'Escape From NY' Remake in Turnaround

escape-from-NY_SnakeAccording to Deadline.com New Line and Warner Brothers have let their option lapse on the proposed remake of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.
The project to resurrect the Snake Plissken character (played by Kurt Russell) and the 1981 John Carpenter Sci-Fi action film by Neal Mortiz (THE GREEN HORNET) with Breck Eisener (THE CRAZIES) now must fish for other studio backing, if any are interested in biting.
Moritiz and Eisner are also currently developing a feature film reboot of King Features’ venerable FLASH GORDON science fiction action property, a classic character that might be a good fit for the current CGI, 3-D driven summer “tentpole” trend.

Breck Eisner Escaping New York

Director Breck Eisner
Director Breck Eisner

According to The Hollywood Reporter Breck Eisner (THE CRAZIES, SAHARA) is in negotiations to direct the remake of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK for New Line. The studio have been trying to get a remake of the 1980s action film off the ground for a while now but seem to have finally settled on Eisner as the man to helm the project.

New Line secured the rights to remake ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK way back in March 2007 with Gerard Butler (300, GAMER) attached to star and Ken Nolan (BLACK HAWK DOWN) writing a script. The project was then banished to development hell as it lost Butler, was passed onto the usual array of writers and lost its director. Now it seems the remake is back on track but is still missing one thing; a lead actor.
The original film, directed by none other than John Carpenter (HALLOWEEN, THE THING), was set in a futuristic 1997 in which Manhattan had been turned into a giant maximum-security prison. The U.S. president’s plane crashes on the island, and ex-con Snake Plissken (played by legendary actor Kurt Russell) is coerced into a leading the rescue mission. Whether or not the remake will follow the originals plot this accurately is unknown at present.
Eisner did a surprisingly good job at remaking THE CRAZIES but Romero’s original film was in dire need of remaking; ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is not. I’m all for a remake if the original film doesn’t stand up today but ESCAPE still does and I can only see New Line making it worse, not better.
Cinefantastique Online will bring you more on this project as it develops.

Stargate Blu-ray Disc

Click to purchase
Click to purchase

Lionsgate’s second run at a Blu-Ray release for STARGATE is a mixed-to-good affair, but it does represent an upgrade from their first, embarrassingly shoddy, barebones release.

While flogging his controversial theories on the origin of the Giza pyramids to a less than enthusiastic audience in New York, Dr. Daniel Jackson (James Spader) is approached by the elderly Catherine Langford (Viveca Lindfors) with an interesting job – to translate the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics on a tablet unearthed in 1928 by Langford’s father, which is now the centerpiece of a top secret military project in Colorado. Once Jackson correctly interprets the tablet as describing a “stargate”, the the actual device – circular, metallic, ringed with a pattern of hieroglyphics that, thanks to Jackson, can now be correctly aligned – is taken over by the military in the form of Col. O’Neil (Kurt Russell), and the gate is opened. A probe sent through reveals that the gate leads to a planet on the other side of the solar system with an Earth-like atmosphere. O’Neil and his team (including Jackson, brought to interpret the symbols on the other gate for the return trip) enter next, and find themselves inside a near duplicate of the great pyramid of Giza in the middle of a vast desert. The inhabitants of this world resemble in appearance and language those of ancient Egypt, even to the point of worshipping the symbol of the sun-God, Ra. But the God they worship is no deity, but the last of an alien race that used the gate to bring slave labor from Earth’s past, even stealing the body of a young Egyptian boy (Jaye Davidson) to extend its life. The creature has enslaved the people, who mine for the minerals that fuel its technology, and with a reactivated gate, now sets its sights on modern-day Earth.
Stargate carries some interesting baggage: it’s not a particularly great film; in fact, it actually looses dramatic momentum soon after the men step through the gate itself. But the idea is so intriguing that it lures us back for a peek every few years to see if we’re missing something – not for nothing has the film spawned (at my rough estimate) 4 different television series that all took the core plot point of the film and ran like hell with it. Director Roland Emmerich came to the project hot on the heels of the surprisingly effective Universal Soldier, wherein he proved himself adept at dealing with the rigors of sci-fi-action filmmaking without costs spiraling out of control.
Stargate seemed like natural follow-up material, but the script by Emmerich and producing partner Dean Devlin isn’t quite up to the load capacity placed on it. We vividly remember the crush of disappointment once our heroes stepped through to the alien world, only to find the burlap sack-costumed extras running around a village set that wouldn’t look out of place on an episode of Xena (imagine if Star Wars began on the Death Star and then moved to Tatooine where it remained for 2/3rds of the running time). We’ve already been prepared for the alien civilization looking much like ancient Egypt, thus killing any ‘chariots of the Gods’ excitement about the origin of ancient Egyptian culture. The film simply stalls out too long in the initial contact between our protagonists and the peasant people of the planet, with our heroes showing the natives the miracles of butane lighters and 5th Avenue bars in scenes that wouldn’t seem out of place in a ’30s Tarzan film. The arrival of “Ra” makes things a little more exciting, but the script can’t do much with it other than have Davidson vamp about (the actor’s famously androgynous appearance does more to sell the concept than anything else) while the audience waits for action beats that the expensive production seems shy about delivering.
The strong cast does much to help us buy the concept, with Russell (with military hair cut in the most aggressively geometric pattern we’ve ever seen) turning in typically strong work as a stoic military man shattered by the recent death of his son. Spader brings a lot of humor to Dr. Jackson, and adds welcome notes of masculinity to the traditional “nerd” role. There’s also fine support from Lindfors (her final role) who could effortlessly lend even the most outrageous moments total credibility, and also from the mysterious Davidson, who left acting and returned to the fashion industry after this film. Sharp-eyed viewers will catch an unlikely French Stewart as one of O’Neil’s military team, Deadwood’s Leon Rippy as the military head of the Stargate project, and Dijmon Hounsou as one of Ra’s guards. The picture is aided immensely by David Arnold’s lush score, a cross between John Williams and Maurice Jarre, along with the superb production design of Patrick Tatopoulos.
Lionsgate picked up the home video rights to Stargate along with numerous other pictures from the Carolco library (a once formidable mini-major studio brought low by the disastrous Cutthroat Island in 1995). Lionsgate’s second run at a Blu-Ray release for the title is a mixed-to-good affair. They seem to be working off the same film master, but there’s less obvious print damage and the 1080p image is serviceable, if not much more (this does count, to us anyway, as an upgrade from their first BD, an embarrassingly shoddy, barebones release). The audio too, has received a bump, with a lossless 7.1 DTS track. Both cuts of the film have also been included; the original theatrical version, running 2:00:47, and an extended cut running 2:09:36.
The most substantial of the new extras is a featurette on the production and legacy of the film, split into 3 parts but playable in 1 (presented in HD and running just over 20min); it features new interviews with Emmerich and Devlin – who are also featured in a recycled audio commentary track. There’s also a bizarre film, apparently made by and for the crew during production, billed as a “gag reel”, a P-I-P info feature, and a trivia track. The original theatrical trailer is also included in HD.

