Snake's Newest Escape
By Marc Shapiro
John Carpenter never really had designs on making a sequel to his SF classic ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. And the director of such equally memorable films as HALLOWEEN, THE THING and STARMAN claims it was with good reason.
"I didn't know what we were going to be able to do that would be cool and different," reflects the director. "But, after the Los Angeles earthquake, Kurt Russell, Debra Hill and I got together and said, 'Well, we may have a story here. Hey! Let's have a good time again!'"
That's how ESCAPE FROM LA, which once again stars Russell as the ultimate anti-hero, Snake Plissken, 15 years after the original, came into being. The film, directed by Carpenter from a Carpenter-Russell-Hill script, takes place in a lethal, nature-blasted wasteland where Snake is once again forced into doing good deeds. ESCAPE FROM LA, which features Steve Buscemi, Cliff Robertson, Bruce Campbell and Pam Grier, was shot in 70 days at a budget of $50 million en route to an August release.
"And it's all going to be on the screen," acknowledges Carpenter. "But we could have actually used more, because a whole lot of big things happen in this film."
The director offers that this ESCAPE script has at its core a plethora of "What ifs." "What if there's an earthquake and Los Angeles becomes an island? What if the United States has become a right-wing Christian theocracy and deports the morally guilty to LA? And what if all third world countries decide to declare war on the United States? The whole issue is to do to Los Angeles what we did to New York."
But sequels being what they invariably are, Carpenter says that making a second trip into this desolate world was not exactly easy. "I saw doing this film as a tear between doing a Xerox of the first film or doing something completely different. But we realized what audiences want in sequelss is the same movie dressed up a different way. What we ended up doing is reinventing the whole thing for a new generation, because the original film was so long ago. The big issue was whether an audience could watch this film without seeing ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, and so our goal was to reintroduce Snake to people as if you had not seen the first film."
Carpenter admits that his big personal issue was whether or not he could do this type of movie again. "Doing this kind of film is like riding a bicycle. Once you remember how to get back on, there's no problem. The only concern I had was, since it had been so long since I had directed anything with this kind of feel to it, did I remember how to get back on? I was afraid. But once we got started shooting, I said, 'OK. It's just like riding a bike and I'm back on it.'"
Given the time span between the 1981 original, which was only a modest hit at the box office, and this much-anticipated sequel, studio accountants are a bit nervous about ESCAPE FROM LA. John Carpenter doesn't have time for those fears. "It's too late to worry about that stuff now," he says. "We're already into it."