Escape From New York (dir. by John Carpenter)


escape-from-new-york-movie-poster-1981-1020189511Before you start, note that Escape From New York was recently showcased in Jeff’s 4 Shots from 4 Films post to celebrate Kurt Russell’s birthday. For another take on the film, check out Jeff’s review. Please check that out, and then double back here, if you want. 

When I was little, my Aunt would sometimes take my older brother and I with her into Manhattan. In a little movie theatre near 82nd Street, she’d get us a set of tickets for a film, help us get seated with snacks and then either stay for the movie or leave to perform housekeeping duties for someone nearby if she had work and we weren’t allowed to hang out on site. John Carpenter’s Escape From New York wasn’t a film she stayed for (she loved Raiders of the Lost Ark), but it was okay. I was introduced to Snake Plissken, who ended up being cooler than Han Solo to my six year old eyes. Instead of being the hero, here was a criminal being asked to a mission. It showed me that even the bad guys could be heroes, now and then (or better yet, not every hero is cookie cutter clean). The film became an instant favorite for me. As I also do with Jaws and The Fog, I try not to let a year go by without watching Escape From New York at least once. It was my first Carpenter film.

The cultural impact of Escape From New York is pretty grand, in my opinion. It had a major influence on Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear video games and also spawned a few comics with Plissken, complete with Jack Burton crossovers with Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China.

Carpenter brought in most of the same crew he worked with in his previous movies. The film was the third collaboration between Carpenter and Debra Hill, who previously worked with him in 1978’s Halloween and 1980’s The Fog. Though Hill didn’t write this one, she was still the producer, along with Larry Franco. There’s also a bit of speculation on whether Hill performed the opening vocals describing New York or Jamie Lee Curtis handled that. Cinematographer Dean Cundey (who worked on most of Carpenter’s early films) returned to help give the movie it’s gritty look, which is helpful considering how much of it takes place either at night or in darkened rooms. Another interesting part of the production is James Cameron, who was the Director of Photography when it came to the effects and matte work. One of the best effects shots in the film has Plissken gliding over Manhattan, which was designed by Effects member John C. Wash. The shot on his plane’s dashboard of the city was made from miniature mock up with reflective tape that made it appear as if it were digital, which was pretty cool given that they weren’t on an Industrial Light and Magic budget. There’s a fantastic article on We Are The Mutants and on the Escape From New York/LA Fan Page that focus on Wash’s technical contributions to the film.

For Carpenter’s career, Escape From New York marked the start of a great working relationship with Alan Howarth. Howarth, who also worked on the sound in the film, assisted Carpenter with the soundtrack. I’ve always felt this brought a new level to Carpenter’s music overall. You can easily hear the difference when Howarth was involved. Where Carpenter excelled at general synth sound, Howarth’s touch added some bass and depth. Together, they’d work on Christine, Big Trouble in Little China, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Prince of Darkness and They Live together. On his own, Howarth was also responsible for both Halloween 2, 4 and 5.

For the writing, Carpenter worked with Nick Castle, who played Michael Myers for him in the original Halloween. Escape From New York’s story is simple. In 1988, the crime rate for the United States rises 400 percent. As a result, someone had the notion to turn Manhattan into a prison for an entire country, setting up walls around the borough and mines in the waterways. When Airforce One crashes in the borough nearly a decade later, the recently arrested war hero / fugitive Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is given a mission. Go in, rescue the President and/or the tape he’s carrying in 22 hours, and Plissken receives a pardon for all his crimes. To ensure that he follows through, he’s injected with nano-explosives that will kill him when the deadline hits. What seems like a simple mission becomes a little complicated when Snake discovers the President was captured by The Duke of New York, played by Issac Hayes (I’m Gonna Git You Sucka). Given that I’ve commuted to Manhattan more times than I can count, the film holds a special place in my heart.  The concept of the entire borough being a prison was mind blowing as a kid. The concept still holds up for me as an adult.

