Escape from New York book Walsh

Review by C.J. Bunce

Forty years after the release of the sci-fi classic Escape from New York, we finally have a thorough, modern account of the making of the movie.  In celebration of the 40th anniversary of John Carpenter’s one-of-a-kind story of Kurt Russell’s future criminal Snake Plissken and his attempt to rescue the President from a downed plane over a locked-down New York City, Escape from New York: The Official Story of the Film pulls from the studio archives a trove of behind the scenes photographs to showcase the creation of the movie.  First previewed here at borg back in June, this must-have hardcover book for John Carpenter fans is at last available now here at Amazon.  

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Written by John Walsh, Escape from New York: The Official Story of the Film is similar in approach and content to Walsh’s recent book Flash Gordon: The Official Story of the Film (reviewed here), in that it shares the challenge of pulling together behind-the-scenes information 40 years after the fact.  Compared to movies today, where we have access to digital images of every step of production, this book must rely on enlargements of film stills and sub-optimal personal camera photographs.  Yet despite that, this is where the book shines.  Even full-page spreads are clean and detailed, black and white photographs included are as good as any informal shots taken behind the camera that you’d find today.

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Walsh introduces readers to young auteur John Carpenter and writer/producer Debra Hill, describing the rags to riches rise of the director, writer, and musician and their partnership.  He then takes readers through the casting process for each main role, weaving in contemporary interviews with Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasance, Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, and more.  He includes scouting for locations (New York is sometimes St. Louis, sometimes around L.A.), and even traces the presidential escape pod prop’s post-film trajectory (to Mork and Mindy!).

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Hundreds of photographs will be entirely new to most fans of the movie–the behind-the-scenes access, the views of the filmmaker directing different scenes, Russell’s stunt double, and scene-by-scene set descriptions create a stunning picture of the year 1997 as seen through the lens of 1981.  Included are examples of Joe Alves (Jaws) storyboards, set decoration images, vehicles, scale cityscape models, Stephen Loomis costume designs, matte paintings, CGI, titles and animation, posters and marketing images, and plenty of concept artwork.  Cinematographer Dean Cundey’s contributions are high points, both his behind-the scenes images and descriptions.  Fans may be surprised to learn of contributions by a young James Cameron and Jamie Lee Curtis in the film, too.

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If you aren’t aware of the deleted scene footage, you’ll want to read Escape from New York: The Official Story of the Film, available now here at Amazon, an indispensable, must-read for fans of John Carpenter and his movies.