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124 of 145 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent Blu-Ray of a classic cult film hampered by MGM's current high sticker price/no-frills policy for releasing catalog titles, August 7, 2010
This review is from: Escape from New York (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo in Blu-ray Packaging) (Blu-ray)
The film itself is three and a half stars (out of five): yet another entertaining "B" thriller from cult film director John Carpenter, this sci-fi/action romp is lots of fun in every sense of the word: great characters populated by a great cast, led by Russel's iconic take on "Snake Plissken", the love child of Clint Eastwood and Jim Morrison; a delicious, cheese-tastic premise that maintains a sense of humor while playing it serious (unlike its lesser, overly-campy sequel); production values that sporadically waver between solid and chintzy, somehow only adding to the film's gritty, dark (and fun) comic book-like tone; and a classic (albeit corny) John Carpenter synth score.

As a point of acknowledgment, I'm a big John Carpenter fan... but if truth be told, while Carpenter is terrific with atmosphere and suspense, he is somewhat challenged when it comes to shooting action sequences. That point is underscored once again with this film, as the action sequences are fairly unmemorable; fortunately, the film's creepily weird atmosphere and colorful characters more than make up for it.

While the film ultimately does not live up to its potential, it has more than enough attributes to cement its place as a minor genre classic. This is not Carpenter's best work by a long shot (for my money, "Halloween" and "The Thing" are tied for that honor); nevertheless, this is still a must-see for those who dig the 1970's-early 1980's era of "B" movie sci-fi/action flicks.

Now, on to the Blu-Ray review: the 1080P widescreen picture quality of this Blu-Ray is a decent step-up from the special edition DVD released a few years back. Released in the correct aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (Amazon incorrectly listed this release at 1.85:1), colors are punchier, contrast is good, sharpness is increased, and grain is at a minimum for a picture this age. Blacks are solid, if a little grayish at times. Thankfully, the original look of the film is preserved, meaning the green hue of some previous home video releases is gone. Also, there are no obvious signs of edge enhancement or DNR manipulation... always a good thing. However, all's not perfect; the film's original cinematography alternates inconsistently between being soft, hazy and reasonably sharp. That fact, coupled with the film's inherently dark and murky look (the film was shot almost entirely at night on a fairly low budget) means that this film is hardly Blu-Ray demo material. That being said, fans should be pleased, as this is the best the film has ever looked on home video (and that includes the green-hued Optimum U.K./Canadian Blu-Ray release from a few years back, which was so artificially touched-up, it barely looked like the same film that was released in 1981).

The audio quality is also a decent step-up from earlier DVD iterations. The 5.1 DTS-HD soundtrack makes use of surround sound for much of the picture, with good bass and nice aural ambience. However, dialogue from the center speaker was mixed a tad too low at times, making it necessary to raise the volume on occasion; fortunately, it was not enough to ruin the overall aural experience. To sum up, while hardly demo-quality (this is a 30-year-old film, after all), unquestionably this is the best the film has ever sounded on home video.

As for the rest: MGM continues its desperate attempt to stay afloat and raise cash... at the expense of both the good will of its customer base and the reputation of future releases of its formidable library of catalog titles. As is the case with its recent release of "Kalifornia", the quality of this release reeks of cheapness in every sense of the word. Absolutely no special features come with this Blu-Ray, unless you count the film trailer and the DVD copy of the film that is included with this set... and unlike earlier MGM Blu-Ray/DVD combo releases, where the included DVD had special features the Blu-Ray lacked ("Misery" and "Bull Durham" come to mind), the included DVD on this set has zero special features; this means that all of the special features from the fine 2003 special edition two-disc DVD set are nowhere to be found on this release.

The included DVD is in fact a flipper, which has an anamorphically-enhanced widescreen version of the film on one side of the disc and a fullscreen copy on the other. Really? Is "fullscreen" considered a bonus feature in 2010? Since MGM included a flipper DVD disc, why not have offered the two-disc special feature edition as a flipper?

