Stylized in both form and content, "The Warriors" is a world where gangs run rampant through the streets, looking only to protect their turf and prove their worth. The problem is; instead of being impressed or intimidated by the tuffs in this film… I found myself laughing.
Director Walter Hill has created a film that seems, to my mind, exists in a fantasy realm of comic books and those who have never experienced true gang violence. More akin to Michael Jackson's "Bad" video than the reality seen in films like "Boyz in da Hood," "The Warriors" takes a comic book style and sensibility and throws it up on the screen.
Nine representatives each from the one hundred largest gangs in the city are convening for a peace summit. Organized by what I'm guessing is supposed to be a charismatic leader named Cyrus (Roger Hill), the conference is a rally to organize the masses, to stop them from fighting each other and to use their considerable numbers to overtake the city of New York.
I had two major problems with this first substantial scene in the film. The first is that, simply put, this scene is laughable in tone and style. 900 ruffians dressed like they are the second generation of "West Side Story's" Dance Knife Fighters, with painted faces that would make Alex and his Droogs ("A Clockwork Orange") spill milk out their nose from laughing. They don't look menacing or dangerous; they look silly. Like a bunch of kids who are trying to look tough in overalls and roller-skates. Secondly, on the topic of Cyrus; there is just something about a horrible over-actor that gets my goat. But when he's also using phrases, with a straight face, like "Can you dig it?" I simply can't help but be ripped out of the scene.
Which gets us down to the major problem that I have with "The Warriors:" it hasn't aged well. From the gaudy colors to the goofy makeup, the style of the late-70s-early-80s is definitely evident in every aspect of the film. Phrases like, "He's going all faggot on us" tore me out of the narrative and reminded me I was watching a very dated film.
The film's story kicks off after Cyrus is shot. The Warriors are a gang who, like all others, organized to protect their turf at Coney Island and get into the occasional rumble. Like the hundred other "major" gangs in the New York City area, they traveled across the city to drink Cyrus's Kool-Aid. But when he's shot by a member of the Rogues (David Patrick Kelly), the Warriors are fingered, sending them on a desperate run for home.
Several question, however, are left unanswered. The first is simple; aside from dramatic tension, why didn't the Warriors try to go incognito? Through the film they flagrantly wear their "colors" through rival gang territory. One would think that if the entire city is looking for "The Warriors" to beat you up… and if you can easily disguise that fact by taking off your vest… you should probably do it. Sure they were falsely accused of a crime, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be smart and lay low until they can figure out what's going on.
The second question is; what makes them think that, by getting to Coney Island, they will be safe? The film did imply that the Warriors had greater numbers back home, but never expressly said so. Instead the Warriors seemed to be running for running's sake.
The antagonist is split between Luther (David Patrick Kelly), the Rogue who shot Cyrus, and the angry mob who is bearing down on the Rogues. As a result, I never got a true sense of oppression or conspiracy or even cohesion between the various stages in the journey. Instead the film seemed like a slew of action set pieces that were linked by a loose quest to return home. The concept of the Disc Jockey (Lynne Thigpen) who kept tabs on the groups progress and informed others to be on the lookout, working like a Greek Chorus, was a nice touch that did attempt to draw everything together.
You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned any of the protagonist Warriors yet. It's honestly because I didn't think too much of them. The only notables are Swan (Michael Beck); the War Chief for the group and takes over after their leader is implicated in the shooting of Cyrus, and Ajax (James Remar); who is an angry, boisterous figure who disappears half way through the picture. The rest, while authentic youths who belie an uncertainty of action which helps humanize otherwise cartoonish characters, are unremarkable and forgettable.
There is also a brief love theme crammed into this action extravaganza, one which makes no sense to my mind. The Warriors encounter Mercy (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) during their first rumble with the Orphans. She at once causes trouble by encouraging the Orphans to start a rumble… then starts trailing the Warriors and hooks up with Swan. To me, it made absolutely no sense and felt completely tacked on to an already silly plot.
I'm not sure what all was added to this new director's cut, but director Walter Hill has played up the comic book aspect of the film and its chapter style with some new wipes and transitions, plus an introduction that makes it perfectly clear what this story is about. And while I get the connection to a story about Greek warriors traveling across hostile lands, I'm not sure it's really an apt one.
Overall, I just wasn't impressed by "The Warriors." It hasn't aged well and as a result comes across as silly instead of ominous. While I know the film has a following and those who enjoy its over-the-top costumes and battles, I'm can't identify with that crowd.
The new transfer for "The Warriors" looks stellar. Blacks are deep and shadow detail is impeccable, something that is essential in a movie set entirely at night. The colors are a tad muted but I think that, again, comes from this being a movie filmed in the dark rather than a limitation of the transfer. Grain is kept to a minimum and there are few artifacts on the print itself. The movie is presented in Anamorphic widescreen at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1.
I listened to the Dolby Digital 5.1 remix of the film's soundtrack and it was fairly impressive. A decent amount of immersion happens thanks to the rear track, mostly used for music and sound effects. The dialogue is clean, though don't expect deep resonating base because of the age of the film; it's fairly tinny. Not a bad track, at all.
Listed as four separate documentaries, the four featurettes included on this set each run about twenty minutes and contain a piece of a larger whole. "The Beginning" explores where the story and script came from, "The Battleground" talks about casting and set design, "The Way Home" focuses on the actual filming of the movie, and "The Phenomenon" talks about the life the film has taken on after its release in 1979. Each piece is solid, packed with retrospective interviews on characters, acting, working with Walter Hill, and what the movie meant to a cast of unknowns.
Director Walter Hill also has a couple of things to say about this new cut of the movie and he gets those out of the way with the "Introduction by Walter Hill." Catchy title. Good to know his thoughts on George Lucas-Style revisions.
The original theatrical trailer is also included for your perusal, along with some forced trailers for a host of upcoming Paramount products.
It's not that I disliked "The Warriors;" rather I just didn't find it nearly as engaging as I would have liked. Scenes that should have been wrought with emotion were devoid, the pacing seemed off, and I felt absolutely nothing for this gang of ruffians. Instead I was laughing at them. As a piece of nostalgia "The Warriors" may suffice, but modern audiences experiencing it for the first time may want to check their brains at the door.