Have you ever watched a film that was kind of dumped on or forgotten at the time of it’s release, only to go back and realize that it’s not nearly as bad as everyone thought it was? Or in some instances, is actually a rather good film?
I think all film fans have one. And I’m not talking about a guilty pleasure. I’m talking about a film that in your opinion is better than everyone said that it was at the time of its release?
I have a few but the one I would like to spew the virtues of in this column is John Carpenter’s solid action effort, Escape From L.A.
Yes, Escape from L.A. Stick with me here.
Escape from L.A. was released in August of 1996 to a little bit of a thud. It was John Carpenter’s return to a beloved character after making movies that, while serviceable or in some cases really good (In the Mouth of Madness, I’m looking at you), were not commercial successes. He returned to the well in hopes 0f making a huge box office. Critics didn’t particularly like it. Fans either didn’t like it or went “Eh… it’s just a remake of Escape from New York”. And so it just kind of went away. Which is sad considering what movies it was up against at the time. While the week before did have the comedic juggernaut of Kingpin, that week Escape from L.A. had such competition as Chain Reaction and Jack. While Kingpin is still remembered and loved by some fans, Escape from L.A. is a better movie then anything released that month and maybe even one of the better films of that year.
Point 1: Escape from L.A. accurately gives us a look at the future of American politics.
John Carpenter, Debra Hill and Kurt Russell expanded the conservative military government that we saw in EFNY and managed to not only flesh it out but also show the world how ridiculous a Republican government might get. In many ways, the president of the United States in the film is incredibly similar to George W. Bush five years before the man was elected.. From the ultra conservative politics to the daughter who doesn’t want anything to do with him, the President will remind you a lot of George W.
In terms of world politics, the film also gives a great view of how a lot of the world now sees the United States during George W.’s presidency: The United States started wars and was a bully for it’s own gain, not to save the world as it would have had you believe.
In fact, the entire regime of the President in EFLA seems dangerously close to what has been happening in American politics and maybe a warning of what life might be like if Trump is voted in. Religion taking more of a foothold in the White House, for example. The President moves the White House, the traditional seat of American political power since 1800, to his home state because he can. Seems very Trump-ish as does the idea of changing the law to allow for life long terms.
The rise of the religious and overly moral right also has chilling real world similarities. In the world of EFLA, the following things are outlawed: tobacco, firearms (for non police/military), red meat, atheism, non-marital sex. These are all condemned and get you sent to Los Angeles Island. Sounds similar to Trumps whole “deporting the Muslims” plan, doesn’t it?
Point 2: Some of the Comedy and Satire Is Dead On
I think one of the things that gets overlooked in EFLA is the more comedic elements of the film. Take Map To The Stars Eddie (played by Steve Buscemi). Eddie is the side kick to revolutionary Cuervo Jones, but it’s also very evident that Eddie was either a Hollywood agent or at least a wanna-be Hollywood agent. His dialogue just oozes slimy but not only that, it has the Hollywood agent verbiage down pat.
The look of a number of the resident’s of the Surgeon General’s plastic surgery theatre is very eerily similar to some of the really bad plastic surgery jobs we’ve seen pop up in the past few years.
Beyond that, for whatever reason, it has a line that I laugh at every time.
When Snake is brought into the basketball arena of death and Cuervo states the rules of the game:
“Two hoops, full court. Ten-second shot clock. Miss a shot, you get shot. Shot clock buzzer goes off before you shoot, you get shot. Two points for a basket, no three-point bullshit. All you gotta do is get ten points. That’s it.”
For some reason it’s the “no three-point bullshit” that gets me every single time I watch the film. I’ve always been curious if that’s a personal comment given John Carpenter’s love of basketball.
Point 3: It has one of the best anti-hero endings of any film.
We’re getting into spoiler territory now but given this film is coming up on twenty years old, I don’t see it being an issue. If you are one of those people who like to be surprised, here’s your warning.
At the end of EFLA, Snake has a choice to make. He can hand over the President’s ultimate weapon of world domination or he can use it on his own terms. The weapon is called The Sword of Damocles, it emits an EMP pulse that can shut down all electronic/mechanical devices in a targeted area. Not only does Snake use The Sword of Damocles but he shuts down the entire planet. In the darkness, Snake finds a pack of cigarettes (labeled American Spirit), lights one up and stares at the burning stick match and then seemingly at the audience. We cut to black with Snake’s voice telling us “Welcome to the human race.”
On the surface, this is just a bad ass move. Snake doesn’t give a crap about the authority, he’s smarter then you and will burn his own house down just to get at you. It’s wonderfully shot and is one of my favourite film endings of all time.
If you want to dig deeper, I think there are more levels there to play with. My interpretation of the ending is that it’s a metaphor for cutting out all the noise and chatter of our modern world so we can attempt to actually live in it and perhaps make America and the World great again. Maybe I’m stretching but that’s what I’ve always seen that ending as.
This is not to say that Escape from L.A. is a fantastic film with no issues. At the time of it’s release, it received major flack for the special effects that didn’t look very good which is completely accurate. They weren’t good back then and have not aged well at all. Some of the characters and bits of the movie just seemed to be tacked on, like Peter Fonda and the surfing scene just seems kind of… well… dumb.
But I think if you take the time and dig a little, you will find that Escape from L.A. is a much better movie than you had originally thought.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!