If anyone ever needed proof of exactly how multitalented a directorial talent John Carpenter was in his 1980s heyday, they need only note that he did two all-time cult-classic action films starring Kurt Russell (Big Trouble in Little China and Escape From New York) that were as different as night and day. One was a rollicking martial-arts adventure fantasy seamlessly blending mystic spectacle with winking comedy, the other a post-apocalyptic dystopian nightmare with heavy political overtones.
While Escape From New York was popular in its day and later spawned a (less successful) sequel in Escape From L.A., Big Trouble was notoriously mishandled by its studio on release and never received a sequel – though a remake is currently under consideration as a vehicle for The Rock. But fans of both properties can now also enjoying the unfolding comic book miniseries from Boom! Studios, Big Trouble in Little China/Escape From New York, which brings the heroes of both films together for a futuristic adventure conceived by writer Greg Pak and artist Daniel Bayliss.
Pak and Carpenter were interviewed together by Screen Rant, where they offered their thoughts on the crossover and what further awaits Snake Plissken and Jack Burton.
Screen Rant: How did the both of you come to this project?
Greg Pak: I got an email from the folks at Boom. They had been doing amazing comics based on John Carpenter’s amazing work, and they said “Hey, we’re thinking about a Big Trouble in Little China/Escape From New York crossover book, would you be interested?” I said “Absolutely!” Those are legendary movies and the idea of putting those two Kurt Russell characters together put the wheels in motion inside my head, so I was ready to go.
John Carpenter: I just thought it was a great idea. It’s a ridiculous idea, but it’s a great idea. I just see a lot of potential in it. It’s kind of a… it’s a Kurt Russell show here, and it’s just a lot of fun. I loved it particularly because they’re both, y’know, on the surface big action heroes; but they come at it from totally different angles – one of them is almost a parody of an action hero and the other guy’s the real deal. And the idea of putting them together in one story; they just drive each other crazy in all kinds of great ways. It’s a blast.
SR: Did Boom! Studios already have a story set up for how this would happen, or was it more like “Here’s the two guys, figure something out?”
Greg Pak: It was more the latter. They had a piece of art they’d had done by the amazing artist Daniel Bayliss where Jack is driving the Porkchop Express and Snake is on top with a gun… a big machine gun… and they’re driving down on a monster. It’s just a big, fun image, and that was – but that was as far as they went at that point.
But as soon as they said “let’s put these two characters together,” the ideas started kicking and I found the best thing I could do was just have it take place in Snake’s world, because Jack is a trucker. So you can do a kind of post-disaster world with these souped-up jalopies fighting on the broken streets of a blasted America and Jack’s trucking skills could actually come in handy there. And also because, in order to get them into the same world, because they come from different worlds and different times, the sort of magic elements from Jack’s world can be that bridge.
John Carpenter: Yeah, it makes total sense that way. And that amazing thing about this is the comics’ style – the drawing style – is hilarious… just this exaggerated Kurt Russell is hilarious to look at. I’m loving it. Just loving it.
Greg Pak: Yeah I can’t sing Daniel’s praises high enough – Daniel is the artist and Triona Farrell is the colorist, she’s just doing a tremendous job. She’s reaching this post-nuclear disaster world, and she’s got these crazy vibrant colors to make it all fun. Which is a great twist. I was talking to the Boom! editors this weekend at the New York Comic-Con, so impressed with what Daniel is doing. These guys are both totally recognizable as Kurt Russell, but they’re so distinctive at the same time. Bringing out those distinctive characters in the right ways. It’s kind of like two different caricatures – of Kurt Russell.
John Carpenter: I have no idea what Kurt would think of it, though! [laughs]
Greg Pak: [laughs] Yeah, I’d been curious about that…
SR: That was actually going to be [our] follow-up question: Had anyone reached out to Kurt Russell about all of this?
John Carpenter: Well… I’ve talked to Kurt about all the various projects we have going, based on our old movies. And he thinks it’s all great. Just great. So Kurt seems to be having a good time with it all, and that’s just great.
SR: There’s definitely been a lot of renewed interest in both properties, not just in comics. We’re also hearing about a remake of Big Trouble in Little China, with The Rock…
John Carpenter: [laughs] I know! It might be crazy… it might be great! I don’t know. Nobody’s told me anything. No one tells me anything [laughs]
SR: That’s unfortunate to hear. The Rock had said, supposedly, that he was interested in having you involved in some way – but there’s been no outreach so far?
John Carpenter: No. No one’s talked to me about it. Haven’t heard a thing!
SR: That’s very interesting.
John Carpenter: Yeah – isn’t it great?
SR: The comic has a six issue printing. Has there been talk about doing anything further with the premise after that if it sells as well as is hoped?