Big Trouble in Little China – Blu-ray Review

1986 saw director John Carpenter at the height of his career; a string of staggering successes charting back to HALLOWEEN and including THE FOG, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, THE THING and CHRISTINE represent a creative peak that any director would be jealous of. 1984’s STARMAN not only buoyed the streak; it gave Carpenter the critical raves that often eluded genre directors. Taken in hindsight, there isn’t another filmmaker that we can think of – regardless of genre – who has been able to produce six legitimate classics in as many years. Major studios were eager to work with Carpenter, and there was even a flirtation with the Salkind’s ticking time bomb, SANTA CLAUS: THE MOVIE before demands for creative control lost him the job – he should have just phoned Richard Donner and saved time. Instead, Carpenter’s next project would be an oddball genre gumbo: an action film taking place almost entirely beneath San Francisco’s Chinatown and emphasizing Chinese mysticism and martial arts long before Hollywood began importing Hong Kong talent to choreograph THE MATRIX, CHARLIE’S ANGELS, et al. BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA’s $25 million budget was by far the largest Carpenter had yet worked with, and not even adjusting that figure for inflation gives a proper indication of how big a price tag that was for an action-fantasy-comedy in 1986.
We must have thought that the film’s trailer was pretty good at 16, because we arrived dutifully early on that Independence Day weekend when the film opened, even though it turned out that we could have sat anywhere we wanted to in the nearly empty theater. Big Trouble in Little China recouped less than half its budget, sending Carpenter running back in the world of independent cinema, only to return twice – in 1992 to ruin H F Saint’s beautiful novel Memoirs of an Invisible Man with a sadly risible film version starring Chevy Chase, and again in 1996 in an attempt to ruin his own legacy with Escape From L.A. But we weren’t thinking, while sitting in that near-empty theater on the 4th of July all those years ago, that the film about to unspool would represent Carpenter’s last great creative leap forward – an orgasmic discharge that mixed ’30s screwball slapstick with ’70s Shaw Bros Kung-Fu, and wrapped in director of photography Dean Cundey’s trademarked Panavision flair. Carpenter would never get the keys to the candy store on this scale again.
If you’re reading this, then the chances are that you’re already familiar with the tale of Jack Burton and the Pork Chop Express (that would, of course, be his truck.) After dropping off his freight in San Francisco, Jack meets up with old friend Wang (the criminally underused Dennis Dun, who bookended Big Trouble in Little China with superior turns in Year of the Dragon and The Last Emperor) and drives him to the airport to pick up his fiancée from China. Also awaiting the plane are henchmen of the Wing Kong, a street gang working for David Lo Pan (the great James Hong, now 80 and still going strong), the leader of Chinese underworld in San Francisco who also happens to be a 200 year old wizard, cursed to walk the Earth until he marries and then sacrifices a girl with green eyes.
On their way to Lo Pan’s HQ to retrieve Wang’s bride-to-be, Jack and Wang wind up in the middle of a full-scale kung-fu showdown between the Wing Kong and the Chang Sing; but just as the Sing appear to gain the upper hand, 3 supernatural furies arrive – with powers representing lightning, thunder, and rain – and decimate the Chang Sing. Jack and Wang make an understandable dash for safety, but return to find Jack’s beloved truck gone. While regrouping at the home of tour bus driver and benevolent sorcerer Egg Shen (more memorable character work from the late Victor Wong, who’s death on 9/12/01 went sadly, but understandably, unreported), Jack and Wang pick up help from investigative reporter Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall, showing great chemistry with Russell that should have been capitalized on in other films). Soon this motley crew is off to Lo Pan’s mystical underground lair to retrieve Jack’s truck, Wang’s bride, and stop an ancient evil from spreading across the globe.
