They say there is nothing new under the sun, but there is surely a difference between homage and plagiarism. That is the lesson dispensed this week by a Paris appeals court, which has ruled that Luc Besson, his EuropaCorp production company, and the co-writers/directors of the 2012 film Lockout (Stephen St. Leger and James Mather) plagiarized 1981’s Escape From New York.
This is the second ruling in the case. At the end of 2015, the court found in favour of Carpenter and his team, and awarded them $95,000. Carpenter’s camp had originally asked for $2.4 million. Besson’s team filed an appeal, however, and lost again. The result of this final ruling is that Luc Besson and his filmmaking associates must now pay over $500,000 to John Carpenter, his co-writer Nick Castle, and the production company StudioCanal.
Escape From New York is a fan favourite action adventure film starring Kurt Russell. It is set in a dystopian future (actually 1997), and creates an America in which Manhattan has been turned into a maximum security prison in order to cope with the exponential rise in violent crime. The island jail has been over-run by the inmates, however, and this causes a crisis when Air Force One is hijacked in the skies overhead, and the President’s escape pod lands amid the criminals, who take him hostage.
Snake Plissken (Russell) is tasked with retrieving the President. He’s a former Special Forces soldier convicted of trying to rob the Colorado Federal Reserve. He enters the jail on a glider, fights an inmate to the death, rescues the President, and makes off with the MacGuffin – which in this case, is a tape detailing a new kind of weapon.
According to the Paris appeals court, this is all a little too similar to future-set Lockout, which sees convicted felon Snow (Guy Pearce) tasked with the rescue of the daughter of the U.S President when she is taken hostage inside a maximum security ‘orbital’ prison. The similarities include the way in which the hero arrives in the jail, and even which characters die. However, Agence France-Presse reports that Luc Besson and his EuropeCorp company are choosing to focus on the way in which the court acknowledged the differences between the films, in the amount of compensation awarded to Carpenter.
“…the judges did recognise that there were many differences between the films — and that in their totality the movies were quite different.
“We think that is important, and the fact that the damages were a lot less than were demanded reflects that.”
Luc Besson and the Lockout filmmakers reportedly maintain that Escape From New York draws from numerous other classic films itself, but this was clearly not enough to convince the court in its second hearing.