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The 1996 Summer Movie Preview: August

”Emma,” ”Matilda,” and more hit theaters this August

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John Carpenter’s Escape From L.A.
Starring: Kurt Russell, Stacy Keach, Valeria Golino, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda

Los Angeles, 2013. You arrive via nuclear sub in the ocean-covered San Fernando Valley, gliding through what was once the Universal Studios tour and is now a veritable Lost City of Atlantis. You make your way down to the canyonlike Wilshire Boulevard, where surfers now rule. Passing through downtown L.A., you see the beached Queen Mary. Finally reaching Anaheim, you stumble into the Happy Kingdom by the Sea, a place called Disneyland before Disney went bankrupt and a 9.6 earthquake turned L.A. into Nightmare Island.

Fifteen years ago, when Russell and Carpenter collaborated on Escape From New York, the Big Apple’s reputation was so sour it made a perfect setting for their apocalyptic fantasy. But since then, the gloomy zeitgeist has moved West. ”We’ve had earthquakes and riots, fires and mud slides,” Carpenter laughs. ”It was ripe for drama.” When Russell suggested resurrecting his eye-patched criminal, Snake Plissken, it didn’t take long to decide what fresh hell to drop him into.

The only problem was that for all its tsuris, modern-day L.A. isn’t quite as bad as the bleak future Russell and Carpenter, who wrote the script with producer Debra Hill, envisioned. ”Some of the worst areas look too nice,” complains Carpenter. Though the company filmed amid rubble from the 1994 quake, they had to re-create a demolished Sunset Boulevard in a Carson, Calif., landfill. And they had to do it on a fairly tight budget: Paramount allotted just $50 million (including $10 million for Russell and $5.5 million for 197 effects shots).

Russell could have saved on costumes — his outfit from the first movie still fit — but the director ordered up a new set of leathers. Shooting for a disorienting 70 nights, the production team had to reoutfit L.A. as well. ”We made use of all the L.A. icons,” says Hill. Well, most. Showing a rare sense of corporate humor, Universal okayed its watery future; Disney, though, refused to lend its name to a story that showed Uncle Walt’s world in ruins. (Aug. 9)

BUZZ If moviegoers haven’t OD’d on disaster films by August — and if they can stretch their memories back to the 1981 original — this could be the start of a franchise.

The Crow: City of Angels
Starring: Vincent Perez, Mia Kirshner
Directed by: Tim Pope

I like being dragged and hanged,” says Perez (Queen Margo) of his role as Ashe, who emerges from his own murder endowed with the mysterious powers of the Crow. ”It feels dangerous and I like dangerous.” Well, to some it might feel dangerous to make a sequel to 1994’s The Crow after its star, Brandon Lee, died in an on-set accident. But resurrection was the theme of James O’Barr’s comic book, on which the original movie was based. This time, screenwriter David Goyer bases the story — about Ashe seeking revenge on criminals in a Blade Runner-like city — on O’Barr’s idea that the Crow’s spirit would return in different guises. It’s directed by music-video vet Pope and features aging rocker Iggy Pop as one of Ashe’s killers. Only one character from the first film returns: Exotica‘s Mia Kirshner plays the now-adult Sarah, who shares a psychic bond with Ashe. Mindful of Lee’s death, which occurred when part of a real bullet was fired from a prop gun, ”people on the set were really careful about everything,” says Kirshner. ”We had a lot of fun, but we never forgot about Brandon.” (Aug. 2)