Escape from New York, Again?

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

In the 1970s, it wasn’t hard to imagine a New York City that got so bad they walled it off and made it a prison. John Carpenter’s Escape from New York made a certain kind of sense. Now they want to remake it:

In the original, set at the end of World War III, New York City was a husk of itself after being turned into a giant prison, but that kind of destruction gets pricey. So in Escape 2.0, the Big Apple that the as-yet-uncast Snake Plissken is dropped into will be geographically undesirable, but intact: This Manhattan was evacuated and turned into a privately run penal colony after the detonation of a crude radioactive dirty bomb on the outskirts of the city.

“It is not a disaster movie,” says a source close to the project. “It is an exposé of an ecosystem, if you put a huge wall around Manhattan and then dropped in the most fucked-up, dangerous criminals on Earth.” This means New York will still be recognizable to audiences, à la I Am Legend, rather than an entirely new Armageddon Island.

I didn’t realize that the original, with its B-movie sensibilities, was expensive to make:

Carpenter and his crew persuaded the city to shut off the electricity to ten blocks at a time at night. The film was shot from August to November of 1980. It was a tough and demanding shoot for the filmmaker as he recalls. “We’d finish shooting at about 6 am and I’d just be going to sleep at 7 when the sun would be coming up. I’d wake up around 5 or 6 pm, depending on whether or not we had dailies, and by the time I got going, the sun would be setting. So for about two and a half months I never saw daylight, which was really strange.”
When it came to shooting in New York City Carpenter managed to persuade the city officials to grant access to Liberty Island. “We were the first film company in history allowed to shoot on Liberty Island at the Statue of Liberty at night. They let us have the whole island to ourselves. We were lucky. It wasn’t easy to get that initial permission. They’d had a bombing three months earlier and were worried about trouble.”

This is a cropped screen shot from the DVD version of John Carpenter's Escape From New York. It shows the wire frame image generated by the glider's approach computer. At the time of production, computer effect were prohibitively expensive, so a physical model was painted black and outlined using reflective tape. The model was then filmed using a black light.Some effects were too expensive to do as planned:

As Snake pilots the glider into the city there are three screens on his control panel displaying wireframe animations of the landing target on the World Trade Center and surrounding buildings. What appears on those screens was not computer generated. Carpenter wanted hi-tech computer graphics which were very expensive at the time, even for such a simple animation. To get the animation he wanted the effects crew filmed the miniature model set of New York City they used for other scenes under black light with reflective tape placed along every edge of the model buildings. Only the tape shows up and appears to be a 3D wireframe animation.

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