Release Date(s)1994 (July 4, 2018)
Studio(s)Savoy Pictures (Umbrella Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C-
[Editor’s Note: This disc is Region Free.]
No Escape (released elsewhere in the world as Escape from Absolom) sort of came and went when it premiered in the spring of 1994. It was set to be a successful blockbuster for Savoy Pictures, who even licensed the film out to a video game company for a tie-in gaming adaptation. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. The film wound up receiving mixed reviews from critics and little to no approval from audiences, failing to fully recover its costs and opening at the number 2 spot behind Four Weddings and a Funeral, which was number 1 for its third week in a row.
In the future world of 2022, the world’s penal systems are now corporatized, with one in particular being run by a corrupt and unsavory warden. Ex-marine John Robbins (Ray Liotta), who is incarcerated after killing his commanding officer, is sent to the prison but is quickly dropped onto a secret nearby island called Absolom, where only the most-feared inmates are left to fight amongst themselves at the whims of the odious warden. Once there, he finds the various prisoners split into two factions: a ruthless gang of murderous rogues, led by Walter Marek (Stuart Wilson), and a peaceful, law-abiding colony led by “The Father” (Lance Henriksen) and his right-hand man (Ernie Hudson). Soon, it’s a war between the two factions over supplies and the conquest of the island, and Robbins must choose between being selfish by continuing with his attempts at escaping an inescapable island or staying and aiding the colonists by leading them to victory against the murderous group of prisoners, all under the watchful eye of the warden.
It’s clear why audiences and critics didn’t respond to No Escape in a more positive way initially than they did. Ray Liotta, try as he might, isn’t quite successful enough at pulling off the action star vibe. There’s more shade and substance to him as we learn that he’s basically afflicted with P.T.S.D., but he doesn’t quite fit as the leading man. The film also has its share of pacing issues as well, with the final half hour in particular feeling a bit too long. Certain scenes also feel extended with tiny character beats and moments that were probably better served on the cutting room floor. However, Stuart Wilson’s performance as a sociopathic madman tops the list of reasons of why the film is worth watching.
Although it was felt at the time of its release to be a middle of the road affair, there’s actually plenty to enjoy and appreciate about No Escape. It’s an underappreciated gem that may be a bit on the mediocre side and a tad predictable, but it’s well-made with beautiful locations, excellent set design, decent thrills, and good performances.
Umbrella Entertainment’s Blu-ray release of the film features an older but well-represented transfer. It has tinge of flatness and softness to it, but it’s a healthy-looking presentation nonetheless. Depth is lacking but detail is strong in the film’s various locations, including both the interiors of the prison and the wooded areas of Absolom. Grain is primarily solid, despite some likely attempts to hide it a bit more, and the overall appearance is clear and film-like without appearing glossy or smooth. The color palette lacks a bit of punch and a color correction certainly wouldn’t have hurt, but flesh tones seem fairly accurate, as do the greens, browns, and reds of the film. There are also no major leftover instances of dirt or debris and the image remains stable throughout. For the audio, several options are provided: an English 2.0 DTS-HD track and French, German, Italian, and Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital tracks. Also included are subtitles in English for those who might need them. Although the U.S. DVD release of the film features a 5.1 Dolby Digital presentation, it hasn’t been offered up here. The 2.0 is more than adequate though with clear dialogue and potent sound and score activity. It’s also well-balanced without any distortion issues, sounding clean and clear all throughout. The extras feature two vintage making-of featurettes, one lasting 30 minutes and the other 6 minutes, the original theatrical trailer, 4 TV spots, and reversible cover art featuring Escape from Absolom on one side and No Escape on the other (a nice touch).
Having missed No Escape during its original theatrical outing, it’s nice to finally see it in a presentation worthy of its efforts. Martin Campbell would, of course, go on to direct Goldeneye and Casino Royale (as well as the excellent The Mask of Zorro), but No Escape likely helped to prepare him for those larger scale, big budget movies that he would soon make thereafter. If you’ve yet to see this film and you’re an action movie fan, definitely check it out. It’s a good one.
- Tim Salmons