In a RECENT ARTICLE, I exalted early John Carpenter films…which I truly love. I love their subtext, their attitude, their style, their sound, their essence. I love them. Period.
As such, I’ve been unnerved by the parade of early Carpenter titles currently being shoved through the recycling mill. So far, we’ve gotten ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, THE FOG, Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN (reviews HERE and HERE and HERE), as well as a remake/prequel to THE THING (being scripted by Ron Moore of the current BATTLESTAR GALACTICA series). And, of course, there’s the recently announced ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK re-visitation – strategically packaged to star Gerard Butler (King Leonidas in 300). Butler would be assuming the role of disenfranchised Special Forces Operative turned master criminal S.D. “Snake” Plissken…originally portrayed by Kurt Russell.
Here’s a pic of Butler. Shaven & sans sweaty leather man diapers:
For purposes of brevity, I’ll forgo my standard, impassioned rant about how lazy and unimaginative it is for studios to be dolling out so many remakes…and how disrespectful this is to the thousands of perfectly decent original projects that go unnoticed / unmade every year. We’ll just accept this as an axiom and move on.
Instead, let’s concentrate on my theory about what legitimizes a remake…or what ingredients make for a “successful” remake. From my perspective, there are two factors that could render a remake worthwhile:
1) Do the current filmmakers demonstrate a respect for/understanding of the source material they’re drawing from?
2 Do whatever NEW elements filmmakers bring to a remake a) Feel like organic extensions of the story they’re remaking, or b) Help realize qualities that couldn’t be brought to the screen the first time around (due to budgetary limitations, social restraints, or…whatever)?
Which brings us back to the script for New Line’s currently-in-development remake of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (herein EFNY). Does it meet the above criteria? Surprisingly enough…bewilderingly enough...and I never thought I’d say this…ever...SO FAR...YES!!!
Quite a few SPOILERS will appear in the evaluation below, even though it’s a script that’s likely to change a bit before a single frame of the EFNY redux is lensed. For those wishing to remain spoiler free, here’s a quick summation: the remake script is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of John Carpenter and Nick Castle’s source material – frequently lifting entire sequences, even word-for-word dialogue exchanges, from the original film. It is extremely similar structurally. THE PREMISE IS IDENTICAL.
This is a HUGE project – expansive in scale. Many elements from the 1982 film have been drastically embiggened, and significantly amped up (including military shenanigans & the political ramifications of the President being held captive in a prison). As written, the EFNY remake would be a hard “R” rating with carnage, decapitations, and dismemberments aplenty. A VERY “80s” style of in-your-face, balls-to-the-wall violence runs throughout the script. I would LOVE for New Line to not chicken out on these elements, and allow some “oomph” to be put onscreen. A lot of us out here are missing it, you know?
The very first thought that jumped into my mind after reading this script? This EFNY has jackass politicians, frequently touches on media coverage / societal ridiculousness, makes some very pointed analogies / criticisms of the United States & its place in the world, and has tons of “Oh, my god” action & violence. Someone should go overseas, club Paul Verhoeven over the head, drag his ass back to the States, and unleash him on this project. It feels like vintage Verhoeven; and I believe there’s a place for that…a need for that…in the increasingly safe, unchallenging cinema marketplace these days. Come to think of it, George Miller could do it, too. Since he's struggling to get MAD MAX: FURY ROAD off the ground, maybe...
Enough of my pitiful, fanboy dreaming & onto the nitty gritty.
HEAVY SPOILERS AHEAD!!!
EVEN THOUGH SOME OF THIS MAY CHANGE BEFORE FILMING, SOME OF IT MAY NOT BE CHANGED!!!
TURN BACK NOW TO REMAIN VIRGINAL ABOUT THE EFNY REMAKE!!!
Okay, here we go…
Who wrote the new EFNY?
Ken Nolan. BLACK HAWK DOWN.
How similar is it to the original film?
