Escape From New York – II

Even in the film future of 1997, accelerating tiny bits of metal is an effective way of solving problems for our characters

So last time we covered the historical context of John Carpenter’s Escape From New York and took a little trip down data analysis lane to see how crime statistics compare between then and now. Today we’ll see how the guns of the film are portrayed and get some information about them for the curious.

MAC-10, it’s on the movie poster so it must be good

First up is the mighty MAC-10 issued to Snake by his friends in the USPF in order to rescue the President from the Manhattan Island Prison. It was designed by Gordon Ingram in 1964 to be a cheap, compact weapon capable of suppressed full-auto fire for use by the US military under the designation M-10. Chambered for either .45 cal ACP or 9x19mm parabellum, it was the .45 that garnered interest due to its subsonic nature and ability to be suppressed more effectively.

This pairing of silencer and submachine gun happened in 1967 when Gordon partnered with Mitchell WerBell III and his Sionics M14SS-1 suppressor to create what they tried to market to the military as the “Whispering Death” for use in the Vietnam War. Allegedly a small quantity of the units were sent to the US Army 9th Infantry Division in 1969 for evaluation but the package was never adopted by the military as a standard issue weapon.

The “Whispering Death”

Firing 230gr full metal jacketed [FMJ] rounds at 290m/s, the MAC-10 had a muzzle velocity of approximately 630 joules from its 4-1/2″ barrel. A 30 round box magazine coupled with a cyclic fire rate of 1000 rounds per minute meant the user could empty the weapon in under two seconds. In the film Snake decides to use this ability, and a lot of ammunition, to create a bullet door in order to escape a pack of crazies hot on his heels in an apartment building.

When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail

In an obvious use of the Rule of Cool, Snake’s MAC-10 is equipped with a suppressor mounted scope. While I appreciate the nod towards trying to improve the accuracy of a weapon once described by weapons researcher David Steele, as “fit only for combat in a phone booth“, there is only one scene in the film where anyone appears to attempt to aim the MAC-10, and it isn’t even our anti-hero but his rival, the Duke.

I’m not sure that is an approved firing position but extra points for using cowboy boots

I assume from looking at the scope that it is a rifle scope, and not a pistol scope, which means the normal eye relief is about 3-5 inches, not two and half feet as demonstrated above by our villain, the Duke, during his hobby time using the President as target practice. Just how quiet is the “Whispering Death”, well this short video will give you an impression of both single and auto fire performance. In short, pretty impressive, though the silencer in the video is a modern one and not the original Sionics model, it still sounds better than the movie effects.

Speaking of scopes, next up is the Smith & Wesson Model 15 that is also a parting gift from the USPF before Snake makes his glider approach to the World Trade Center. Recognizable as a Model 67 variant, due its stainless steel finish, the gun is not the .357 magnum, Model 66 variant, people may believe it to be due to the ejector rod for the cylinder not being shrouded as it is on the higher powered weapons.

12 bullets, huh, yeah that should be plenty…

Unlike the scope on the MAC-10, which is mounted where no other scope has ever been-or should be-mounted, at least the S&W looks like an appropriate pistol scope properly mounted. There is a holster and belt shown as well which means we have all the makings of an accurate portrayal of the S&W Model 67 and scope in the film.

Dammit Andrienne!

Unless our ill-fated heroine is using some sort of Jedi mind trick, or has a third eye tucked under those lovely curls, we are going to have to assume the 147gr FMJ .38 special rounds coming out of that barrel are going to be putting their 350 joules of energy into something besides her target.

Continuing down our firearm foray we end with the gun of choice of the USPF themselves, the M16A1 with the forward hand grip removed. I suppose it is to make the weapon look more futuristic for the film but removal of the grip is going to make some people’s hands a tad toasty if they actually fire the thing. Perhaps thats way they are shown holding the 20 round box magazine with gloves instead?

Snake is probably thinking to himself, “how was I captured by such stupid people?”

Of all the guns in the film that could really benefit from the inclusion of a scope, the 20 inch barreled M16A1 doesn’t get one. With iron sights adequate out to maybe 100-150 meters, the lack of optics doesn’t allow the capable 5.56×45 NATO round to reach it’s real potential to put holes in people at nearly 1000m/s out to 300-400 meters. Considering much of their time is spent shooting from a helicopter or atop a 20 meter wall at escaping prisoners the weapon would really benefit from the extra accuracy.