Also, a careful comparison on my part found that the quality of the included DVD is of lesser quality than the 2003 special edition DVD, with colors and sharpness looking duller. From what I can tell, the included DVD is the same as the inferior 2000 DVD release with one puzzling difference: the audio on the 2000 DVD was in 4.0 Dolby Surround, and this included DVD has a 5.1 Dolby Digital track! It seems that MGM did put some effort into this combo release after all... just in the wrong places.

Even the case that houses the Blu-Ray is a disappointment, as MGM didn't even bother to package it in the standard small Blu-Ray case, but rather opted to release the combo set in a larger-sized standard DVD case. This may seem like nitpicking to some, but I, with my large video library, appreciate the smaller size of the Blu-Ray case.

<<< UPDATE: Confusingly (and annoyingly), I have just noticed that there are TWO Blu-Ray listings on for "Escape from New York", one that offers "Blu-ray/DVD Combo w/ Blu-ray Packaging" and one that offers "Blu-ray/DVD Combo w/ DVD Packaging"; from what I can tell, the Blu-Ray packaging is an exclusive, so for those who care, snap it up while you can >>>.

So, it boils down to this: for casual viewers and those on a budget, if you already own the 2003 special edition DVD of "Escape From New York", this Blu-Ray upgrade is probably not worth your time, as the picture quality on that DVD looks very good upconverted, and the special features on that two-disc set really make the 2003 special edition DVD the one to own. For fans and/or videophiles who don't particularly care about special features, the visual and audio uptick is good enough to warrant a purchase, albeit at a discounted price. Of course, true fans will be forced to pick up (or hang on to) the 2003 special edition DVD with its terrific set of special features, including: a mini-graphic novel, two fine audio commentary tracks, a making-of doc, and (perhaps most intriguing) the original opening for the film (complete with restored audio), which consists of an eleven-minute bank robbery sequence that explains how Snake Plissken got caught (by the man!) in the first place.

I understand that MGM is in a financial rut at the moment, but releasing this obvious cash-in at a sticker price of $24.99 is poor form, no matter how you cut it (fluctuating sale prices on, notwithstanding). Seeing as how they just released "Kalifornia" in the exact same fashion, I'm going to think twice before making another MGM Blu-Ray purchase in the future, as I have no interest in supporting MGM's new trend of top-dollar, no-frills Blu-Ray catalog releases.
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Tracked by 5 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 19 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 7, 2010 7:56:33 PM PDT
DeAd MiKe says:
Hey, I noticed the same thing about the included DVD. I know that the 2000 DVD does not have a 5.1 track, and the 2003 DVD has a Carpenter/Russell commentary track. It's like they merged the two releases or something since it's a flipper disc with a 5.1 track and no commentary track. I really don't get it. At least they gave us 5.1 on the DVD, though... I would have preferred that they give us the 2003 Special Edition DVD as a bonus, but whatever - the DVD was basically free.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 8, 2010 1:30:41 PM PDT
Baron Blixon says:
Excellent review. This is the kind of detail I'm looking for in a Blu-ray write-up everytime. Thanks.

Posted on Aug 10, 2010 9:00:09 AM PDT
Now THIS is a review. Thanks for all the helpful info!

95% of all reviews in Amazon could be deleted and we wouldn't miss anything but this would be one worth keeping.

Posted on Aug 17, 2010 11:20:54 AM PDT
DeAd MiKe says:
The Blu-ray packaging is only $13.49 whereas the DVD packaging is $22.49 (right now). Funny how the DVD packaging costs so much more. I didn't even know they had DVD packaging until I read this review.

Posted on Dec 28, 2010 5:32:32 AM PST
Bryan Byrd says:
Very helpful review. Wish all Blu-ray reviews were half this good. Especially appreciated the 'packaging' notes - I didn't make the connection on what the difference was until you pointed it out.


Posted on Dec 29, 2010 10:11:23 PM PST
I have the two DVD SE from a few years ago. My first thought was to put the DVD with the bulk of the extras from the old set into the case from the Blu-Ray, and toss the DVD that came with the Blu-Ray. I'd put the box from the old SE DVD with the movie DVD away in the closet, and keep the Blu-Ray disc on my shelf. I wonder if anyone else has done that?

