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About The Location
Another main "character” of Half Past Dead is the prison itself. The "New Alcatraz” of the film is reopened thirty years after its doors were closed for inhumane treatment of prisoners. This jail of jails is being retrofitted to serve as the nation's haven for its most dangerous criminals. "The moment you hear ‘Alcatraz,' everyone conjures up their own image, whether they've visited the island or not,” says Paul. "Just the legendary quality that the island has is a great attribute to the movie.”

Alcatraz Island, located in the San Francisco Bay, received its proper name, "La Isla de los Alcatraces” (Island of the Pelicans), from Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala in 1775. The island, surrounded by fast-moving water, was a barren outcropping of rock with minimal vegetation and wildlife, and remained uninhabited for over seventy years.

In 1847, the United States Army began geological surveys of the island, and initiated construction of a military base six years later. Many of the features that made the island unusable for civilians were perfect for a military fortress. With the California gold rush as a backdrop, Alcatraz became America's western stronghold, charged with protecting the valuable gold that inspired "49ers” around the world to seek their fortunes in California. Half Past Dead makes a nod to the famed miners with the "49er” codenames adopted by the mercenaries breaking into the prison.

Alcatraz became the United States' first long-term military prison with the induction of Civil War prisoners in 1861, but didn't become a facility for civilian prisoners until 1934. That year, the military turned control over to the Department of Justice, which utilized the prison not only to detain dangerous criminals, but as an icon of the nation's tough approach to organized crime during the Great Depression.

The prison, retooled with special "gun galleries” that allowed armed guards to oversee all inmate activities, included many other technological improvements. The prison was outfitted with electromagnetic metal detectors and special teargas dispensers in the dining hall. The prison's very structure was another improvement, with possible escape routes filled with concrete, and no cells adjoined the prison's outer walls.

If a prisoner managed to escape the man-made defenses of Alcatraz Island, he still had to contend with its most formidable natural resource, the icy San Francisco Bay. Throughout Alcatraz' history as a Federal Prison, thirty-six inmates attempted escape. Although only two of the men were officially found to have drowned, five more are presumed to have died during the 1½-mile swim to shore. Six of the attempted escapees were shot dead by guards and twenty-three were captured.

The island's inescapable reputation gave the prison a mythic quality, one that has been utilized in films time and time again. From 1938's King of Alcatraz starring Anthony Quinn to 1942's Seven Miles from Alcatraz and Clint Eastwood's duo of films Escape from Alcatraz (1979) and Terror on Alcatraz (1986), the theme of such movies has been the possibility of, well, escape from Alcatraz.

Regarded as one of the best films about the island prison is 1962's Birdman of Alcatraz. However, the classic film doesn't focus on escape, but rather the prison's reputation for attracting some of the most incorrigible inmates of the Federal prison system. The film focused on one of the worst offenders to inhabit the prison, Robert Stroud. Other famous Alcatraz prisoners included gangsters Al Capone and George "Machine Gun” Kelly.

Most recently the island starred in the Nicolas Cage actioner, The Rock.

Half Past Dead manages to respect the conventions of the prison drama, particularly those set at Alcatraz, while updating the genre. The sound of pri

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