For a film about New York, there were only two days of filming actually spent on location there, according to Carpenter’s commentary. Most of that was used for the opening shot at the Statue of Liberty. The bulk of the film was made in Los Angeles, Atlanta and St. Louis. At the time, there was a major fire in St. Louis. The damage made for a great backdrop for both the crash site and the city at night. The film does take some liberties with locations, though. For example, as far as I know, we don’t have a 69th Street Bridge in Manhattan, but as a kid, it didn’t matter much. From an action standpoint, it might not feel as intense as other films. Even when compared to other films in 1981 – like Raiders of the Lost Ark (released a month earlier) – Escape From New York doesn’t have a whole lot, though I still enjoy what it does provide.


Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) has 22 hours to save the President in John Carpenter’s Escape from New York.

Casting seemed to come easy for the film. Hill, Castle and Carpenter reached out to some friends.  Kurt Russell and Carpenter worked together on Elvis, that was easy enough. Russell’s work with Carpenter would continue on in The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China and Escape from L.A.  From Halloween, Donald Pleasance was brought on to play the President, along with Charles Cyphers and Nancy Stephens as one pissed off flight attendant. From The Fog, we have Tom Atkins as Nick and Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie, who happened to be married to Carpenter at the time. According to Carpenter on the film’s commentary track, the sequence for Maggie’s exit needed to be reshot and extended. The scene with her body on the ground was filmed in Carpenter’s garage and added to the film.

Ernest Borgnine’s (The Poseidon Adventure) Cabbie was a favorite character of mine. Like most cabbies, he knew the city well. He even prepared for some of its challenges with molotov cocktails. Harry Dean Stanton (Alien, Christine) played Brain, the smartest individual in the room and the supplier for gas for the Duke. If you look close, you’ll also catch Assault on Precinct 13’s Frank Doubleday as Romero, which his crazy looking teeth. To round it all out, Lee Van Cleef (The Good, The Bad & The Ugly) plays Hauk, who puts Snake on his mission. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Carpenter film without a George ‘Buck’ Flower cameo. Buck was kind of Carpenter’s lucky charm in the way Dick Miller was for Joe Dante’s films. Good Ol’ Buck plays an inmate who sings Hail to the Chief.

Overall, Escape From New York is a classic Carpenter film that’s worth the watch. Whether you do so while wearing an eyepatch or not, that’s on you. We all have our preferences.


VGM Entry 57: Snatcher (part 2)

VGM Entry 57: Snatcher (part 2)
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)

Needless to say, when a game is released in six formats over a span of eight years the list of credits gets pretty wild. If we take Wikipedia’s unsourced credit synopsis for every Snatcher release mingled into one, it would appear that Akira Yamaoka, Keizou Nakamura, Masanori Adachi, Kazuhito Imai, and Masanori Ouchi are responsible for the score. But let’s not do that.

Konami’s ost releases generally only credit the Kukeiha Club as a collective, so that’s of no real help. Thanks to Snatcher‘s devout fan base though, a video of the end credits is available on youtube for every version of this game. They struck me as a bit suspect in so far as every version except the PC-Engine was in English, when only the Sega CD version was officially translated. But I do get the feeling–I’m sure plenty of people could easily confirm or deny–that a lot of games in Japan for whatever reason have English credits.

In any case, the PC-8801 ending credits are perhaps the most thorough I’ve ever seen in a game, and whether their English (Engrish really) is a fan translation or the authentic original, I do think it would be nice to provide a transcript. This is the track by track credits as listed in the two-part youtube video posted by AFX6502, condensed to save some space. Most tracks were listed with two names: one in quotations and one in parenthesis.

Compositions by M. Ikariko:
“Prologue Demo” (Bio Hazard Snatcher)
“Title Telop” (Evil Ripple)
“Pursuer Part1” (Creeping Silence)
“Pursuer Part3” (Pleasure of Tension)
“Pursuer Part4” (Endless Pursue)
“Katrine Part1” (Innocent Girl)
“Katrine Part2” (Theme of Katrine)
“Bath Room” (Virulent Smile)
“Joy Division” (Decadance Beat)
“Blow Up Tricycle”
“Mortuary Part1” (Morg)
“Search Light” (Spreading Diehard)
“Game Over” (Lement for The Death)

