Starring: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer
Director: John Carpenter
Screenwriter: John Carpenter
Rating : R
John Carpenter is the undisputed champion of B flicks. The way he exploits violence and builds around an interesting enough plot, with style and wit, has earned him the title. “Assault on Precinct 13 is by now a classic in Carpenter’s filmography, all the more reason to make producers think they needed to make a remake in 2005 (and a surprisingly good one too).
The story unfolds in a gang-ridden L.A. where a war is underway between the law and the extremely well armed outlaws. Collateral damage in this urban conflict is a little girl, shot while getting ice cream. Her father declares his own kind of war on the gangs, kills their leader and runs to safety inside the now infamous precinct 13 (although it’s actually refered to in the film as Anderson Precinct, the 13 bit was added in the title by the producers to make it sound more ominous), which is currently closing down so it’s short on men and weapons. Coincidently, a prisoner transport also makes a stop at the precinct because one of the prisoners got sick. Part of the shipment of inmates is the feared psychopathic killer Napoleon Wilson, on his way to death row. The gangs organize a daring assault on the precinct to avenge their leader, and Officer Bishop, left behind to oversee the closing of the precinct, along with a few other people, including prisoners, prepare to fiercely fight for their own survival.
The idea itsef is perfect for an action film, the bad guys attack in waves, and the good guys attempt to find alternative survival methods with limited amounts of weapons and ammunition. John Carpenter first intended to do a western, but lacking the resources (money that is), decided to go for a gritty urban action film with a western touch. Action-wise it’s not terribly spectacular by today’s standards, but it does a better job by relying on good ol’ suspense and claustrophobic atmosphere. The characters and dialogue are typical western fare, from the good sheriff type (Bishop) and the ruthless morally ambiguous bad guy (Wilson), to the swarm of outlaws beating down the door in a classic western alamo scenario. The interesting idea here is that of the cops and robbers joining forces in order to survive, but it’s not really explored in a serious fashion. It’s just an excuse for tense action. The actors are largely unknown even to this day, which I consider effective for its realism.
The 2005 remake contains an entirely modified storyline and characters (a lot more stars in the cast). What they keep is the basic idea of the siege, which is, obviously, the whole concept of the original. It also concerns itself more with gimmicky action, indeed superficial, but just as much fun, particularly since it has a larger budget to work on. It’s pretty difficult to recommend on of the two. As I said, I personally would go for the remake, and action/violence fans will probably choose the 2005 film as well, but if you are a Carpenter fan (as I am), and you enjoy the classics, or you just hate remakes for what they really are : cynical excuses for producers to make money, you should turn to the original. After all, the remake can’t exist without the original story it’s based on.