it during an interview with Entertainment Weekly.
Why is this movie getting so much negative attention? Well, would
it surprise you if
you that New Line intends to release a remake to theaters? It's not just a remake,
a remake to a 1981 film that has gained a tremendous cult following. This film
made on a $7 million budget and made the most of its small amount of money,
it a unique look and charm that stands the test of time. It was directed and
by John Carpenter, a man who just three years before, re-invented the
genre by creating the character of Michael Myers in
After the success of
Carpenter pulled out an old script for a science-fiction/action
film that was also a western. Well, it wasn't set in the Old West or
anything, but the main character was someone with a very
past and is sent into a very dangerous town to save the day. When the script
was greenlit, Carpenter brought in a former Disney actor
Kurt Russell and together, the two of them created one of the most iconic anti-heroes
in film history: Snake Plissken. The film that
Snake Plissken and Kurt Russell famous: Escape From New York.
There's a very basic plot to this film, which leaves Carpenter
and co-writer Nick Castle
plenty of time to explore the strange landscape and
that populate the burned out New York City. Here's a quick rundown of what
happened, according to the opening narration. In
1988, the crime in the United States rose 400 percent. To
accommodate all of the captured
criminals, the island of Manhattan has been sealed
from the rest of the country and turned into the world's largest maximum security
prison. The United States Police Force, like an army,
watch over every border. The bridges are mined, the rivers are patrolled. The
are simple: once you go in, you don't come out.
Now, in the year 1997, the President of the United States (Donald
Pleasence) is flying
to a summit when Air Force One is hijacked by a
that aims the plane at one of the buildings in New York. The President gets
out with the help of his emergency escape pod just as the
crashes, and as soon as he lands, he is kidnapped by a group of thugs and delivered
to the top dog in the city: The Duke of New York
The only course of action that the United States Police Force
sees is to recruit a newly
convicted thief named Snake Plissken to go into the
find the President and get him out alive for his summit. Fortunately for them,
Plissken's not an ordinary convict. He's a war hero, a
of two purple hearts, and the youngest man to be decorated by the President.
To keep him in line, the Commissioner of the US Police.
Force Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) has two capsules injected into Plissken that
a lethal charge after 24 hours. If Snake can succeed in
mission, he'll get a full pardon for every crime he's ever committed in the USA.
Snake goes into the city and immediately encounters a strange
array of characters that
left their old lives – and even their own names –behind
when they were sent to New York. After he is spotted in a theater by a cabbie
named, well, Cabbie (Ernest Borgnine) - he's the first in
film to say the now-famous line: "I heard you were dead" - he is given some shelter
by a girl in a Chock-Full-of-Nuts store (good thing she
there too since her character's name is "Girl in Chock-Full-of-Nuts"), gets past
a gang of nutjobs that look like they're left behind from
and is eventually rescued by Cabbie.
Cabbie offers Snake a ride to get what he needs, and what he
needs is information about
the President. Cabbie immediately tells Snake that
Duke's got the President, so Snake tells him he wants to meet him. Cabbie tells
that nobody sees the Duke, so instead he takes him to
the smartest man in the city. Cabbie parks in an alley, then gets out and the
two of them walk towards a very familiar looking building
42nd Street and 5th Avenue.
CABBIE: I hate to leave her on the street. Usually I don't leave
her alone at all. But
you're a special case, Snake.
Cabbie bangs on the front door of the building.
CABBIE: It's okay, Snake. It's a better neighborhood. You can relax.
Snake checks the timer on his wrist. He has 17 hours to find the President or he
CABBIE: Boy, they got a great place here. Like a fortress.
We suddenly hear someone yelling from the other side of the door. It's a woman,
that we'll come to know as Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau).
MAGGIE: Who is it?
CABBIE: It's me.
MAGGIE: Who's me?
MAGGIE: What do you want?
CABBIE: Somebody wants to see Brain. It's important.
MAGGIE: Go away, Cabbie!
CABBIE: No, it's Snake! Snake Plissken.