Greg Pak: Well, we’ve talked about how the worlds could allow for that; but whether we do it remains to be seen. I imagine there are business questions that have not been answered yet, but it’s… I’ve written just about all of it now, and we’re going back to finesse some of the later scripts, but I’m real excited about it. It’s one of those stories where it just kind of made sense to everybody from the beginning, I mean from Mr. Carpenter on down everyone just got the vibe of it. Everybody working on it just clicked with the material, you know? So it’s been a huge amount of fun to write. If we’re able to do more… the way it ends, there’s certainly a way to. It’s one of those stories with a satisfying ending , but I’m going to see if I can leave a door open if the opportunity arises.
SR: When writing a crossover like this, is there a sense of trying to “balance” both properties equally, or more going with what feels right?
Greg Pak: That’s a good question! I didn’t… I didn’t ever kind of sit down and make a chart and try to balance all the elements. So I didn’t do that scientifically. But now that you ask the question and I’m thinking back on, yeah, it’s pretty balanced. We’ve got some of the beloved supporting castmembers from both movies for the storyline coming in, so its sort of an equal number of characters from the movies that are appearing here.
And things take place in Snake’s world, but big elements from Jack’s world have a big influence on that world. This whole idea of a world of magic versus world of sci-fi – or action-adventure. The expected rules of the world these characters have gets pretty balanced feel, in terms of how they argue for their own world views, I guess. So yeah, it ends up feeling pretty balanced, I think. I think it’s equally Snake and Jack’s story – kind of an “anti-buddy” story. But they both have their own emotional arc and payoff. So if you’re a Snake fan or a Jack fan, you’re going to get your money out of it, for sure.
John Carpenter: The thing I love about it is… of course, Jack drags Snake Plissken down to his level. It’s just the best. [laughs] The kind of slow burn of it is also just a lot of fun. When you have a character like Snake who doesn’t say much, who can explode in different ways at different points, it’s fun to have a guy who talks all the time.
SR: The original Big Trouble in Little China was, somewhat infamously, mishandled on its original release by its studio and distributor. Are you surprised at all to see it have so much of a life now, after that?
John Carpenter: I’m just delighted. I’ve always loved Big Trouble… it was just a lot of fun to make, and we had a terrific story and a terrific script, I just loved making it; and I was really kind of crushed that [the studio] didn’t take care of it when they released it. [the decision] was made by the brass, the studio… “We’re not gonna spend any more than 3 million dollars releasing this.” But you can’t do that! Even in those days you can’t do that! You’ve gotta get out there and spend money on the advertising… anyway, I saw the writing on the wall the day before they opened and… oh dear. But now? It’s great. It’s just great. People appreciate the movie.
SR: Today, the whole martial-arts fantasy genre has become so much more prominent in the U.S., whereas you were ahead of your time on that.
John Carpenter: On that one I was, yeah. I was diggin’ it back then. I’m a giant martial-arts fan and… hey, I’m happy with what’s happened, let me put it to you that way.
SR: Escape From New York and its sequel are both set in a future where the structure of the United States had completely broken down – released during a period where the national catchphrase was “Morning again in America”…
John Carpenter: [laughs] Yeah, yeah. That was it.
SR: …How long do you think we’ve got left, before we’re actually living in Snake Plissken’s world?
John Carpenter: [laughs] I don’t really think we will be living in Snakes Plissken’s world, because… New York, today… it’s Disney Land! It turned out to be Disney Land instead of a prison, so we can all rejoice. This is great! So it didn’t happen. I don’t know if… everything’s become safer, I know that. I don’t know what Donald Trump says, but… everything isn’t as dangerous as it was. So I don’t think it’s going to be that reality. It could be a different one. I would look to They Live, as more of a “real” story.
SR: Considering the recent reappraisals of your classic films, are there any that you feel are “due” to be rediscovered by the popular culture that perhaps still haven’t had their day yet?
John Carpenter: I’m gonna let you tell me, man. That’s… the best thing is, I don’t have to do anything. Y’know people will go back and “discover” one of the movies I made, and that’s great, and I can just be quiet on the sideline. And that’s where I want to be. I want to be watching NBA basketball and reading these comic books.
SR: One last question: What can we look forward to, from both of you, coming up?
Greg Pak: Well, were talking about basketball [laughs] and I’ve got a comic coming up from Marvel called The Totally Awesome Hulk, which stars Amadeus Cho as the new Hulk – a Korean-American kid – and issue #13 and 14 coming out in November is going to co-star Jeremy Lin of the Brooklyn Nets!
John Carpenter: [laughs] That’s great! That’s so geat.
Greg Pak: And I have another book coming out called Kingsway West, from Dark Horse, which is about a Chinese gunslinger looking for his wife in an Old West overrun with magic. So those are my next projects.
John Carpenter: I’m going to finish up this current tour by the end of the year, then I’m gonna rest a bit and see what happens. I’ve got some TV projects, got a movie project rattling around, so we’ll see.
Big Trouble in Little China/Escape From New York #1 is now on sale from Boom! Studios.