Compositions by M. Shirakawa:
“Team Logo” (Slave to Metal)
“Jaime” (Theme of Jaime)
“Outer Heaven2” (Theme of Izabel)
“Title Part1” (Theme of JUNKER)
“Title Part2” (Theme of Randam)
“Title Part3” (Faded Memories)
“Title Part5” (Peace of Mind)
“Action” (Danger Dance…and Justice for all)
“Epirogue” (Beyond Sorrows)

Compositions by S. Fukami:
“Theme of Opening” (Twilight of Neo Kobe City)
“Outer Heaven1” (The Entrance to Hell)
“Goodbye Randam” (Eternal Promise)
“Requiem” (For Harry)

Compositions by S. Masuda:
“Pursuer Part2” (Criminal Omen)
“Pursuer Part5” (Follow up the Scent)
“Wrong Answer” (Axia)
“Transform Risa” (Virtual Image)

Compositions by M. Izumi:
“Ending 1” (Master of Puppets Among The Disease)
“Theme of Ending” (We Have to Struggle for Our Future Against Our Doubt)

Compositions by M. Adachi:
“Theme of Metal Gear” (Theme of Tara)
-remix from “Metal Gear” RC_750 1987-

Joint composition by I. Mizutani and M. Ikariko:
“Snatcher Title” (Squeak!!)

Composition by Pear Point:
“Jingle Bell” (Jingle Bell 2042)

So there you have it. Originally, Masahiro Ikariko composed 16 of the tracks, the rather elusive M. Shirakawa composed 9, and the remaining 13 were composed by a combination of Masanori Adachi, Seiichi Fukami, Mutsuhiko Izumi, Iku Mizutani, and another virtually anonymous figure, S. Masuda. Ikariko, Shirakawa, Fukami, and Masuda are given clear precedence over Adachi, Izumi, and Mizutani in the credits, and must have comprised the main music team. (While the credits to the original MSX version of Metal Gear are likewise confusing and Adachi is not listed where I looked, I have to assume he wrote the original song, “Theme of Tara”, upon which the Snatcher tune is based and had no direct involvement here.) We don’t even know M. Shirakawa and S. Masuda’s full names. Isn’t that something?

The PC-8801 credits tell us quite a bit more about Snatcher‘s music than simply the track-by-track credits. For instance, chief editors Hideo Kojima and Naoki Matsui named the songs. Iku Mizutani did the sound effects, and Masahiro Ikariko and Kazuhiko Uehara “arranged” the music–a credit Konami clearly distinguishes from composition.

The MSX2 credits are included in the PC-8801 version, so there’s no ambiguity on this front. Masahiro Ikariko and Kazuhiko Uehara made the MSX2 arrangements (with the exceptions of “Theme of Metal Gear”, converted by Uehara and Mizutani, and “Jingle Bell”, converted by Ikariko, Uehara, and Shirakawa).

The PC-Engine credits are in Japanese, and in the mess of a hundred open Firefox tabs I’ve lost track of the url to the translation I found, but I did copy it down:

Sound Program:
Kazuki Muraoka
Motoaki Furukawa
Kazuki Muraoka
Masahiro Ikariko
Seiichi Fukami
Mutsuhiko Izumi
Kazuki Muraoka

It’s kind of weird to me that Shirakawa, who wrote a quarter of the music in the game, is not included here, but perhaps he and Masuda had left Konami and were erased from memory. Or perhaps Ikariko, Fukami, and Izumi returned to write additional material, but based on the songs I’ve heard, I get the impression that the list of original compositions for the PC-Engine version is quite short. Based on how the PC-8801’s credits were worded, I am lead to believe the PC-Engine arrangement was Kazuki Muraoka’s baby, with Motoaki Furukawa filling in the few added original tracks, however Furukawa has referred to himself as being “in charge of the BGM” for the PC-Engine port. Whether he meant merely the new compositions or the arrangements of the originals is beyond me.

The PC-Engine version and future releases included a revamped intro scene, for which I’ve provided the Sega CD take in spite of its awful voice acting, so that you can hear it in English. “One Night in Neo Kobe”, the song beginning at 2:55 in this video, was one of the new PC-Engine additions written by Motoaki Furukawa (he also confirmed composition of “Tears and Stains”, which must be “Tear-Stained Eyes“), and it remains one of the most famous songs of the game.