So there we have it, the three primary guns from the film Escape From New York. I did leave out one other that is shown but never used, a Smith & Wesson Model 10 snub nose carried by Bob Hauk, the USPF leader. Of course, perhaps after leaving the President with a tape of big band music instead of the cold-fusion explanation he was expecting, Hauk may be sent running after Snake during the credits and we just don’t get to see it.

Escape From New York – I

Not quite Judge Dredd, but close

The world of the 1981 John Carpenter film classic, Escape From New York, is a dystopian future United States convulsed by riots, crime and the effects of a war with China and the Soviet Union. The film starts with a mechanical narration by Jamie Lee Curtis, setting the scene that crime has spiraled out of control.

I guess all the Prozac released that year didn’t help

This leads to the obvious solution of isolating Manhattan island and turning it into a modern day oubliette, aka the only federal maximum security prison in the country, lacking any possibility of parole. This isolation is enforced by surrounding the far shorelines of the Hudson and East rivers with tall walls and mining all the remaining bridges. The complex is controlled by the United States Police Force (USPF) who make monthly supply drops via helicopters onto the island and kills anyone who tries to escape.

Obviously real estate prices have taken a hit on the upper east side

I love looking back on future history to see how things turn out when people use the TV Trope 20 Minutes Into the Future to extrapolate their present. This is not a criticism of their attempt at predicting the future, more just a morbid curiosity that sometimes turns up interesting correlations.

Unfortunately, the film did not elaborate on several interesting points of the backstory but the novelization by Mike McQuay luckily did so we can look there to round things out. For instance, the war between the super-powers did not result in nuclear weapons exchanges but rather chemical weapons being deployed on a massive scale. Chemical weapons that were often slow acting nerve agents that drove people crazy as it destroyed parts of their brains.

This so called gas madness drove citizens of targeted cities into violent crime sprees that explains the lead in title page about a 400% increase in crime. New York was the first target of fire bombing and gas weapons and the result was to turn much of the city into a lawless wasteland populated by cannibals and other crazies. Already naturally isolated by water, similar to Alcatraz, the decision was made to shove convicts onto the asylum island and throw away the key.

Soldiers fighting overseas were also victims of exposure over time that caused them to become unstable and battle crazed. These features were put to use upon their return stateside as they were formed into the black suited enforcement officers of the USPF. The court system could not keep up with, or afford, due process procedures and so in the chaos these black bellies, as they were known, became sanctioned judge and jury. Their efforts effectively drove nearly three million convicts from across the country onto Manhattan island.

Glowing wireframe is very early 1980’s tech flash

So let’s poke at the crime statistics a little bit and see where it takes us. When Carpenter was writing the screenplay for the film it was 1976 so that is a good place to start to see what his worldview was based on. According to data, the total crime index per 100,000 people in the population was 5,287 in 1976. This is based on the two constituent indices of violent crimes at 468 and property crimes at 4,819 per 100k.

In our 1988 the US crime index was at 5,664, with violent crimes increased to 637 and property crimes up to 5,027 per 100k. So the increase was about 7% compared to the doomsday scenario presented in the film. What if we consider the highest the crime index reached? It reached 5,950 in 1980, with violent crimes peaking in 758 in 1991 and property crimes at 5,353 also in 1980. So at their worst, violent crimes reached 162% of their 1976 value, adjusted for population, and property crime at about 111%.

Since the film is about a prison, how about we look closer at prison incarceration data? Well according to the New York Times archive, in 1976 there were 283,268 people in state and federal prisons. In 1988, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were 627,402 people in state and federal prisons which is 221% of the 1976 number, or 197% adjusted for population growth. What about the highest prison incarceration numbers we have seen in the US? In 2009 the total prison population reached 1,615,487, a 570% increase over the 1976 value, or 405% when adjusted for population growth.

So depending on how you look at the statistics, the US reached a 400% increase in convicts per-capita in 2009, rather than 1988, but without requiring walling off Manhattan island or World War 3.

Or Snake Plissken for that matter.

We’ll talk the guns of Escape From New York in a future post