Release Date(s)1994 (October 18, 2022)
Studio(s)Savoy Pictures (Unearthed Films/Unearthed Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B
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 two spot behind Four Weddings and a Funeral, which was number one 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 quickly dropped onto the secret island Absolom, where only the most-feared inmates are left to fight among 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 groups over supplies and the conquest of the island, and Robbins must choose between being selfish and continuing on with his attempts to escape 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 a 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 seem 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.
No Escape was shot by director of photography Phil Meheux on 35 mm film with Arriflex 35 BL4 cameras and Cooke Xtal Express lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 2.39:1. Unearthed Films via their Unearthed Classics line of titles debuts the film on Blu-ray in the US. No information is given about the source, but it appears to be a recent transfer—at least, much more recent than the Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray release. Grain resolves well enough and the bit rate generally hits the 30 to 40 Mbps range, although it occasionally dips. Detail is strong, but contrast is often lacking as black levels are not all that deep or solid, making it appear a little flat. The image is stable and clean with decent color reproduction and only minor speckling leftover. It’s a solid presentation.
Audio is included in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as English and French 2.0 LPCM. Subtitle options include English, English SDH, and French. The 5.1 track offers a fine surround experience with good staging and panning of sound effects. The surround speakers bring the jungle environments to life with frequent ambient activity. Dialogue exchanges are clear and precise, while Graeme Revell’s score swells in the rear speakers. It’s worth nothing that the Umbrella release features an English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track, as well as French, German, Italian, and Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital tracks.
No Escape on Blu-ray sits in a blue amaray case with an insert and slipcover that both feature the original US theatrical artwork. The following extras are included:
- Welcome to the Future: The Sci-Fi Worlds of Gale Anne Hurd (HD – 17:08)
- Survival of the Fittest: Directing No Escape (HD – 13:35)
- Penal Colony: Writing No Escape (HD – 9:46)
- Alternate Opening (HD – 2:10)
- The Making of Escape from Absolom (Upscaled SD – 28:02)
- Vintage Featurette (SD – 6:20)
- Promotional Gallery (HD – 162 in all – 7:56)
- Trailer (HD – 2:20)
- TV Spot #1 (SD – :30)
- TV Spot #2 (SD – :30)
- TV Spot #3 (SD – :30)
- TV Spot #4 (SD – :30)
- Dark Side of the Moon Trailer (HD – 1:58)
- Nightwish Trailer (HD – 1:38)
- The Unnamable Trailer (SD – 2:12)
- The Old Man Movie Trailer (HD – 2:41)
This release also ports over all of the previous extras from the Umbrella Entertain Blu-ray, and adds several more, courtesy of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures. Welcome to the Future features a new interview with Gale Anne Hurd. She offers an overview of her career and the kind of films that she enjoyed when she was young before getting into the making of the film. Survival of the Fittest features Martin Campbell speaking about his experiences making the film, and admitting that it was No Escape that got him the job directing Goldeneye. Penal Colony features an interview with co-writer Joel Gross, who discusses his process and the differences between the final film and the original script. The Alternate Opening features the film’s worldwide title Escape from Absolom. Next are two vintage featurettes, the latter a much shorter version of the first, but both utilizing the same era interviews and B-roll. The Promotional Gallery contains 162 stills of promotional photos, behind-the-scenes photos, posters, lobby cards, promotional ephemera, soundtracks, video games, comic books, and home video artwork. Last is the film’s trailer, four TV spots, and a set of trailers for other Unearthed Films releases.
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.
- Tim Salmons