The Sega CD port was the first major departure from Ikariko and company’s original score. The credits here, which I’ve derived directly from the English version of the game, are pretty vague:

SegaCD Sound Design:
Keizou Nakamura
Masanori Adachi
Kazuhito Imai
Masanori Ouchi
Akira Yamaoka
Sound Programmer:
Osamu Kasai
Akira Souji

This list is kind of strange, because it was the Sega CD port’s arrangement that made it so drastically distinct from the first three versions. The songs were still based on the originals, but in a manner akin to Rob Hubbard and Tim Follin’s liberal port adaptations (consider the C64 ports of Commando and Bionic Commando respectively, for example). The credits clearly refer to the Sega CD arrangement, and Masanori Adachi must have been directly involved this time around. Even so, some of the tracks, “One Night in Neo Kobe”, aren’t even arrangements, but rather the exact same songs appearing on the PC-Engine. It’s pretty odd that Motoaki Furukawa and Kazuki Muraoka are restricted to a “Special Thanks” mention at the end of the credit roll.

Also, the distinction between “Sound Design” and “Sound Programmer” is completely obscure here. Konami don’t even bother with distinguishing between music and sound effects. Some of the ‘sound design team’ credits may have almost no real involvement in the music. Keizou Nakamura is credited specifically for SFX in a later version of the game, suggesting that that was his role here as well, and someone claiming to have spoken with Akira Yamaoka says he had little to no involvement in the project.

At this point in time technology may have advanced to the point where “programmer” did not as a rule imply “arranger”, and it’s possible that Osamu Kasai and Akira Souji’s contributions comprised a technical task which made the audio possible but did not affect what it actually sounded like. Never mind my uneducated speculation though; suffice to say the Sega CD port is a grey area dividing the old Snatcher compositions from the new.

Most PSX/Sega Saturn Snatcher songs were in fact new compositions entirely distinct from the originals. “The Morgue” is an example in which the changes are pretty rewarding. I think they definitely improve the whole ‘surrounded by rotting corpses’ atmosphere, whether that is actually the appropriate atmosphere for the scene in context or not. It does little to compensate for the outrageous censorship rules Sony inherited from Nintendo, but whatever. Here are the credits for both:

Sound System Programmer:
Noritada ‘Nor’ Matukawa
Sound Mixer:
God Adachi
Music Composer/Arranger/Performer:
Hiroe Noguchi
Guest composers:
Hiroshi Tamawari
Akira Yamaoka
Kosuke Soeda
Guest Performer:
Original Score Composers:
Kazuki Muraoka
Motoaki Furukawa

Sound Programmer:
Sound Mixer:
Masanori Adachi
Music Composer/Arranger/Performer:
Syouichirou Hirata
Keizou Nakamura
Guest composers:
Akira Yamaoka
Hiroshi Tamawari
Guest Performer:
Original score composers:
Kazuki Muraoka
Motoaki Furukawa
Akira Yamaoka
Hiroshi Tamawari

If you’re curious about the aliases here, “Akiropito” is Akira Souji, “God Adachi” is Masanori Adachi, “Tappy” is Tappi Iwase, and I couldn’t find the slightest clue for identifying “KIDA-Sun”. This makes for an odd discussion, as “KIDA-Sun” appears to be the most responsible party for the PSX and Saturn soundtracks. It’s also rather strange that Akira Yamaoka, Hiroshi Tamawari, and KIDA-Sun are listed as original score composers on the Saturn but not on the PSX, as to the best of my knowledge the Saturn used the exact same songs, making only minor (but always for the better) changes throughout. I don’t know that this change to the credits indicates a real change though: Akira Yamaoka and Hiroshi Tamawari are listed as ‘guest composers” in both versions, and a guest composer is still a composer, so it might all boil down to redundancy. In that case, we need only ask what became of Kosuke Soeda.

