Saturday, July 12, 2014

Instant Action: Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

All of that over a vanilla twist ice cream cone!

Written By: John Carpenter
Directed By: John Carpenter

The real highlight of Assault on Precinct 13, for me at least, was the score from John Carpenter. His writing and direction as pretty great as well, but his score for the film is fabulous. It’s the height of economical mood setting. I’ll readily admit that I’m usually not a fan of synth scores, but the score for Assault on Precinct 13 hit me hard, right out of the gate. It sets the tone for the film, and supplies Assault on Precinct 13 with all the atmosphere it could ever need.

Beyond the score the atmosphere of Assault on Precinct 13 was my favorite element of the film. It’s oppressive, and in an odd way very dirty. When we first see the gang members sitting at a table they are nowhere near as sweaty as the atmosphere made me think they were. That’s a trend that continues throughout the rest of the film; the atmosphere takes over the film in many instances.

The action in Assault on Precinct 13 is a befuddling aspect of the film. On the one hand it’s set up rather well. On the other hand there are moments within an action set piece where the characters appear to be shooting off into nothingness. There is one particular moment when Bishop fires off a couple of rounds from his rifle and the bullets fly straight at a guy despite the fact that his rifle was pointed six feet in the other direction. Still, taking the action as a whole into consideration I did enjoy the way it’s implemented and carried out.

I found myself concerned near the end of Assault on Precinct 13 that the film was running out of steam. It started at about the time to the cutaways to the patrol car began to pop up. They serve a purpose within the film, but it seemed like every time they came back from one of those cutaways the film had to work like heck to gain back its momentum. Luckily the cutaways weren’t many, and for the most part the film is able to use its atmosphere and score to keep the film moving at a brisk pace.

There’s a certain amount of depth to be found in Assault on Precinct 13. I’ll be honest though, I didn’t care much about the depth in the film. It’s present, I know it’s there and I recognize it, but I wasn’t drawn to it like I was the other elements of the film. I don’t think Assault on Precinct 13 is as cognizant of its thematics as, say Halloween or Escape from L.A., but it does know that it has more to say and it says more when it needs to.

Assault on Precinct 13 didn’t blow me away like I had initially thought it was going to. I had a fun time with the film, and I loved the score to death. That being said, I was left cold by some elements of the film. Not enough for me to not consider Assault on Precinct 13 great, but enough for me to not be completely in love with this film from John Carpenter.




Bill Thompson

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