Snake's name has gotten around quite a bit in the past several years. Maggie
opens up the door and looks at Snake. She doesn't look
MAGGIE: You're Plissken?
CABBIE: He wants to see Brain.
Snake slowly steps forward and gives his answer. The way Snake
responds is in the exact
same fashion that Clint Eastwood would have
answered as "The Man with No Name," another hint that John
Carpenter always looked at
this film as a western at heart.
SNAKE: I wanna meet the Duke.
Maggie opens the door and Cabbie and Snake walk inside. Cabbie is
talking Snake's ear
off as they descend down the stairs.
CABBIE: Hey, you remember this place, Snake? It used to be the public library.
Brain. He's the greatest. Mr. Fabulous! The Duke
Snake motions towards Maggie, who's walking further away from the two.
SNAKE: Who's that?
CABBIE: That's Maggie, Brain's squeeze. The Duke gave her to
Brain just to keep him
happy. See what I mean?
Snake and Cabbie catch up with Maggie. She doesn't even look back to acknowledge
but instead she says something that Snake had to
be tired of hearing by now.
MAGGIE: Heard you were dead.
Maggie, Snake and Cabbie walk into the main room. A man is sitting by himself in
corner of the room. This is Brain (Harry Dean Stanton).
CABBIE: Brain, I brought somebody to see you.
Snake walks closer to Brain. He immediately recognizes him, but not under his
SNAKE: Harold Helman.
Brain immediately realizes who is in front of him and a chill goes up his spine.
Maggie looks at Brain, confused.
Snake almost cracks a smile as he walks closer to Brain.
SNAKE: How you been, Harold? It's been a long time.
MAGGIE: You never told me you knew Snake Plissken, Brain.
Cabbie immediately interrupts. He can tell the situation is getting a little
tries to change the subject.
CABBIE: Isn't that great? Hey, Brain, I could use some gas if you could spare
But Snake's not finished talking. He feels the urge to remind Brain of what he
crossing the border into New York City.
SNAKE: I'm glad you remember me. Yeah. A man should remember his past. Kansas
four years ago, you ran out on me. You left me
Brain shrugs off his accusation.
BRAIN: You were late.
SNAKE: We were buddies, Harold. You, me, and Fresno Bob. You know what they did
Now, Carpenter and Castle didn't have to mention anyone named
"Fresno Bob," but it was
a great decision on their part to do so since it hints
at Plissken's past without diving too far into it. Remember, this
is not the story of
Snake, Brain and Fresno Bob in Kansas City; it doesn't matter
what happened back then and it sure as hell doesn't matter what happened to
The fact that you want to know shows that you're
invested in the character of Snake Plissken, and you care about
him succeeding in his
Snake shoves the barrel of his gun in Brain's face and yells towards Maggie.
SNAKE: You wanna see him sprayed all over that map, baby? Where's
Brain puts his hands up and yells at his old partner and possible killer.
BRAIN: Swear to God, Snake! I don't know!
SNAKE: Don't fuck with me!
Brain relaxes for a moment. He's been with Snake long enough to
know that as long as
he knows who has the information for what he needs,
he won't just kill him.
BRAIN: Why do you wanna know?
SNAKE: I want him.
Believing he has the upper hand - for now - Brain starts to taunt Snake, maybe
rise out of him.
BRAIN: Working for the man now?
Snake takes a step back and motions towards Maggie.
SNAKE: Then I'll just beat it out of your squeeze.
Now Brain knows Snake's bluffing.
BRAIN: Maggie doesn't know exactly where he is, and unless you know exactly,
where he is, you'll never find him.
Snake pauses for a moment, trying to come up with something else.
Then it hits him.
He has what can help them perched on top of one of the
SNAKE: Listen, I'll take you out of here. Yeah. Jet glider just a couple of
the street. And all you gotta do is get me to him.
Cabbie immediately jumps at this opportunity.
CABBIE: No kidding? On the level? Hey, will you take me too?
But Brain's still not willing to make a deal with Snake.
BRAIN: We got a deal somewhere else.