Structurally, thematically, and in many details - this is nearly identical to Carpenter’s 1981 movie. Much original material has been broadened and enhanced (more on this below). Script is notable not for what’s missing, but for what has been retained (and expanded). Many sequences are identical to original film – including the same dialogue.
When's it set?
Around / after 2024. A title card reads "NOW". Gotta love it.
I wish SF films would stop attaching a firm "time". Doing so means they'll automatically "expire", and invites annoying scrutiny ("Hey, 2001 has come and gone & the movie was wrong about a lot of things, wasn't it?!?")
What characters appear in this new version?
Most of the characters in the original are present – serving the same functions. Hauk, Rheme, The Young Doctor who injects the exploding capsules into Snake’s neck, The President of the United States, The Duke of New York & his sidekick Romero are all there. Other familiar subordinates & archetypes also appear.
Who didn't get ported over from the original film?
There is no “Cabbie” character in this version. His function has been assumed by “Squirrel”. Squirrel is (more or less) an assistant to Brain & feels like a John Leguizamo role. Squirrel drives around a Brink’s truck, which crushes people real good.
Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau’s role), Brain’s squeeze. No counterpart.
The Chock Full ‘O’ Nuts Girl. Missing, no counterpart for the character or her sequence.
Brain is not already known to Snake in this version. Their interactions are quite similar, though.
There are probably others, but these spring to mind immediately.
Merrick, you say some of the original sequences have been “embiggened”. Give us some examples, you asshole!
The hijacking of Air Force One is now presented in greater detail; how its captors got on board & whatnot. The seizure of the plane is fully dramatized via a fevered firefight between the hijackers & Secret Service, explosive decompression of the plane, etc.
The actual CRASH of Air Force One is shown much more fully & spectacularly. We see many shots of NYC denizens looking skyward as the disabled plane powers between the city's skyscrapers, evoking 9/11. Air Force One’s final demise is actually seen on-screen this time (it was confined to a computer simulation in the original) and recalls the “object lesson” sequence in DIE HARD 2.
Many scenes with the “Crazies” (whose presentation suggests FIREFLY’s “Reavers” - i.e. savagely disturbed, deranged, and cannibalistic) have been boosted significantly. Scenes describe HUNDREDS of them on-screen at once. Fighting, chasing, dying, etc. The Crazies are a source of constant irritation and jeopardy, and also serve as generic cannon fodder throughout.
You say ideas have been expanded, elements added. Tell me more!
** The protracted opening narration of the film takes us through the immediate future history of the United States – visualized via documentary footage, news snippets, and snapshots . We see the “wall” being built, initially to keep out rising sea levels. Ultimately, nation-wide discord (and NYC becoming increasingly unlivable) results in the wall being wrapped around Manhattan as part of a social experiment / new approach to criminal justice. Manhattan Island Supermax is born.
** We see numerous FLASHBACKS of Snake Plissken running Black Ops overseas. These recur throughout much of the movie. They tie in to some new twists and turns involving the President, but I think Plissken’s character is undercut by having elements of his background / the seeds for his contempt over explained. Mystery…simplicity…is a potent device for storytelling and character. The overall essence of Plissken remains intact, but feels a touch diluted. Not knowing him was a bit more fun, more pure, and a lot more dangerous.
**The Duke of New York broadcasts Snake’s gladiatorial match to a mortified outside world – during primetime.
**One sequence gives us mass carnage of prisoners; incredible casualties. Hundreds and hundreds are slaughtered before our eyes, unapologetically.
** Ever wonder what it would look like if well-outfitted Government Forces clashed with thousands of armed inmates on the streets of NYC?
By the way, Plissken is no longer a warrior who surived combat in Russia / Soviet Union. He’s now served time in the Middle East (Afghanistan). The Middle East, America’s involvement there, and how what we’re doing there affects our place in the world more or less drives this film’s political commentary. I don’t know that I like this: I think EFNY’s overall relevance comes from its societal perspective - which certainly includes, but doesn't necessarily emphasize - political relevance.
Merrick, what are your favorite NEW elements?
