Escape From New York: The Macgyver Of VFX Movies (A Look Back) | SYFY WIRE

WATCH: An Escape From New York retrospective

Contributed by
Aug 9, 2018

On July 10, 1981, John Carpenter unleashed the crazy dystopian adventure Escape From New York to the movie-going public. Though studios initially found it "too violent, too scary, and too weird," as noted in our retrospective video, Carpenter found a way to bring the film to life anyway. In all fairness, the movie is violent, scary, and weird— but it's also a penal colony packed with fun. 

Kurt Russell, ready to shake off his "family friendly" image, took on the role of Snake Plissken, a former Special Forces soldier who was imprisoned after trying to rob the Federal Reserve. He is given a special mission — go into Manhattan (which has become a giant penal colony, it's dystopian, after all) and rescue the President of the United States, who, wouldn't you know it, accidentally crash landed within. 

The movie is a masterclass in how you can do a lot with a little — Carpenter and his crew did not have much of a budget to work with, so most of the time they ended up finding innovative (and low-cost) solutions to make the movie work. Probably the most famous example is how Plissken's initial journey into Manhattan was achieved: CGI technology was just getting started in those days, and wasn't cheap. They needed some kind of digital readout to show Plissken his progress over the buildings of New York, so the crew (which included a young James Cameron) ended up covering a miniature of Manhattan in reflective tape and shooting it with a blacklight. Certainly tedious, and almost as crazy as the movie itself... but it worked. 

The story is high-concept and entirely insane, but Carpenter's passion shines through. Russell's Pilssken has rightfully earned a spot in the "don't screw with him" hall of fame, and the film has attained a cult status that is more than merited. 

Take a look at our retrospective and revel in all of the dystopian whimsy that this movie has to offer. Remember, however — "don't cross the Duke... everybody knows that."