Escape from L.A.
Escape from L.A., also known as John Carpenter's Escape From L.A., is a 1996 cult film directed by John Carpenter. The sequel to the action film Escape from New York, the film follows war hero Snake Plissken, played by Kurt Russell. It co-stars Steve Buscemi, Stacy Keach, Bruce Campbell and Pam Grier.
- Call me Snake.
- Your rules are really beginning to annoy me.
- (facing four gunmen at once) I'm gonna give you assholes a chance. What do you say we play a little Bangkok rules? (picks up a tin can) Nobody draws until this hits the ground. (throws can up, draws, kills all four before it lands) Draw.
- Catches on quick, doesn't she.
- Sad story. You got a smoke?
- You'd better hope I don't make it back!
- I can see you're real concerned about your daughter.
- I'm going to Hollywood...
- The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same.
- [Last line; after shutting down all electricity on Earth] Welcome to the Human Race.
- You might have survived Cleveland. You might have escaped from New York. But this is L.A., vato. And you're about to find out that this fucking city can kill anybody!
- (explaining the basketball rules to Snake) Two hoops, full court. Ten-second shot clock. Miss a shot, you get shot. Shot clock buzzer goes off before you shoot, you get shot. Two points for a basket, no three-point bullshit. All you gotta do is get ten points. That's it... By the way, nobody's ever walked off that court alive. Nobody.
- Taslima: [Referring to mainland America] Back there, that is the prison!
- Malloy: We sent in a five man rescue team, but within a few hours of landing on the island, all but one of them was killed.
- President: (to Snake) You go to Los Angeles, come back with that black box and put it in my hand, and you'll be given a full pardon for every immoral act you've ever committed in the United States.
- Map to the Stars Eddie: [After Snake wins Cuervo's basketball game and the crowd chants Snake's name] This town loves a winner!
- The Surgeon General Of Beverly Hills: [groping Taslima's breasts] My God, they're real!
- Utopia: [When Snake activates the worldwide EMP] He did it! He shut down the Earth!
- (in the detention/deportation center)
- President: Would you explain to this foot soldier why he's going to do what we tell him to do?
- Snake: What's he talking about?
- Malloy: The Plutoxin Seven virus.
- Brazen: Genetically engineered. One-hundred percent pure death.
- Malloy: It starts with a slight headache, then turns into a fever that gets worse. After a short time, you crash. You bleed out like a stuck pig. Not a pretty sight.
- Snake: I get it. You figure that you inject that shit into me, and under the threat of death, I'll do whatever you say... just like in New York.
- Malloy: You got it... Snake!
- Snake: One question: which one of you assholes gets to die trying to stick me?
- Malloy: You don't understand. It's already in you.
- Snake: (looks down at his hand, where Brazen scratched him earlier)
- Brazen: Catches on quick, doesn't he?
[The President orders the execution of Snake. Soldiers fire at him, with no effect. Malloy takes a gun and walks to Snake, swinging it at him. The gun passes right through.]
- Brazen: He's not even here, he's a hologram!
- Snake: Catches on quick, doesn't she?
- Snake: You got a smoke?
- Malloy: The United States is a non-smoking nation. No smoking, no drinking, no drugs, no women, unless, of course, you're married. No guns, no foul language, no red meat.
- Snake: "Land of the free..."
- President: What's it going to be, Plissken? Them or us? (approaching armed forces)
- Snake: I shut down the third world; they lose, you win. I shut down America; you lose, they win. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
- President: So, what are you going to do?
- Snake: Disappear. [Types "6-6-6" on the remote]
- Brazen: He's entered in the world code...no target code...Sir, that will shut down the entire planet.
[Malloy looks at Snake in shock]
- Snake: I told you, you'd better hope I didn't make it back.
- Snake: Let's say I come back and I have your black box. Who'll give me the antidote to the virus?
- Malloy: A medical team will be standing by.
- Snake: Neither one of you will be there?
- Malloy: No.
- Snake: Good!
