There's Simply No Escape From The L.A.
Jokes (The Los Angeles Times/Aug 10/1996/US) By Steven Smith
John Carpenter loves L.A.... really.
"I've been here for 26 years - it's the cutting-edge of America," says the
gaunt, gray-haired director of Escape From L.A. "We're what America is
going to be like. We're multicultural, we try our best to get along the best we
can, and we're poised over the edge of the apocalypse."
The City of Angels plunges past that edge straight into hell in Carpenter's
just-released $50-million sci-fi satire. A sequel to 1981's Escape From New
York, it wreaks gleeful havoc with L.A.'s most famous iconography.
But it took 15 years - and the Northridge earthquake - to get the project
moving, as it were. Star Kurt Russell, producer Debra Hill and Carpenter, who
all share screenplay credit, had commissioned a script in 1986, but "we just
didn't get it right," Hill recalls. "It didn't have the tone."
Then came Northridge. Russell says that the disaster reminded him that "we're
living in Pompeii waiting for the volcano to blow and denying it. I said to John
and Debra, 'Guys, this is the time to do it. And by the way, I ain't getting any
The trio quickly mapped out a new premise, in which the Big One separates La-La
Land from the mainland and becomes a deportation camp for moral offenders. (In
the 1986 script, Los Angeles had been an insane asylum.)
Trashing the city's landmarks was a chance to indulge in both dark fantasies and
score-settling. Take Universal Studios: In 2013, its Black Tower office building
and studio tour are buried on the ocean floor of the San Fernando Sea, along
with the rest of the Valley.
"The Black Tower has always been a monstrous tower looming over the city," Hill
says, "filled with - how can I put it nicely? - the giants. We wanted to pay
homage to some of our past relationships by having Snake Pliskin (Russell) crash
through the building."
At least MCA President Ron Meyer got the joke, approving use of the studio tour
logo. Not amused was Disney President Michael Ovitz, who rejected use of the
Magic Kingdom for the film's climax. It now takes place at a suspiciously
familiar "Happy Kingdom by the Sea" with the Paramount mountain subbing for the
Matterhorn. (Universal's Back to the Future square filled in for the Main
Carpenter's favorite destruction spot? "The Beverly Hills Hotel. I don't quite
know why but seeing Beverly Hills decimated, with strange folks walking around
in robes, was very heartening for me." (All of Rodeo Drive was originally
targeted for movie annihilation, before the cost was prohibitive.)
Downtown's Bonaventure Hotel is the site of the most spectacular earthquake
damage in the opening sequence, showering glass on the streets below. "When the
Bonaventure was first built, if I was looking for cheap entertainment, I'd ride
its glass elevators," Hill says.
Also in ruins: Capitol Records - echoing not only that building's destruction in
1974's Earthquake, but a time in Hill and Carpenter's lives when their
then-shared Hollywood apartment overlooked the spot. Tsunami waves make L.A. the
ultimate surfer heaven in 2013 - for those who survive.
Cast as the ultimate beach dude is an unbilled Peter Fonda, "our first choice,"
Hill says. "The whole casting idea was, we have our stars, so let's make the
rest an ensemble retro cast."
Not making Escape's final cut were such early-draft disaster zones as the
Forum, the Getty Museum, the Hollywood Bowl, a mudslide (which Carpenter says
may return on the laserdisc edition) and even entertainment agency CAA. "We had
Snake going through the lobby, with those giant CAA letters on the ground," Hill
recalls, "but we decided it was too 'in' a joke."
Escape's makers insist all the humor is affectionate - and even if the
cynically comic fantasy comes closer to reality someday, Carpenter insists he's
"My home is here, it's where I'm going to stay. I love the architecture, the
weather, the people. We do have calamities, and the Big One's gonna come - but
hey, we're still here. So, wimps, get out of town."