** Snake pausing for a quiet moment to appreciate the tragedy of New York’s downfall.
** A sequence (intercut during a lengthy opening narration) showing the arrival of a prisoner called Clarence Dukemajian. He arrives with a barge load of convicts, pauses to survey the NYC skyline before him. All the other inmates around him see struggle and uncertainty. Clarence sees…opportunity. When we see him again later, he’s The Duke of New York.
** There’s much more external involvement in Snake’s rescue operation this time: including lethal (and spectacular) air support!!!.
What’s are the biggest new elements in the film?
**LOTS of detailed military stuff; many kinds of planes put to various uses & a great deal of tech. All help to ground the film in a sense of reality.
** There are many new action sequences (including a rather large road chase that feels like an homage to THE ROAD WARRIOR).
** More substantively: there’s a government “conspiracy” injected into the second half of the film (involving whether or not the President should even be rescued at all). It dramatically changes our perception of the story, and brings a bit more substance, angst, and edge to Plissken’s begrudging cooperation. Part of this involves a bad-ass Navy SEAL team that’s inserted when The Powers That Be feel Plissken is taking too long to bring out the President.
Merrick, is there anything about this script you didn’t like?
The end is too over-the-top, involving a big, effects driven set piece that comes from out of nowhere, starts in an almost comical way, and doesn’t feel entirely congruous with the tone of the film up to that point. A hint: imagine an extremely similar sequence to the scene in which Snake’s being pulled up the wall at the end of Carpenter's film…then mix it with the watery finale of INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM. It’s kinda weird.
The AMERICAN BANDSTAND theme is (disappointingly but understandably) replaced here. A more iconic substitute should be found. What's there is a little silly.
"I heard you were dead", one of my favorite conceits from the original film, is absent. Although, it's replaced with a recurring line that's almost as amusing.
Believe it or not, I’m leaving OUT many, many details…and haven’t even scraped the surface of the notes I took when reading the script. But, I think all of this gives you a really good sense of what this new ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is all about. Where it’s coming from, and how it thinks.
What impresses me most here is Nolan’s almost slavish devotion to Carpenter’s original material. It’s not a begrudging devotion, either. It’s respect.
In fact, teeny, tiny details from the original were not only detected, but augmented here. For example, while Plissken is being processed in the opening of the 1981 version, there’s a background announcement offering inmates the option to "terminate" instead of getting shipped to Manhattan. This nuance actually becomes a set piece in the new script. It's an "immolation chamber"!
There's little here that undercuts anything the original film was trying to accomplish. The screenplay's greatest missteps are already enumerated above:
1) The finale feels way out of place with the film around it. It's a classic case of a storyline consistently ratcheting up its jeopardy to the point where the writer has no choice but to become unhinged. But, it's excessive & seems a little disingenuous in its tone.
2) Seeding EFNY with constant references to America's Middle East activities / policies certainly brings the film a sense of relevance...but it makes it too relevant, too immediate. Approaching this element more allegorically (and less literally) would smooth things out a bit, I think.
3) Grounding Snake's past / America's (future) crises in the Middle East strips EFNY (and the Plissken character) of a substantial part of their mythology. Middle Eastern conflicts are real, and happening now, and might still be going on when the film's date rolls around. There's nothing mythological about a real scenario that's already happening. Resetting the flashbacks / war references to a more esoteric, abstract locale (a la the original film's references to Leningrad and Siberia) might imbue the rewrite with a sense of breadth and myth that it's missing.
So, there you have it. The possibility of hope for a project that many (including myself) had already set out to roundly condemn. Snake & Co. still face many pitfalls on their way back to the screen, not the least of which are pesky little considerations like the choice of director. Find someone too slick, for example, and the script's grit and raw vitality will be severely undercut. Find someone too tepid, for example, and its visceral abandon will be both meaningless and ineffective. That's tricky as hell.
Some damn fool announcement may come down soon that makes me hate this project all over again. For the moment, however...if this remake HAS TO HAPPEN...it feels like The Snake abides. And not only does he abide, he's kicking a little ass, too.