- Snake: (starts firing on them, with no effect)
- Malloy: Ha! Figured you might try that, hotshot. That's why the first clip is loaded with blanks. Bye-bye, Snake. Good luck!
- Duty Sergeant: What would you say to all of us who believed in you, who looked up to you, who thought you stood for right over wrong, good over evil? Be my guest. What do you have to say, Plissken?
- Snake: Call me Snake.
- Malloy: This is your last chance, hotshot.
- Snake: For what?
- Malloy: Freedom.
- Snake: In America? That died a long time ago.
- (seeing the bikers chase Snake)
- Cuervo Jones: That looks like Snake Plissken!
- Utopia: Who?
- Cuervo Jones: He used to be a gunfighter. He kind of faded out of the scene a few years ago. I hear he slowed down some.
- Utopia: He don't look that slow Cuervo!
- Cuervo Jones: Nobody rolls into town and disrespects me! Not Snake Plissken, not nobody!
- Snake is Back.
About Escape from L.A.
- Do I recognise that it's not as iconic or hip as Escape From N.Y.? yes, of course, I get that but one was made at the end of the 70s/early 80s and benefits from the fact that we now find that to be a golden age of cool, weird, wonderful and even cosy film-making. 80s special effects are charming, handmade, skillful and better where as early CGI in the mid-90s is laughable and the blue/green screen work we'd forgive for looking a little wonky in the 80s, feels tired in the 90s, especially as this film comes out post Jurassic Park.
So, I agree, the effects aren't always charming and sometimes a little, bizarrely awful. The other thing I would level at Escape from L.A. is that it doesn't really justify its 1996 $50 million budget. The aforementioned Jurassic Park had a budget of only $65 million and look what that accomplished. However, a little in its defense, every single shot in Escape from L.A. has some form of effect, whacked out costume, matte painting, set dressing etc. It's a bonkers, punk, grindhouse, fucked up, grungy, comic book, B-Movie writ large.
- Most of what John Carpenter made was gloriously weird, dark, B-movies, genre movies or movies that felt like comic-books. Escape From L.A. really isn't all that different in that regard. Maybe it's lighter, maybe it's a bit sillier, maybe it's more far fetched but if these are the reasons you dislike it, I would suggest you majorly lighten up. Don't you all love Big Trouble in Little China?
- Jon Cross, "Why Does Everyone Hate Escape From L.A.?", The After Movie Diner.
- If Escape from L.A. wasn't a pre-ordained failure, it was a tacit admission that Carpenter wasn't exactly swimming in marketable new ideas. The director had rejected a proposed Escape from New York sequel as early as 1985, later describing the prospective script as overly "campy." That complaint didn't seem to carry much weight a decade later, when Carpenter, actor Kurt Russell, and producer Debra Hill collaborated on a screenplay that includes a sequence in which Russell's stoic, one-eyed antihero Snake Plissken surfs alongside Peter Fonda on the crest of a huge tsunami before leaping into a convertible driven by Steve Buscemi. The film exults in its imagination of the greater Los Angeles area as a ruined metropolis, with the Santa Monica Freeway well underwater and the Universal Studios theme park beset by real sharks instead of the Spielberg variety. In the action climax, Disneyland--stripped of its familiar branding following a corporate bankruptcy--is invaded from the skies as Plissken drops in, gun blazing. (It's not the movie of a man who's entirely happy with the machinations of Hollywood studios.) Carpenter later said he wanted the scene to be reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz, which figures. With its aggressively whimsical dream logic, the only way this movie really makes sense is if Snake wakes up in Kansas in the final reel.
- The worst of it is that Escape from L.A. was released at a time when computer graphics were still in their relative infancy, and its CGI is frankly cartoonish, while the composites that make up that surfboard ride down Wilshire Boulevard are...unconvincing. Some of the miniatures work holds up pretty well, but the film will forever be dated by the phoniness of its most ambitious effects, including shots held together by the digital equivalent of chewing gum and bailing wire. In a pinch, you could posit the crudely-layered VFX work as an elegant fit with the goofy, comic-book style of the action, but I think that's a reach. Like many Carpenter films, Escape from L.A. is at least partially modelled on westerns--Plissken is actually described at one point as a "gunfighter"--and the seriously goofy surfer-dude and mad-scientist stuff feels out of place.
