Saturday, June 22, 2013

Instant Action: Escape from L.A. (1996)

I'll tell you what, I want to see Chicago featured in this series, oh yes, I do!

Written By: John Carpenter, Debra Hill, & Kurt Russell
Directed By: John Carpenter

Over the years Escape from L.A. has garnered quite the reputation. It's viewed as both a flop and a critical failure, and in some circles is viewed as the beginning of the end of Jon Carpenter's viability as a director. I'm not here to tell anyone that they're wrong, but I will gladly tell all those who aren't on board with Escape from L.A. they they are mighty crazy. This is the type of film that needs to be seen in the theaters, as large as possible and as loud as can be. It deserves to be celebrated for how absurd it is willing to be and how far it is willing to go to present its action. Don't get me wrong, Escape from L.A. never quite reaches the level of so terrible it's awesome. But, it does reach the level of a crazy film that throws everything it can at the viewer and succeeds in overloading the senses as only a 1990s action film can.

Of note is the type of action film that Escape from L.A. represents. It is a film of two worlds, the 1980s and the 1990s. At times the camera is almost static in the way it wants to frame Snake Plissken as a machine of death that can't be killed. Somewhere around the middle of the film Mr. Carpenter begins to shoot the film differently. He brings a kinetic energy to the scenes and instead of focusing on Plissken the action becomes a cacophony of movement. The camera doesn't necessarily take on more movement, but it becomes concerned with capturing as much action movement as it can. Visually Escape from L.A. is a bridge film from the panoramic action of the 1980s to the chaotic action of the 1990s.

That's not to say that Escape from L.A. is a visual triumph. It's very clear from the start that Mr. Carpenter is trying to implement green screen that either can't be achieved technologically or on his films budget. The surf scene is a perfect example of the awfulness of the green screen, but also of why the green screen in Escape from L.A. has a certain charm to its awfulness. This is another instance of Mr. Carpenter going for it in Escape from L.A.. I'm sure he could have filmed the green screen differently or cut those scenes out altogether. What I'm not sure of is if I would have liked Escape from L.A. as much as I did if the film was bereft of awful green screen.

There's not much to the story or the framework behind Escape from L.A.. Mr. Carpenter's film is a crazy ride that makes some interesting visual comments on the state of the action film in 1996. Escape from L.A. isn't going to be remembered for its great characters or amazing story. What Escape from L.A. should be remembered for is its willingness to be a balls out action film regardless of whether it has the necessary tools to film said action. Escape from L.A. works when it should fail, and I always have a ton of fun watching and dissecting what Mr. Carpenter was trying for in his follow up to Escape from New York. Cinephiles can continue to write off Escape from L.A., but I'll say it right now, you're missing out on an action gem.



Bill Thompson

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