Now, if that brief synopsis makes sense to you – seek help, fast. The plot of Big Trouble in Little China reads like an opium hallucination and must have had executives at Fox more than a little anxious. While the Asian actors are uniformly great (particularly Victor Wong and James Hong who look like they’re having a blast), playing their roles with a wink, the success of the film rests squarely on the shoulders of star Russell. At the outset, Jack Burton appears to be a typical square-jawed hero in the Carpenter mode – a sarcastic Snake Plissken. But as the film progresses, we notice that Burton, who walks into every scene wearing a cocky half-sneer and spouting one eminently quotable line after another (usually mentioning himself in the 3rd person), is being used almost entirely for comic effect. Outrageous action happens around Burton, who never seems to get a handle on the mystical donnybrook that swirls around him.
Big Trouble in Little China gets endless mileage out of Russell’s pitch-perfect comic delivery: from his “Where’d you get that?” reaction when an opponent whips out a kung-fu weapon at the airport, to the frustrated shooting of a grotesque floating head during the climax (“Hey, you never know ‘till you try”), Russell earns buckets of laughs almost effortlessly. This is likely the prime reason the film failed to click with mass audiences; Fox pushed Carpenter’s tongue-in-cheek adventure as a straight(ish) action piece, leaving lots of head scratching when the hero fires off a celebratory round of gunfire moments before the final action confrontation, only to be hit in the head by a chunk of ceiling and get knocked out cold for much of the fight. At the time, we thought that was the funniest thing we had ever laid eyes on, and little has happened since to amend that statement.
But for those who knew what the ride would be like when they bought the ticket, Big Trouble in Little China played like a dream come true. Younger folk who weren’t part of the movie-going public in 1986 probably can’t appreciate just how huge it was to have a large-scale Hollywood film embrace the Hong Kong martial arts shooting style on this scale. This was years before Jackie Chan, John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat broke down the walls of acceptance for HK cinema’s distinct style, and for those that were amenable to it, it was like having someone clean a filthy windshield and finally being able to see the world as it was meant to be seen. If this all sounds a bit too much, take a look at what was passing for action films in the earlier part of the decade, replete with listless warehouse shootouts and endless, stultifying shots of stuntmen flying off of trampolines. Somehow, Carpenter found a way to successfully fold these elements into the comic framework of Russell’s Jack Burton, creating this odd-duck masterpiece. We revisit this show just about annually to marvel at his weaving together of such desperate elements and lament the creative spiral that began for the director not long after this film’s release.


Fox’s eagerly awaited Blu-Ray of Big Trouble in Little China adds a DTS isolated score track, but otherwise appears to be a reissue of their 2-disc DVD set of several years back. We’re very pleased to report that the Blu-Ray looks fabulous, offering a giant leap in terms of color and detail over the previous 2-disc edition. We can only hope that every vintage film gets this sort of treatment.
A selection of deleted scenes and an extended ending (many of which are from a workprint) are on-hand, in addition to a featurette from 1986. A BTS stills gallery is included, along with the original theatrical trailer, to give an indication of what Fox thought the best marketing route would be. (There’s no question that the film was a tough sell; who is this Jack Burton guy anyway? Is he a joke? Why does he spend half of the film’s final fight scene unconscious? ) We’re sure that Ms. Cattrall’s agent enjoyed seeing her prominent billing on the disc artwork (is Fox shooting for Sex and the City fans?) though Mr. Russell’s might feel differently.
The most important extra, however, is the commentary track featuring Carpenter and Russell. They’ve previously recorded chats for Escape from New York and The Thing (though all three are several years old by now), and their tracks together have long been considered the high watermark of the art form; it may sound trite, but it truly is like sitting with two friends reminiscing over dinner. On the Big Trouble in Little China commentary track, Carpenter and Russell lay into the Fox marketing dept hard, placing a lot of the blame for the film’s dismal box office performance at their feet. Carpenter is wildly unpredictable on his own, but like their film collaborations, being in each other’s company seems to bring out the best in each other.
May the wings of liberty never lose a feather.