So basically, our credits look like this:

PC-8801 and MSX2
Composition: Masahiro Ikariko (16), M. Shirakawa (9), Seiichi Fukami (4), S. Masuda (4), Mutsuhiko Izumi (2), Iku Mizutani (1), Masanori Adachi (1)
Arrangement: Masahiro Ikariko, Kazuhiko Uehara

Composition: Primarily the original 1988 staff, with additions (probably) limited to Kazuki Muraoka and Motoaki Furukawa
Arrangement: Kazuki Muraoka

Sega CD
Sound staff: Keizou Nakamura, Masanori Adachi, Kazuhito Imai, Masanori Ouchi, Akira Yamaoka
Sound Programmer: Osamu Kasai, Akira Souji

PSX and Saturn
Composition: Kazuki Muraoka, Motoaki Furukawa, KIDA-Sun, Akira Yamaoka, Hiroshi Tamawari, Kosuke Soeda (Saturn only)
Arrangement: KIDA-Sun, Syouichirou Hirata (Saturn only)

I’ll leave it at that. I hope you’ve enjoyed the sound samples in the meantime. I know I certainly have.

VGM Entry 24: Metal Gear and More

VGM Entry 24: Metal Gear and More
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)

Notice: Square Enix have apparently deemed one of my soundtrack reviews a copyright infringement and demanded I remove it. I have complied, and I kindly encourage you to boycott all Square Enix products in the future. Since their games are terrible these days anyway I am probably doing you a favor. (Their complaint involved brief audio samples from only one video game–amusingly out of print today–so I have left my other reviews intact.)

At the same time that RPG/adventure game music was coming into its own on the Nintendo, a lot of solid action soundtracks followed in the wake of Castlevania. Metal Gear (Konami, 1987) kicked off a series that would not really rise to major prominence until 1998, but its history of good scores dates back to the originals.

Metal Gear called for a lot of spy work and sneaking around, and its original soundtrack captured precisely that. Not the music you were expecting to hear? Well, two versions of Metal Gear were released in 1987. The first, released in July, was for the MSX2, and it contained a completely different soundtrack from the NES version that followed it in December. It’s not entirely clear who composed it; Wikipedia lists Iku Mizutani, Shigehiro Takenouchi, and Motoaki Furukawa as the composers for Metal Gear without distinguishing between ports. That’s pretty shady business, as Kazuki Muraoka’s NES score contained a number of original compositions and was much more popular, at least in the western world. Most sites only list Iku Mizutani for the MSX2 and Kazuki Muraoka for the NES, while the only official release of the MSX2 soundtrack simply credits Konami Kukeiha Club.

Well, I watched the actual ending credits of the MSX2 version, and Konami lists it as:

Main Sound Effect:
Iku Mizutani

Sub Sound Effect:
Shigehiro Takenouchi
Motoaki Furukawa

The same bad translation persists on the NES version, where Kazuki Muraoka is responsible for all “Sound Effect”. So that’s enough to sort it out, right? All evidence suggests that Mizutani composed the MSX2 version (with a little help from Takenouchi and Furukawa) and Muraoka composed the NES version.

Of course these indecisive credits always leave room for speculation. Here’s one for you: The PC88 visual novel Snatcher (Konami, 1988) contains an arrangement of the song “Theme of Tara” (1:49). The game offers very thorough credits, and it expressly states that the song was composed by Masanori Adachi and arranged by Masahiro Ikariko and Kazuhiko Uehara. If it’s just an arrangement of the MSX2 original, then… wait a minute…

But Adachi isn’t even credited in Metal Gear. Did Konami perhaps forget who wrote the MSX2 music and credit Adachi by mistake? Here’s the real kicker. Snatcher was ported to the MSX2 shortly after its release, and for the port Iku Mizutani is credited with arranging Masanori Adachi’s composition, which was, if our credits all add up, a copy of Iku Mizutani’s original Metal Gear composition.

Oh well. We are at least pretty sure Kazuki Muraoka wrote the NES one. In the very least he’s the only name appearing in the credits in association with sound. His score was a mix of arrangements from the MSX2 and new songs, and as far as I’m concerned the new material was almost always an improvement. Generally this consisted of replacing the weaker tracks, but Muraoka did take the risk of replacing “Red Alert!” (0:16 in the previous video), perhaps the best song in the MSX2 mix, with a completely new track under the same name (2:03). The decision paid off.