SNAKE: No glider.
MAGGIE: We've got the President. And the Duke's taking everybody out of here.
SNAKE: Never happen, baby. You see, I know something you and the Duke don't
got so long before Mr. President doesn't mean a
Now Snake finally has one up on Brain. There's no way they could know about the
hearing that the President's was on his way to
attend. And there's definitely no way they could know the significance of the
tape that the President has in his possession.
Brain still doesn't believe him, but Maggie's starting to come
around. Cabbie's staying
put where he is.
BRAIN: You're lying.
MAGGIE: Maybe he's not.
BRAIN: I know him. Look at his face, he's lying!
SNAKE: Right, Harold. I'm lying. So I might as well have some fun and keep
Enough of the crap. Snake cocks his gun again and aims it right at Brain's head.
with just a little extra push, Maggie and Cabbie canget
Brain to help him.
SNAKE: Talk to him, baby.
MAGGIE: Brain, he'll kill us both!
CABBIE: Brain, you gotta tell him!
BRAIN: All right, all right!
Mission accomplished. Snake lowers his gun and nods.
SNAKE: You always were smart, Harold.
But of course, Brain just has to have the last word on the matter.
BRAIN: Just one thing right now. Don't call me Harold.
This scene is a very significant one since, from here on, we get
to see a very strange
partnership between these four characters. While Snake
on to succeed in his mission - since failure would mean his own death - Cabbie
brags about how they're going to do a good job now
they're with Snake and then drives off in his cab. Brain gives Snake the information
he needs to find the President, then quickly turns on
and joins up with the Duke of New York again. And Maggie's caught in the middle
all she wants is to get out of the city and into the
again. Everyone's doing what they feel will get them out of New York at that
moment. What other motive do they need since they're all
Even Snake's a criminal; he just happens to be the one that's been picked
out to accomplish this mission.
It's a constant device that John Carpenter used throughout the
film to keep the audience
on its toes. He introduced characters and made them
significant only to kill them two minutes later. He had Brain and Cabbie say they're
with Snake, then either run off or switch sides to go
to The Duke. Even Snake says to Hauk at the beginning of the film, "Call me Snake."
Then, at the end when Hauk calls him Snake, he
"The name's Plissken." This is just one of the many different elements that
made this film what it is, and it's something that we just
see much of anymore.
What really bothers me about the remake that's being put together
Escape From New York
is how this is going to be half-prequel and
just like what Rob Zombie is doing for
Now, this is just my opinion, but there are some characters that we shouldn't
too much about and both Michael Myers and Snake Plissken are two of them. The only
things we know about Plissken are his military
and his police record. That should be it. He's played by Kurt Russell as Clint
Eastwood's "Man With No Name" for a reason. He's a
in New York, respected by most of the top thugs in the city and looked at as
threat by The Duke.
That's not what we'd be getting in the remake. Just like Michael
Bay's production company
felt the urge to explain Leatherface's backstory tous,
New Line wants to tell us... what, exactly? How he transitioned from a hero to a
Why should we have to know about that? The
of the movie is
Escape From New York,
Snake just happens to be the guy doing the escaping.
Are they going to tell us why he wears the eyepatch? Or what
happened to Fresno Bob?
Or how he got arrested and sent to New York? Why
we have to know this? Snake's greatest asset is the element of mystery. We shouldn't
have everything spoon-fed to us the way the
insists on doing these days. Let us use our imagination just as John Carpenter
did back then when he had only a $7 million budget
used some burned out streets of St. Louis as his New York City.
These films that were made 20-30 years ago had something special
in them, and
Escape From New York
is one of those films. It was different,
was fun, it had weird characters and odd situations and it had a hero in the
of it that you didn't know anything about, yet grew to like
It doesn't matter what Snake did in the past, how he grew up, how he lost his
eye or what pushed him into being a criminal. All that
is that he's got a job to do, and he's gonna get it done whatever it takes.
Oh, and sixteen years later, he's gonna go to L.A. and do it all
Until next week, Class Dismissed!