Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"Escape from Cleveland"

That was the subject heading of a spam e-mail I received at work. "U.S. embassy bomb attack 'foiled'" was another one. Both were decoys—inside each e-mail was an ad for Cialis, the anti-impotency pill. However, it would be nice to think that in some far-off land an embassy attack really was foiled because a lonely security guard, valiantly fighting loneliness with a local prostitute, just happened to glance over at a security monitor and notice a suspicious package by the front gate—without Cialis, he would've been dozing off at his desk once again.

So thank you, erection pill. You're a true patriot.

I didn't know until I looked at one of those trick-but-no-treat e-mails (
try explaining to your suspicious, snickering coworkers that you were merely trying to stay abreast of the news) that Cialis offers a chewable brand of its pill called Cialis Soft. Isn't that name counterintuitive? If you want to be hard, you need to swallow a hard pill. No exceptions.

Alright, enough foreplay.

Recently I saw John Carpenter's Escape from New York (1981) for the first time. When the sequel, Escape from L.A., came out in 1996, I saw it in the theater because I was reviewing movies that summer for the University of Georgia's radio station, WUOG. I saw a lot of movies in the theater that summer, but I realized at that point that I could never become a professional movie critic, because I liked almost everything I saw.

Of course, that crisis of conscience hasn't prevented certain critics from earning a living and getting their names on plenty of print ads under quotes like "Fred Claus takes its place among the all-time holiday classics!" But those critics are essentially PR flacks/hacks whose expenses at press junkets are paid by the studios in the hopes that the hacks will thank the studios by writing nice things about their bad movies.

But I digress.
The reason I liked almost every movie I saw in the summer of '96 had to do with the fact that I wasn't paying to see the ones I was reviewing. Ignorant people who'll never learn how to behave in public could talk all they wanted, because for once they weren't doing it on my dime!

A friend suggested two years ago that I dedicate this blog to reviewing audiences at movies rather than the movies themselves, because she enjoyed hearing my rants about the Lowest Common Denominator showing up an hour into a screening and acting like they'd just walked into their living room. But the only thing that kind of blog would do is expand the hole in my soul; it wouldn't be the best way to process my ultimately fruitless rage. My movie-audience rants are meant to be funny, but the underlying anger doesn't have as much resonance as, say, a rant about poverty. Then again, who cares about poverty? Not me. Movies cost too much for poor people to see them, so they're not on my radar.

Besides, one of the reasons I get mad at people talking during movies is because I paid to get in just like they did, and when they're talking, they're wasting my money. I know they don't care that they're wasting their own money. And I know I'll never be able to convince them to stay home and flush $20 down the toilet while they flap their gums on the phone, though they'd probably find it to be an equally satisfying experience. But if I didn't have to pay to see movies, I bet I'd be able to block out the surrounding noise a lot better and be much happier in the long run. A happy movie critic isn't necessarily a good critic, however.

I watched Escape from New York on DVD. In my living room. It's possible that the lack of surrounding noise from the aforementioned LCDs helped me notice a giant continuity error in the film, but I bet I would've noticed it even in a noisy theater.

See, near the beginning of the film, the antihero protagonist, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell, sounding silly doing a Clint Eastwood impression, but it's hard not to like Russell, so I let it pass), is given 23 hours to find the president of the United States, who's played by Donald Pleasence. The British actor sounds just as British as ever, but Escape is set in a futuristic 1997, where Manhattan has been turned into an island prison, and Americans can presumably elect a foreigner as their commander-in-chief just as long as he's notably creepy the way Pleasence is in most of his roles.

There's also the nice irony of America being so overburdened by crime by 1988, as the film's prologue states, that the federal government would turn Manhattan into a huge prison—reminiscent of my home state's roots as a prison colony for English debtors—and then hand over control of the country to an Englishman 200 years after the American Revolution.

But I digress again. Air Force One has been hijacked and flown into a skyscraper in Manhattan—no, not the World Trade Center, 9/11 conspiracy theorists—but the president was ejected in an escape pod before the plane crashed. Now he's been kidnapped by prisoners, and Plissken, a decorated military officer turned bank robber who's about to be sent to New York for life, is given a chance to win his freedom by rescuing the president. The catch is that if he doesn't get the president to safety in 23 hours, he'll be killed by some sort of microscopic, timer-activated explosive that's been injected into his bloodstream. Hell, with that kind of motivation I'd never miss a deadline, either.

So, when Plissken is told he has 23 hours to find the president, we see the timer on his government-issued watch counting down from 22:57:37. We next see him getting in his government-issued jet glider, presumably a few minutes after we last saw him. But now he's being told that he has 21 hours left to find the president.

Wait ... what happened to the last two hours?

Was a really long scene deleted? Did Plissken take a nap? Lord knows I love to procrastinate, so I'm not trying to pass judgment on you, sir, but this is no time to take a nap!

Then we see the clock in the Ellis Island command center, which is counting down from 20:17:43. That's closer to 20 hours than 21. What the hell was Snake doing for the last two and a half hours?!

If you're going to introduce a ticking clock in a story, you have to stick with it. For the sake of suspense you can delay the inevitable here and there as the clock gets closer to zero, but why shave off two hours right at the beginning without any explanation? Otherwise the first two episodes of every season of 24 should feature Jack Bauer checking his e-mail and drinking coffee at CTU headquarters.

You'd think this sort of continuity mistake could've been fixed in postproduction by rerecording a line or two of dialogue and inserting a new shot of the countdown clock, but it wasn't. Has anyone out there heard John Carpenter explain the reason for this error, possibly on an older DVD or laserdisc that contains a commentary track?

Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), Halloween (1978), and The Fog (1980) have all been remade in this decade, and a remake of Escape from New York is currently in development. (After Escape, Carpenter and Russell made 1982's The Thing, a remake of 1951's The Thing from Another World.) The remake obviously won't be set in 1997, but since it will presumably have a higher budget than the original, somebody should take the time to make sure the script makes better use of its time.

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