As I write this, the price of this Blu-Ray is now $8.99 - it's awfully tempting to do what I just said. :)

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 29, 2010 10:57:32 PM PST
DeAd MiKe says:
I was thinking about getting the SE and then doing what you described, but I figured that I'll just hold off until a Blu-ray SE comes out, and then have all of the goodies, in HD, in one nicer package.

This movie on Blu-ray is definitely worth the $8.99. It's never looked better, and the DTS HD-MA track is amazing.

Posted on Jan 2, 2011 5:32:19 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 2, 2011 6:17:39 PM PST
Timmy K. says:
The DVD you describe that came in your combo pack is definitely the original 2000 release which was a double sided disc, had lower quality video and audio than the 2003 special edition, and had no real extras. I am 99% positive that MGM did not manufacture new DVDs for this BD/DVD combo pack, and is simply putting older overstock DVD discs into the Blu-ray packaging. They did this with The Graduate Blu-ray as well, and in that situation there were stories of different people randomly getting either the older bare bones original DVD release or the newer special edition remastered DVD version from a few years back. They were simply repackaging any older DVD's that they had on hand, and it was random chance which version you would actually get in your BD. I actually wouldn't be surprised if some people who buy this Escape From New York BD might get the first disc (movie disc) of the 2003 special edition as their DVD combo pack disc, depending on if they had enough of the old 2000 discs to put into all the copies of the BD that they made. Personally since I already have the 2003 special edition DVD and don't really care about seeing special features in HD (and I doubt that the 2003 special features even exist in an HD form anyway which means they would have to make all new special features to make them HD, and so it is very unlikely we will see a new EFNY BD special edition anytime soon) I have no problem with the barebones aspect of this BD. I'm mostly interested in the upgrade of the movie itself. The only special feature I think they really have no good reason to not include in this BD is the 2003 commentary. It couldn't possibly have been that much more expensive to put that on this BD as well, and it would definitely be a huge selling point. And really, if they are going to go through the hassle and cost of including an extra DVD disc in the package with the BD then instead of just putting a DVD copy of the movie in why not put a copy of the second special features DVD from the 2003 special edition, and make this just like a new release of that set only with the main movie on a BD in HD? Most special features are absolutely fine in SD (do we really need to see interviews with people sitting around talking about a movie in full HD?) and so they would have had a much better and more attractive product at little to no extra cost beyond what they have released now.

Anyway thanks for this nice BD review. You told me exactly what I wanted to find out (mainly that the movie looks and sounds really good in HD), and since the movie alone in HD is well worth $8.99 to me (the Amazon price as I'm writing this) and I already have all the extra features on DVD I will definitely be picking this BD up with no worries.

*UPDATE* just in the time it took me to finish writing my comment here the price of the BD has now jumped from $8.99 to $18.99, which is totally insane. And so I will not be buying this BD until the price comes down again. Shame.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 2, 2011 5:35:53 PM PST
DeAd MiKe says:
The original DVD did not have 5.1 audio, though. So, they must have made a new DVD just from that knowledge alone, no?

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 2, 2011 6:13:27 PM PST
Timmy K. says:
Or what also might have happened is when they went back to manufacture a new batch of the original DVD at some point in the time between it's initial release in 2000 and when the 2003 special edition was released they might have updated it to a 5.1 audio track then. If that was the case it would make sense that the version that they would most likely still have sitting around in their warehouses now would be from a later pressing, and so that would be what they are using in the BD/DVD combo pack. I'm not saying that I know for a fact that is what happened, but it wasn't uncommon for re-pressings of DVD titles to have had minor improvements made to them with little to no fanfare, especially back in those early days of DVD, before special edition madness hit, and they started seeing dollar signs in every possible minor upgrade or "special edition" release. And I would find that situation much more easy to believe than the idea that now in 2010 they decided to spend the money to manufacture all new DVDs to place in the BD combo pack, but for some reason decided to use the old inferior 2000 edition instead of the newer 2003 remastered one, and then for some other reason decided to spend even more money to add a new 5.1 audio track to the old outdated edition as well. If that were the case it would just be baffling.
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