John Carpenter’s 1981 film Escape From New York is a kick ass dystopian sci-fi action adventure that features one eyed bad ass Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) infiltrating the big apple, which has been converted into a maximum security prison, in order to save the President after Air Force One crashes in Manhattan.
The latest Hollywood buzz states that The Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner is in talks to play Snake in a remake.
Although I’m skeptical and generally not a fan of remakes, an update or re-imagining of Escape From New York could possibly work.
1) Hollywood needs more authentic anti-heroes
The term “anti-hero” is tossed around a lot these days. Studios like to use the term as a marketing tool because they realize audiences today are a lot more savvy and like their heroes to have an “edge” to them.
However, there’s a big difference between an edgy reluctant hero, who hesitates to get involved in a conflict, and a true anti-hero, someone who simply doesn’t give a shit.
Once the edgy reluctant hero acquiesces and gets involved in the conflict he will begin to demonstrate traditional heroic qualities.
A true anti-hero doesn’t have these attributes, and even though his actions may appear heroic, ultimately they are not.
Snake Plissken going to extreme lengths to save the President’s life is a perfect example — the act of rescuing a world leader from savages seems truly heroic, but Snake would just as easily put a bullet it the President’s head if he had to, hell, he would probably prefer it due to his distaste for authority and politicians.
The only reason Snake saves the President is to obtain a full pardon for his past crimes and prevent the US military from detonating microscopic explosives they have implanted around his heart (which would kill him instantly) should he fail in his rescue mission.
Like Ethan Edwards from The Searchers or The French Connection’s Popeye Doyle, Snake Plissken is a true anti-hero who simply does not have the conventional heroic attributes one would expect in a hero. Snake doesn’t have an “edge” — he’s all “edge” — and is actually a bad guy with some seriously questionable morals and ethics.
That is what makes his so much fun to watch, and that is why he is such an engaging protagonist; the audience realizes that if Snake were under a different set of circumstances he could just as easily come off as a truly villainous son of a bitch.
2) Modern day special effects could greatly enhance the remake
While any Escape From New York remake will live or die by the characterization of Snake Plissken, there’s no denying that with modern day CGI and special effects a dystopian NYC could be depicted in an absolutely stunning and cinematic way that the 1981 original never could have.
The original was filmed on a budget of 6 million, and while Carpenter unquestionably established a dark and post-apocalyptic feel for the setting, the vastness of what a dilapidated New York City now functioning as a prison could look like was not fully explored.
And since Escape From New York is set in the future, there are dozens of ways that an update could improve upon and better depict what technology might look like in twenty years.
Though no fault of its own, when watching the original one can’t help but acknowledge how dated the computer and military equipment appears, after all, the film was produced at a time where the Internet didn’t yet exist, and, as a result, did not exist in the film’s dystopian future.
Adding an updated technology element to the potential remake would also allow the filmmakers to have more fun with their villains and increase the numerous ways in which they can be dangerous, as well as giving Snake new and more challenging obstacles to overcome.
3) Snake Plissken never got the franchise he deserved
With the exception of the truly horrendous sequel Escape From LA that came out in 1996, Snake Plissken never returned for further adventures.
While his character has lived on as a cult hero and even served as inspiration for the protagonist of the Metal Gear Solid video game franchise, Snake Plissken languished in action hero purgatory until enough time had passed that Kurt Russell had become to old to be able to faithfully depict Snake Plissken in his prime.
While I find it hard to believe that Renner, although talented and rugged, could top Russell’s performance, enough time has elapsed that some new blood could be exactly what the role needs, especially if the character is given a fresh take (akin to the Nicholson / Ledger Joker performances).
Snake Plissken is a legendary, iconic and original cinematic bad ass and the type of rich anti-hero that has been sorely missing from cineplexes of late.
Enough with the Orlando Bloom’s or Jake Gyllenhaal’s of the world starring in action films — it’s time for the return of the gritty, dangerous anti-heroes that make you question their morality almost as much as you cheer for them to kick major ass.
Hopefully, if Snake does return, he’ll do just that.