Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 10/21/98
1976 (1997) - CKK
Corporation (Image Entertainment)
review by Todd Doogan,
special to The Digital Bits
Master filmmaker John Carpenter comes into his own with this well
made cheapy. Borrowing heavily from Rio
Bravo, Carpenter shows the world what he can do -- and he
can do a lot.
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): D/B+/A
Although there are heavy artifacting problems, the disc is
surprisingly watchable. Throw in great mono audio, and a top-notch
commentary track, and you have a pretty confusing purchase decision.
But for anyone who likes good commentary, this is the one track all
others should be judged against.
Overall Rating: C-
Maybe it's because the film is so good, that you end up overlooking
its problems. If you're a Carpenter fan, it's a must own -- if
you're not, well, let's just say it's your call.
91 minutes, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided,
theatrical trailer, commentary by John Carpenter, film themed menu
screens, scene access (25 chapters), languages: English (DD mono),
subtitles: English, Close Captioned
John Carpenter is one of the real unsung heroes of film. Yeah, he's
on a downward spiral lately, considering that all of the films he's
made in the last few years have been duds. Memoirs
Of An Invisible Man was actually pretty good (full of
those little Carpenterisms that true fans of his work have grown to
love), but Chevy Chase sunk the film like cement-shoes on a mob
informer. After that, Carpenter lost a bit of his footing, turning
in films that were either too light (Escape
From L.A.), or just too damn heavy (In
The Mouth Of Madness). Up until Memoirs,
Carpenter has consistently made thoroughly entertaining and
compelling genre films, and he's done so with relatively small
budgets, and a pure love of cinema.
John Carpenter's second film, Assault On
Precinct 13, was inspired by his personal deity,
filmmaker Howard Hawks, who brought Rio
Bravo to the screen. Rio Bravo
is the typical, testosterone-filled Western, starring the likes of
John Wayne, Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson. The plot is simple - the
three leads are holding the brother of the local "dark hat"
in jail. Thus, the "dark hat" and his posse bombard the
jail, trying to get the brother out. Each side has a reason for
doing what they're doing -- and ultimately good triumphs over evil.
That's the type of movie John Carpenter grew up on -- hard-as-nails
anti-heroes, who do what's right, not because they have to, but
because they're not expected to. Assault
on Precinct 13 is essentially Rio
Bravo in the hood, but to leave it at that would be
underselling a masterpiece.
On a dark night, police ambush a gang of street thugs. All the
rival gang leaders find this a pretty bad move on behalf of the
police, and take a literal blood pact to launch an L.A. killing
spree. Black, white, Hispanic -- each and every gang member (despite
their color, race or sexual orientation) joins forces to destroy
civilization. It's kind of beautiful, how they're able to set aside
their differences to oppose "The Man". Anyway, during one
of their drive-bys, the gang goes after an Ice Cream Man. In an
truly amazing shot (gun wise and camera wise - through an ice cream
cone), the gang kills a little girl getting ice cream, while her
father is on a nearby pay phone. The father picks up his bleeding
daughter and drives after the gang to get his revenge. Cars can't
run forever, so eventually there is a showdown in a parking lot,
where the father is able to unload a hail of bullets into one of the
gang members. In a moment of confusion, he makes it to a virtually
abandoned police precinct. Of course, the district is 13, and the
precinct is 9, but I guess Assault on
Precinct 9 didn't have quite the same ring.
Why the precinct is virtually abandoned, is a story in itself. It's
the day before the precinct is to be retired, and a lone police
officer is answering phones until the station is closed. Naturally,
a bus filled with prison convicts breaks down nearby, and the cons
must be locked up in the precinct until the bus can be repaired.
It's no big deal... except that one of the cons is Napoleon, a sort
of Snake Plissken precursor played by Darwin Joston (but without the
charisma Kurt Russell has). When the father (and his dead little
girl) come crashing in, chased by the aforementioned relentless gang
of thugs, all hell breaks loose. It's all pretty silly, but it works
somehow, and without it... hell, there wouldn't be much of a movie,
Assault on Precinct 13 simply
works. Despite some stiff acting, and a few (OK, a lot) of fake
dying scenes, it holds up well. And when you consider its $100,000
budget, you can't really complain. It has all the things we've come
to love about Carpenter -- full use of the wide Panavision frame,
great camera work, and manly men doing manly things. The film is a
great way to jump into the John Carpenter filmography -- it's sort
of a Carpenter-land travel guide.
The DVD is a different story. Although the Carpenter commentary
track is worth the price alone, the transfer is dark and hazy. It's
watchable, but there are loads of artifacts, mostly apparent during
dark scenes. At least the colors are pretty good overall. The
soundtrack is in well-mastered mono, that showcases Carpenter's
score and sound of heavy gunfire.
Also included is the original theatrical trailer, which looks like
it was put into a blender. It's so scratched to high-heaven, that
you really wonder why it was included. Oh well, at least they tried.
You have to give 'em points for that. On the plus side, listening to
the commentary track is like being in a film theory class, with
Carpenter sitting next to you, explaining all the scenes. This
really is what a commentary track should be. Those used to his
buddy-style tracks with Russell are in for a shock - he's straight
forward, honest and very informative, splashing out nuggets of info
as if he shot the footage yesterday.
Assault on Precinct 13 is as
good a film as any, to start your journey down Carpenter Alley with.
On DVD, it's heavily artifacted, but not so bad as to be
unwatchable. The sound is great (for mono), and the commentary track
is pretty good.. It's a so-so DVD - not bad, but not great. But hey,
it's Carpenter, so you won't hear me complain too much.