One of the great hopes at New Line Cinema was the remake of Escape From New York. A potential franchise based on a beloved piece of source material, an attached lead with his star on the rise and a solid first draft script. Merrick wrote a passionate defense of the first draft, and I agree with pretty much all of his sentiments, though I hated the idea of giving Snake a laborious backstory that served to demystify him. There’s this strange fascination in Hollywood with origin stories, a sad biproduct of the Star Wars prequels and the glut of comic book movies. I am lucky enough to possess both the “original” (if you can even call it that) Ken Nolan draft and the revision, credited to Jonathan Mostow and Sam Montgomery. The revision is dated November 3rd, 2007. This must have been the last pre-Strike draft, and with the demise of the old New Line Cinema, it’s anyone’s guess what the status of the project is. The Nolan draft was brutal, epic in scale and retained all of the dystopian despair of John Carpenter’s classic, while updating the details in a respectful fashion. It wasn’t always the most elegant social commentary, but neither was the original. It was a grand middle finger to the establishment, with no need to be subtle. If you’d like to know more about the first draft, you can find Merrick’s review HERE). Besides the script, I was also encouraged by the involvement of Gerard Butler, and when he left, I was sure it had to do with a serious creative disagreement. The old New Line was a decaying dinosaur of a studio, cranking out focus grouped bullshit on a regular basis. This latest version of Escape from New York would have been no different. The thing that I loved about the Nolan draft is that it was not interested in bald-faced copying, but retained a certain spirit of “fuck the world” cynicism that the original was seeped in. That is, for all intents and purposes long gone with the Mostow draft. The most controversial aspect of this script jumps out at you early: The President is now a woman…and she’s someone we’re supposed to root for. I don’t even know if I mind the gender change that much. I don’t give a damn that Starbuck is a woman on Battlestar Galactica. You could make the Duke “The Duchess” and cast Fergie for all I care. Just get the essence of the character right. At no point do I feel Mostow and Montgomery get the original at all. By page 70, the President is spouting on about restoring civil liberties and freedom of the press, the evils of society. It turns into “Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington” and I begin to gag. Here’s a snippet of dialogue:
SNAKE Are you gonna shut up one of these days? PRESIDENT No, I’m not. I’m going to lay it on the line. We have wars being fought, not just overseas, but here on our own soil. And all we know to do about any of it is to impose curfews and throw tear gas at the problem.It’s a sweet sentiment, but are characters in the EFNY universe, especially governmental authorities, supposed to be so blindly idealistic? Wasn’t the point of the original that Snake was RIGHT to not trust anyone? Now, his unwillingness to hear out this saintly female president just comes off as smug and unlikable. It gets to the point where Snake and the President have a physical altercation and I’m rooting for HER not him. The President is on her way to make a speech where she will announce an end to Martial Law. Of course, the big, bad military won’t let this idealist make this necessary change in policy. It is worth pointing out that the only female in this whole script is the only sane person. Feminists and Clinton supporets may read into that in any way that choose. There’s certainly a hanging subtext there. The Nolan draft had a character named “Squirrel” that replaced Ernest Borg nine’s “Cabbie” from the original. Squirrel is gone, and all aspects of him and Cabbie have been merged into Brain. No longer is Brain a genius. He’s just a little weasel. Both drafts hinge on Snake and the President navigating an area called “The Forbidden Zone,” which is an area of the city lined with automatic machine guns and landmines. In the Nolan draft, Brain comes up with a plan to navigate the Zone and escape Manhattan. Instead of that, the Mostow draft has Brain FIND the map through the Zone on a dead guy. Yet again, you must wonder why even remake a film if you aren’t going to be adhere to the tenants of the movie you are remaking. Even if this wasn’t a remake, I would still be struck by the fact that Brain is a useless character. He isn’t comic relief, he doesn’t do anything particularly crucial to the plot. He is a contrivance designed to give Snake a map of the Zone to get him and the President out of Manhattan, and to drive him to The Duke. This could be forgiven, to a certain extent if there was much in terms of clever action. A thrilling, violent motorcycle chase from the Nolan draft is removed from the middle of the script, replaced with a much shorter chase scene that culminates in Snake, home free and on his way to his extraction point, turning around and kidnapping the President. Snake actually has a motivation in this script besides pure survival. If you are not interested in spoilers for a potentially horrible movie, look away now. You get the point, this script is pretty freaking lame: Snake kidnaps the President, in the process wasting time getting out of Manhattan Supermax and getting the explosive charge out of his neck because of a man named Harvey Garland. The script tells us that Harvey enjoys video games, bestiality porn and Academy DVD screeners. Snake is going to put the President up for ransom. He will give The Duke the President if The Duke finds this Harvey Garland for Snake. Why does Snake want Harvey Garland so badly? Harvey Garland stole Snake’s PEN. It’s a Mont Blanc, so it’s a nice pen at least. We are supposed to find this hilarious, I‘m sure. I laughed. I laughed that this script had turned Snake Plissken into a petty, vindictive person. The one thing I did appreciate about this revision is that it removed the flashbacks that set up Snake’s unnecessary backstory and handicapped the forward momentum of the script, but now he’s kidnapping world leaders to beat up a guy that stole his pen. The grand payoff of this subplot is that Snake rips the guy’s eye out because it has a vital transmitter in it. It certainly sounds like a nice, gory moment that belongs in a film like this…inevitably to end up being cut and included on the super Unrated Special Edition with 15 minutes of extra blood and one use of the word “Fuck” for good measure. The “clever” moments don’t end there, to be sure. I assume everyone involved thought it cute to put The Duke’s hideout in Trump Tower and have him walking around in a robe monogrammed “DT,” but what’s the point? What purpose does it serve in the grand scheme of things? It never leads to a set-piece or action beat. As a matter of fact, I am fairly certain that set would only appear in one scene of the film. Even with that, it is pretty much the most interesting addition to this draft. Everything else is just done to make this potential film more palatable for audiences terrified at the notion that there is no hope for mankind, that our institutions of government are outmoded and our civilization needs to be “rebooted,” to borrow a Hollywood buzzword. Not only does this have the stench of a watered-down version of EFNY, without the unflinching pessimism and graphic language of the original, it comes off as a cheaper version of the first draft. The finale of the Nolan draft deals with an interesting set-piece where the walls of Manhattan crack and flood the city. That’s long gone now, presumably because it would save the production a few million dollars. The new version is a bit closer to the original’s conclusion, but with a smaller body count. I want to say briefly here that I am not automatically against remakes. The remake is not without merit. The example everyone gives for a “good” remake is Battelstar Galactica. While it’s cliché to say, it is very true that BSG actually had an artistic purpose for existing. Universal wanted to exploit a property, just like any studio in the remake game, but I strongly believe that the end product was a very heartfelt, real exercise. What this version of EFNY lacks is heart. A reason for existing. Other than the “pen” plot point, there’s nothing truly egregious about this script. No Jar Jar moments or “Snake Jr.” to be played by Shia. There’s nothing here at all. It misses the spirit of the original, while simultaneously saying nothing new either. It just flops around on the deck like a fish. I say this to Warner Bros., if they are reading this. Do not make this script. Hire someone with some balls and some vision, if you MUST do this. Based on this script, Jonathan Mostow is not that person. This script reads as if it were written by a man who just didn’t give a shit about EFNY (which, ironically, is a very “Snake” attitude). EFNY was an auteur film. If it must be redone, give it to an auteur or just don’t do it at all. There is no passion here, no vitality or humanity. Just another processed turd from the Hollywood factory.