If you would like to hear some comparisons between the original MSX2 compositions and Muraoka’s ports, look for “Mercenary” (4:21 on the MSX2 video, 2:55 on the NES) and “Return of Fox Hounder” (6:52 on the MSX2 and 4:25 on the NES). Unless I overlooked something, the rest of this NES compilation consists of original compositions. The whole Metal Gear sound as established on the MSX2 turned out to be excellently suited for the NES–a system on which speed and catchiness served well to compensate for a lack of much bass or distortion. Even so, my favorite Muraoka addition is a slow one. I have no idea why “Password Entry” (3:37) was put to such petty use. It would have made a fine ending credits theme.

Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (Konami) also made its first appearance in the summer of ’87. By this time Kinuyo Yamashita had moved on to other projects, and Kenichi Matsubara picked up the job. Like Kinuyo Yamashita in the original, it would be his only contribution to the series.

And what a contribution it was. His efforts to maintain stylistic consistency with the first game are commendable, and he did so while writing equally catchy and memorable songs. Obviously his most famous work (and probably the most famous song in the series) is “Bloody Tears”, appearing second in the video. But I was really quite surprised to encounter tracks like “Dwelling of Doom” (2:10), which could just as easily have become series staples had future writers chosen to retain them. Kenichi Matsubara arguably surpassed the original Castlevania with this soundtrack, and it wouldn’t be the last time that the series stood at the forefront of video game music.

In the meantime, Kinuyo Yamashita had by no means fallen by the wayside. Her work on Arumana no Kiseki (Konami, 1987) is really outstanding, taking advantage of the Family Computer Disk System’s enhanced capabilities to produce a very clean, crisp sound. (The FDS was an extension of the Famicom released only in Japan. Its early titles included The Legend of Zelda and Metroid.) I have to imagine the only reason Arumana no Kiseki never got much praise is because fewer people heard it. Konami seem to have gotten around the copywrite challenges of making an Indiana Jones ripoff by simply never releasing the game outside of Japan, although they may have been better off paying up and releasing it. The first licensed series game for the NES, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Mindscape), released some time in 1987 or 1988, was a gameplay disaster on par with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and its soundtrack is a lame attempt to preserve the original John Williams score.

explod2A03 on youtube provides a nice collection of music from Arumana no Kiseki, available here, along with a number of other forgotten soundtracks from the era.

Of course we all know what the most important video game music series on the NES was, and Capcom, not Konami, get the credit this time. Known as Rockman in Japan, the original Mega Man was unleashed upon the world in December 1987. Manami Matsumae did not compose for the Mega Man series for long. After scoring Mega Man and contributing to Takashi Tateishi’s work in Mega Man 2, she sort of dropped off the face of the earth, not to resurface in the series again until Mega Man 10‘s massive collaborative effort in 2010. But the legacy she began is one of the finest in gaming history.

Here’s a track list for the compilation, in case you’re interested:
(0:00) Epilogue
(1:40) Stage Select
(1:57) Robot Intro
(2:04) Cutman
(2:52) Fireman
(3:28) Elecman
(4:22) Gutsman
(4:57) Iceman
(6:00) Dr. Wily’s Castle 1
(6:44) Dr. Wily’s Castle 2
(7:20) Robot Battle
(7:49) Dr. Wily Battle
(8:17) Bombman
(9:02) Victory!

Of course the series did not find massive commercial success until Mega Man 2 the following year, but from the beginning it was as intimately tied to its score as the Final Fantasy series. It isn’t nostalgia that leads modern-day rock bands and chiptune artists to cover “Cutman”, “Fireman”, and “Bombman”, just to name a few. It’s because the music is outstanding. I mean, I think the samples speak for themselves. Manami Matsumae established a standard of quality which Capcom would strive to maintain for many years to come. Takashi Tateishi would soon raise the bar higher, but it may well be argued that, without Manami Matsumae’s original concept of what Mega Man music ought to sound like, none of the future improvements would have ever been possible.