CineMetal Gear Solid Round-Up: Escape From New York

Every week we here at Gear Gods are proud to bring you the best in Metal Gear analysis. Today, we present entry #472 in our 11,532-part series, CineMetal Gear Solid, our ongoing series tracing the influences of film history on Metal Gear. In this week’s episode, we dive deeper into the impact of John Carpenter’s classic film Escape From New York on the Metal Gear series.

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Now, I know you’ve all been anticipating this essay. For without Escape From New York, and it’s protagonist Snake Plissken, Metal Gear as a franchise would be a wholly different experience.

Written and directed by John Carpenter and released in 1981, Escape was Carpenter’s fourth proper feature, and it stands today as one of his greatest films, alongside Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, and The Thing (the latter being his masterpiece). The concept was simple: in the near-future, New York will become a maximum security prison where a dystopian U.S. government exports “undesirables” of all kinds – criminals, devients, perverts, and everything in-between. The President of the U.S. is kidnapped by a terrorist group operating within the prison, and the Army dispatches the biggest badass it’s got to hunt him down and bring him to safety.

In drafting the anti-hero Snake Plissken, portrayed masterfully by former Disney child-star Kurt Russell, Carpenter was looking less to the science-fiction tradition in cinema and more to the Western. As a huge fan of classic Hollywood westerns by Howard Hawks, as well as the revisionist westerns of radical filmmakers like Sam Peckinpah, Carpenter crafted in Snake a hybrid John Wayne for 1997 – 40’s in Western style, 80’s in punk rock attitude.

There is something at once punk and post-punk about Snake. He’s a stolid, almost silent hero. He snarls in the face of authority, but doesn’t abide by a moral or political code of his own. Although he’s sexualized in style, he’s presented as devoid of fleshy urges. Snake, and Escape as a whole, strips genre down to its bare bones, much like punk music was doing at the same time in the early 1980’s. There’s no fat in this film.

Hideo Kojima-san, the creator of the Metal Gear, said the following about Plissken:

I was especially electrified by the hero, Snake Plissken. Being in the midst of my rebellious period, the antihero “Snake” resonated harmoniously! He was a dark hero that separated himself from the orthodox hero who was either part of some organization, enslaved by the system, or was justice personified. Noire novels and stories and movies with evil heroes are common now, but this was quite rare back then. Although he gets used, he ultimately lives by his own ideology. Although confined as a criminal, he was not truly evil. Instead, he was a new type of hero with “justice not bound by others.”

There are a number of stylistic influences that Kojima admits to having lovingly borrowed from Escape, including Snake’s array of gadgets, the frequency of an on-screen timer which shows the audience how much time he has to complete his mission, as well as providing the setting of New York for Metal Gear Solid 2. And of course, the obvious tribute of naming his protagonist Solid Snake [this is lampshaded in Metal Gear Solid 2 when Snake’s undercover alias is Iroquois Pliskin -Ed].

In 1997, Film Comment critic and head programmer of the New York International Film Festival Kent Jones said the following of Carpenter’s films, which in a way applies to the video game industry elements that Carpenter influenced at large:

Carpenter stands completely and utterly alone as the last genre filmmaker in America. There is no one else left who does what he does – not Hill, not Cronenberg, not De Palma, not Ferrara, not Dahl, not even Craven, all of whom pass through their respective genres with ulterior motives or as specialty acts, treating those genres as netherworlds to be escaped to, museums ready to be plundered. When we speak of genre films today, we are basically talking about a precedent set in Europe by Melville and Leone, standardized by Hill with THE DRIVER, banalized by Kasdan with BODY HEAT, and made into an artform by Tarantino a little over a decade later. In other words, the “meta-genre” film, which rose from the ashes of the genuine article after it was destroyed by the increasingly reductive economic structure of the business.

The spareness of Carpenter’s films, the bleakness and starkness with which he treats pure evil, as well as the consistent theme of evil as something that people have to fight, physically as opposed to dealing with on a moral, inward-looking plane, had a deep impact on the action/genre based video game designers who grew up watching his films. Without movies like Escape From New York or Assault on Precinct 13, the action game landscape would look far less inventive, and probably a lot less fun.

Stay tuned for future installments of CineMetal Gear Solid, including The Wild BunchGuns of the Navarrone, and The Great Escape!

Written by

Max is managing editor of Gear Gods.