Escape From New York 4K Blu-ray Review
A cult classic and one of Carpenter’s greatest
Escape From New York 4K Film Review
Call me SnakeIn the far-off future of 1997, the crime rate in America has reached epidemic proportions; the solution is to put a 50 foot wall around the whole of Manhattan Island and put all criminals inside (doesn’t seem so far-fetched now, what with Trump and his ‘wall antics’ huh?). When Airforce One is hijacked and crash-lands inside the walls, the gruff governor persuades a recently convicted criminal to go in, alone, and rescue him – that criminal is Snake Plissken. And that, is the whole of John Carpenter’s celebrated film, Escape From New York. No need to boil it down, that is the entire plot, and its simplicity is what makes the film great. It brings out the characters, the situations and the humour allowing a film with child-like straightforwardness to excel as adult entertainment.
As sci-fi action noir this and Blade Runner, stand alone; as a homage to westerns it forges its own path and as a statement on the politics of the time it has much to say. Carpenter fills his frame with wonderful imagery, he and Dean Cundy lit the grime giving an ethereal beauty in a dense, hardened city. The characters may have practically no development but all are recognisable, identifiable and fully rounded – remarkable considering the subject matter. Of them all, Snake is an icon; his ridiculous looks and weaponry transcend to something more than he is; the fact that he accomplished practically nothing without his band of helpers, like some kind of haphazard Josey Wales, is a biting indictment of what would become the 80’s action hero.
There is so much in a film that, on the surface, has so little in it - it remains a cult classic and one of John Carpenter’s greatest.
Escape From New York 4K PictureEscape From New York was shot using Panavision Panaflex Gold cameras on 35mm film. This 2018 release was made using the original camera negative which was scanned at 4K resolution, in 16bit, with the application of ACES (Academy Color Encoding System) to the restoration process which resulted in the creation of a 4K DCP (Digital Cinema Package) utilised for the creation of this Ultra HD Blu-ray release.
The disc presents a native 4K 3840 x 2160p resolution image in the widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and uses 10-bit video depth, a Wide Colour Gamut (WCG), High Dynamic Range, and is encoded using the HEVC (H.265) codec for HDR10 and Dolby Vision.
The restoration and new UHD version was colour graded and approved in Los Angeles by the Cinematographer, Dean Cundey.
We reviewed the Region free UK Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Escape From New York on a Panasonic 65DX902B Ultra HD 4K TV with a Panasonic DMP-UB400 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
The image fans have always wanted
It’s fair to say that Escape From New York hasn’t been served particularly well when it comes to HD releases, often dark, plagued with artefacts and an altogether dingy aspect – but not always, leading many fans to search out that elusive ‘best picture’. I think the studios must have been waiting for 4K to come along, because this new restoration means we can consign all other releases; this image is outstanding.
Save for some softness inherent in the filming process during a number of scenes, detail is terrific; skin texture is brought out, clothing weaves are keener, the grime of New York is more defiant, computer terminals have harder edges; indeed the greater resolution has revealed so much more in the picture – you are able to make out some of the rubbish surrounding the downed plane or in the devastated stores. Debris has texture, graffiti is sharp, and brickwork has a roughness to it: all these features are brought out.
The WCG allows colouring that's tremendous, all the primaries are served well, the red of the pod, the blues of the emergency lights, the greens of the New York Streets; there is so much more vibrancy to the colour palette as well as depth of colour. Skin tones are well serviced, and some of the computer graphics are positively radiant.
Black level is the best I’ve ever seen for the film, the added dynamic range thanks to HDR gives a depth and presence to blacks, while retaining shadow detail even in the darkest of scenes. This pushes the depth of the frame and allows the colours to ‘pop’. Any of the night-time street scenes showcase spectacular blacks. The white end of the scale is served just as well, with plenty of highlights giving more pop to the image; check out the brightness of fires, or the search lights.
The source is clean and retains a sheen of grain that resolves itself very well. There are no digital issues either. A tremendous image.
Escape From New York 4K SoundUnfortunately the disc has not been up-graded to the immersive surround tracks, so no Dolby Atmos or DTS-X, what we do have is the same DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that adorns previous releases, as well as the LPCM 2.0 original soundtrack, which is the default setting.
Taking the latter first, it’s clear, well layered with reasonable bass and has some good effects. The former widens the separation quite dramatically, leading to a good expansive feel to the track, Bass is better resolved and is used to good effect, even if LF effects, themselves, are relatively limited. Dialogue is clean and clear, given the occasional bit of directionality and sounds very natural. The track is, however, very front heavy; surround effects are very limited: the boxing ring fight and helicopters have the best of the environment. The score makes up for it, though, having a full dynamic range with those lovely synths and that ear worm inducing title track coming through thick and strong.
The 5.1 track can appear a little muddy at times though, which is a shame, and something the 2.0 one doesn’t suffer from, most noticeable during Snake’s escape from the crazies. But on the whole, a fine track.
Escape From New York 4K ExtrasThe UHD has no extras at all; but the overall package is impressive. Listed below are the contents as provided by the advertising material; we have been unable to view them.
UHD – Film
Blu-ray – Film
Blu-ray – Extras
CD – Soundtrack
Purgatory: Entering John Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK - Brand new retrospective documentary produced by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures and featuring interviews with writer Nick Castle, cinematographer Dean Cundey, composer Alan Howarth, production designer Joe Alves, special visual effects artist/model maker Gene Rizzardi, production assistant David De Coteau, photographer Kim Gottleib-Walker, Carpenter biographer John Muir, visual effects historian Justin Humphreys, and music historian Daniel Schweiger.
Snake Plissen: Man of Honor – Featurette from 2005 featuring interviews with John Carpenter and Debra Hill
Deleted Opening Sequence “Snake’s Crime” - With Optional Audio Commentary
Audio Commentary - With actor Kurt Russell & director John Carpenter
Audio Commentary - With Producer Debra Hill and production designer Joe Alves
Audio Commentary - With actress Adrienne Barbeau & DOP Dean Cundey
Big Challenges in Little Manhatten: Visual effects featurette – A 2015 feature, includes interviews with both Dennis Skotak, Director of Photography of Special VFX, and Robert Skotak, Unit Supervisor and Matte Artist
I am Taylor - Interview with actor Joe Unger, from 2015
48 page book – Includes writing from celebrated film journalist Kim Newman.
Escape From New York 4K VerdictThere is no denying Escape From New York is a fan favourite film, and it is easy to see why. With no pretention, the paper thin plot is approached with gusto, makes an icon out of its lead character and is treated respectfully by its ensemble cast and yet still manages to wink at the camera. Basically, a sci-fi take on the western, the rescue of the President by Snake, a convicted criminal, is delivered with iconic imagery, action with a wry nod, and colourful characters that endure way past their wafer thin development. Almost childlike in its simplicity, but distinctly adult like in tone, Escape is a cult classic and one of Carpenter’s very best.
This new 4K UHD edition is a blast, the package from Studiocanal presents the best picture it has ever received, from a native 4K image that is strong, robust, well detailed with excellent colouring and awesome blacks. The DTS-MA 5.1 surround track is very front heavy, but is well detailed, layered and dynamic, if, very occasionally, muddy. And the extras package, well the extras are astonishing, collecting together just about everything that has come before, as well as all new material, posters art cards and booklets, this is as much as any fan could ever want!
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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