- And there's another way the movie's dated. I'm definitely in favour of roles for Pam Grier, and Carpenter gives her a small but showy one in Escape from L.A.. She plays Hershe--it's pronounced like "Hershey," thus it's an insistent play on race as well as gender. See, Hershe is a transwoman with hairy 'pits and an uncharacteristically deep voice who used to be a buddy of Snake's known as Carjack Malone. When Snake finds her, he gets in close, runs his hand up her thigh to her crotch and declares, "The more things change, the more they stay the same," before intimidating "Carjack" with the gun he found there. When she insists, "I'm no longer Carjack Malone," he hisses in response, "I don't give a fuck what you are." Yes, Plissken has story reasons for threatening Hershe. But, absent that greater context, the film plays here exactly as though Snake is threatening a hate crime.
- Context is everything, and I don't imagine that either Carpenter or Russell harbours much ill will towards transsexuals. I might even argue that Carpenter's decision to cast a great actress like Pam Grier in a transgender role is evidence of his egalitarianism. Still, with the presence-or-not of a dick between her legs dropped as one in a long series of jokes about crazy Angelenos, the aggression rankles. Eighteen years have passed since the film's release, and I'm guessing neither Carpenter nor Russell would be comfortable including the scene as written if the film were released today. Like the outmoded VFX work, it's a flourish that makes Escape from L.A. uglier than it was intended to be.
- Bryant Frazer, "John Carpenter's Escape from L.A. (1996) - Blu-ray Disc", Film Freak Central, (February 2, 2014).
- Question: Do you remember what your creative approach was to it?
- Coleman Luck: Sure. I looked at it and said: here’s LA. I’ve been living in LA for a number of years and the first thing that occurred to me was: you know, LA in the future that we’re talking about here, the earthquake has happened—the giant earthquake has separated the city from the rest of the country—and LA is now an asylum for the criminally insane. With millions of people living in it and all the things that are in LA that we love; from the traffic jams to everything under the sun. Just everything. I went up with a sendoff on all of it. And of course Snake Plissken is gonna get sent into this place. And experience all the stuff that’s going on. I turned Disneyland into Ratland and I mean, it was dark; let me tell you, it was dark!
- Coleman Luck: Years later, Carpenter described my script as too light and campy. That’s the only thing that I’d ever heard about what his thought was. And I’ll tell you something: it wasn’t light, it was definitely not light. I mean, I sent up the Rose Parade with giant inflatable condoms. [laughs] It was horrible! And it was at the same time an adventure, a journey through the city and the LA that it had become. It might be considered campy today, but for it’s day it was not campy at all. Anyway, that was sort of…it was an adventure and it was science fiction and I felt good about it. I still feel good about it! I think that if he had shot that script…in fact one person who read the script said “if he had only shot the film I wrote, it might have been successful!”
- Blake Harris, "HDTGM: A Conversation with Coleman Luck, Original Screenwriter of ‘Escape from L.A.’", Slash Film, (January 20th, 2017).
- When it came to making “Escape from LA,” Carpenter had a budget of around $50 million to work with. But while he and Russell had more time and money, Carpenter said he had the hardest time writing the screenplay for it because he felt that everything he was writing was “bullshit.” What got him to revisit Snake Plissken was that Russell was so keen on playing the character again, and they solved their script problem by moving the action to Los Angeles which was in a constant state of denial with all the earthquakes and natural disasters occurring there. They simply took the same scenario of the original movie and updated it to reflect the current state of the city while filming.
- “Escape From New York” may have had only one real New York shot in the entire movie, but all of “Escape from LA” was filmed in Los Angeles. The sequel was shot over a period of one hundred and three nights, and Carpenter said he found filming at night to be very “soul draining” as it changes the way you see things and the darkness infects you in a very unhealthy way.
- The Ultimate Rabbit, "John Carpenter Looks Back at ‘Escape From New York’ and ‘Escape From LA’", (August 13, 2017).
