I remember waiting impatiently to get the score to “John Carpenter’s Escape From L.A.” on compact disc as I had to order it online from Milan Records. Keep in mind, this was back in 1996 when the movie came out, a long time before iTunes and Napster came into existence. Once I finally received it, it became one of my all-time favorite film scores to listen to, and that still remains the case today. But at the same time, I was disappointed that it contained only 45 to 50 minutes of music from the score as soundtracks back then could only include part of the score but not all of it. Years later, I jumped at the chance to buy a bootleg extended version of that same score, but even that one was still missing a few tracks. But now in 2014, La La Land Records has released a new and remastered version of the “Escape From L.A.” score, and it proves to be the version that I have been waiting for years to own.
“Escape From L.A.” was John Carpenter’s long awaited sequel to his cult hit “Escape From New York” which starred Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, one of the actor’s most famous roles. Unfortunately, it ended up bombing at the box office as many critics found it to be nothing more than a remake of its predecessor. But after all these years, I still think the critics really missed the point of “Escape From L.A.” in that it is a satire of the original and B-movies in general. I found myself laughing endlessly at the Los Angeles targets Carpenter and Russell fearlessly skewered, and all of what transpired during the movie’s running time was greatly aided by the score composed by Carpenter and the late Shirley Walker who, as the score clearly illustrates, were both in on the joke.
Walker was, and in many ways still is, a rarity in the movies: a female composer. Even now, there aren’t that many female composers, let alone females who compose music for action movies, but with her music she continually made the case for why there should be many more. For her version of the “Escape From New York” theme composed by Carpenter and Alan Howarth, she increased the tempo and turned it into a great hard rocking tune. But even though she recycled the original’s main theme, Walker and Carpenter soon showed us that the score for “Escape From L.A.” was not simply going to be a rehash of the music we heard before.
Among my favorite tracks, aside from Walker’s reworking of the “Escape From New York” theme, are “Submarine Launch” where Snake ventures through some of Los Angeles’ famous sites that have long since formed an underwater graveyard like Universal Studios, and “Motorcycle Chase” where Snake commandeers a motorcycle to chase after the movie’s main villain, Cuervo Jones (played by Georges Corraface). Other tracks I love to listen to are “I Think We’re Lost/Taslima” which marks one of the movie’s more intimate moments, and “Fire Fight” where Snake and a few others fly over the “Kingdom by the Sea.”
This release also includes a number of tracks that contain previously unreleased material, and it’s great to finally hear a lot of this music on a compact disc. Among those tracks are “Snake Arrives/Deportees” which helps to illustrate the autocratic rule that has engulfed the United States in Carpenter’s movie. There’s also other pieces of music that have a very strong guitar twang on them which reminds the listener that “Escape From L.A.” is at its heart a western more than anything else. There’s also “Out of Time,” an unused track that was not used in the movie, and there’s a bonus track entitled “J.C.’s Blues” which is kind of a funky take on “Snake’s Uniform” with some very nice guitar and bass playing featured.
As with all of La La Land Records’ limited editions, this one comes with a booklet entitled “The Future is Now” which was written by Daniel Schweiger, the soundtrack editor of Filmmusicmag.com and host of the podcast “On The Score.” Schweiger goes into depth about how “Escape From L.A.” came about more than a decade after the release of “Escape From New York,” what went on behind the scenes, and of the critical reaction to it when it was released. But in the end, much of it focuses on Walker who succeeded in breaking barriers for female composers who previously didn’t have the chance to create music for action movies. The more you read about Walker here, the more you come to realize that the score to “Escape From L.A.” is really more her creation than it is Carpenter’s. Granted, the two of them did collaborate on it and it does have that Carpenter sound, but Walker is mostly responsible for it as she effectively combines electronic and orchestral elements to great effect.
It’s a real shame that Walker is no longer with us, having passed away due to complications from a stroke back in 2006. Still, she was the first female composer to earn a solo credit on a major Hollywood movie (“Memoirs of an Invisible Man”), and she has to date scored more movies than any other female composer. For me, “Escape From L.A.” stands as one of her very best film scores as it wonderfully illustrates the sequel’s dark and satirical aspects with a lot of glee. From listening to it, you can tell that she and Carpenter had a blast working on it together.
After all these years, La La Land Records has finally given the “Escape From L.A.” score the extended and release it truly deserves. While some may still say that the movie is nothing more than a remake of “Escape From New York,” you can agree that the music (aside from the main title) is its own unique creation as it rehashes almost none of the original’s musical themes.
This soundtrack is limited to only 1500 units, so be sure to get yours soon.
John Carpenter Tribute at the Aero Theater: ‘Escape from New York’ & ‘Escape from LA’
Soundtrack Review: John Carpenter’s ‘The Fog’
Alan Howarth Discusses His Musical Collaboration with John Carpenter