- John Carpenter's “Escape From L.A.” is a go-for-broke action extravaganza that satirizes the genre at the same time it's exploiting it. It's a dark vision of a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles--leveled by a massive earthquake, cut off from the mainland by a flooded San Fernando Valley, and converted into a prison camp for the nation's undesirables.
- Against this backdrop Carpenter launches a special-effects fantasy that reaches heights so absurd that there's a giddy delight in the outrage. He generates heedlessness and joy in scenes such as the one where the hero surfs on a tsunami wave down Wilshire Boulevard and leaps onto the back of a speeding convertible. It's as if he gave himself license to dream up anything--to play without a net. This is the kind of movie “Independence Day” could have been if it hadn't played it safe.
- Movies like this depend on special effects, costumes and set design to create their worlds out of scratch, and “Escape From L.A.” is wall-to-wall with the landmarks of a post-earthquake L.A. We see the Chinese theater, the Hollywood Bowl and a beached ocean liner, and the showdown takes place in an amusement park intended, I think, to suggest Disneyland's Main Street USA. Snake finds his way through the deadly wilderness with a series of guides, including Pipeline (Peter Fonda), a has-been surfer; Taslima (Valeria Golino), a beautiful but doomed street person; Map-to-the-Stars Eddie (Steve Buscemi), who is the “guy to see” about anything, and the exotic Hershe (Pam Grier), a transsexual who once befriended Snake back in Cleveland, where he/she was known as Carjack.
- At the end, when Snake has only 20 minutes to find Cuervo Jones, grab the black box and seize the daughter, Hershe suggests they get to Pasadena in a hurry by using hang-gliders. Whose heart is so stony it can resist the sight of Kurt Russell and Pam Grier swooping down from the sky, automatic weapons blazing, in an attack on Disneyland? Who, for that matter, can resist some of the other stops along the way, including Snake's encounter with a colony of “surgical failures,” who have had one plastic surgery too many, and can survive only by obtaining a steady supply of fresh body parts? Or by the sight of San Fernando Valley used-car signs peeking above the waves? Or by a chase scene which involves motorcycles, cars, trucks, horses, machine-guns and boleros? “Escape From L.A.” took some courage for Carpenter, Russell and Hill to make; they had to hope that moviegoers would accept a special effects picture with a satiric sense of humor. Yes, there are laughs in “Independence Day,” but they're fairly obvious and don't sting. “Escape From L.A.” has fun with the whole concept of pictures like itself. It goes deliberately and cheerfully over the top, anchored by Russell's monosyllabic performance, which makes Clint Eastwood sound like Gabby Hayes.
- Futuristic Los Angeles fantasies have uneven histories at the box office; neither “Blade Runner” nor “Strange Days” did all that well in their initial theatrical releases. But “Escape From L.A.” has such manic energy, such a weird, cockeyed vision, that it may work on some moviegoers as satire and on others as the real thing. That could lead to some interesting audience reactions. John Carpenter as a filmmaker has been all over the map, from the superb (“Halloween”) to the weirdly offbeat (“Christine,” “Starman”) to the dreary (“Village of the Damned”). This time he simply tears the map up; the implications of his final scene are breathtaking. Good for him.
- It has been 16 years since Snake's exploits in New York City. He's once again arrested, this time for a series of moral crimes, and sentenced to exile on the prison island. However, he's recruited, once again against his will, to retrieve the remote. In exchange, his criminal record will be expunged and he can start anew.
As his next adventure progresses, Snake meets a group of individuals, which include Heshe Las Palmas, a transsexual gang leader played by Pam Grier, "Map to the Stars" Eddie, played by Steve Buscemi, and the seductive Taslima, played by Valeria Golino. Taslima has been sent to L.A. for the simple fact that she is Muslim. She later confides in Snake that despite the anarchistic nature of her new surroundings, she feels it's the only place one could be absolutely free, since the outside world has in one way or another created a prison of its own.
Similar to the original film, these various characters aid Plissken in navigating his way through the former tinsel town, foiling the villain's plot and returning to the mainland. It is there, when the time comes for Snake to hand over the device, that he realizes the true power of the weapon he has helped to secure, which guarantees victory for whoever possesses it. Realizing this, Snakes comes to the conclusion that no one should wield that much power and hits the reset button, erasing the last several hundred years of technological advancements, sending us back to the Stone Age. Our iconic anti-hero then proceeds to break the fourth wall by giving the audience one final badass look; leaving us to venture into a world that may be even more dangerous than the one we just left behind. "Welcome to the human race," he states.
- Anthony Perotta, “Sci-fi Cowboys in 'Escape from New York' and 'Escape from L.A.'”, Pop Matters, (07 Nov 2017).
- And now, we're in 2013, the year in which John Carpenter set his 1996 sci-fi thriller Escape From L.A. Though a box-office dud of mixed critical reputation, Escape From New York's pulpy sequel offers a fun viewing experience today—in part, unsurprisingly, because our world little resembles the one the film imagined.
Of course, it's a very good thing it doesn't. In the film's prologue, a stern, robotic-sounding female narrator offers a disturbing vision of America gone wrong. After a deadly earthquake in the year 2000, Los Angeles separates from mainland North America, so our government uses the newly formed island for prisoners, atheists, and other undesirables. Present-day California's quite-terrible prison problems pale in comparison.
- The surprisingly character-driven script, too, wouldn't fly today. Rather than focus on elaborate set pieces and action sequences, Carpenter, Hill, and Russell give their actors ample time to talk and double-cross each other. Sometimes Snake is the trickster—in one memorable moment, he kills armed men by appealing to their sense of fair play, which he does not reciprocate—but most of the time everyone around Snake betrays him. Steve Buscemi turns up as "Map of the Stars" Eddie, and at first he's eager to help. But as the movie continues, Eddie reveals himself as a lackey for Cuervo Jones (Georges Corraface), a Peruvian revolutionary and the movie's de-facto villain. With the exception of Peter Fonda's whacked-out hippie, the characters of Escape From L.A. are unfailingly selfish and mean. Plissken gets some help from Hershe (Pam Grier), a transgender crime lord, but only after he lies to her about a government payoff.
The most satisfying payoff of seeing Escape From L.A. today is in realizing that 1996 imagined 2013 so as to fantasize about regressing. At one point in the film, someone remarks Plissken looks "so 20th century." That's not a phrase that anyone uses today, but it speaks to a deeper truth: This is a pro-nostalgia antihero, disgusted by the world around him, only able to be happy—insofar as he can be happy—when he's on a surfboard. At the end of the movie, Plissken uses the black box to effectively turn off the world's light switch. The screen cuts to black and Russell offers the last line: "Welcome to the human race." Transpose that turn of events onto 2013 as it actually exists, and it becomes more profound than it was in theaters. Nothing would make Snake Plissken angrier than friends at a restaurant ignoring one another because they're transfixed by their smart phones.
- Alan Zieberman, “Escape From L.A., Today: How a 1996 Sci-Fi Thriller Imagined the Year 2013“, The Atlantic, (Aug 8, 2013).
- Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken
- Steve Buscemi as Map to the Stars Eddie
- Peter Fonda as Pipeline
- Cliff Robertson as President
- Valeria Golino as Taslima
- Stacy Keach as Cmdr. Malloy
- Pam Grier as Hershe Las Palmas
- Bruce Campbell as Surgeon General of Beverly Hills
- Georges Corraface as Cuervo Jones
- Michelle Forbes as Brazen
- A. J. Langer as Utopia
- Ina Romeo as Hooker
- Peter Jason as Duty Sergeant
- Jordan Baker as Police Anchor
- Caroleen Feeney as Woman on Freeway
- Paul Bartel as Congressman
- Tom McNulty as Officer
- Jeff Imada as Saigon Shadow
- Breckin Meyer as Surfer
- Robert Carradine as Skinhead
- Shelly Desai as Cloaked Figure
- Leland Orser as Test Tube