Note: In the following HD DVD joint review, John and Dean wrote up their comments about the film, and John wrote up the rest of the disc details.
The Movie According to Dean:
Walter Hill’s 1979 cult classic “The Warriors” has had a renaissance of late. Although “The Warriors” is only loosely based upon the Sol Yurick novel, the cult popularity of the film has kept copies of the novel selling, and the book was recently reprinted in 2003. In 2005, the film saw a video game adaptation by “Grand Theft Auto” creator Rockstar Games. Many cast members provided voice acting support for the game, which acted as a prequel to the events depicted in the film. The film now finds a director’s cut release on all video formats under the supervision of Walter Hill. Word around town is that veteran director Tony Scott is looking to create a remake of “The Warriors” and base his version of the story on the gangs of Los Angeles.
The new “Ultimate Director’s Cut” of the film is a curiosity. Walter Hill is a self-proclaimed anti-director’s cut personality and typically distances himself from home video releases and supplemental materials. With “The Warriors,” Hill decided it was time to right some wrongs and re-cut his film to preserve and better illustrate the comic book intentions of the film and to better emphasize some of the sub plots contained in the film. The film has had a long-standing cult following, although there has been controversy over some of the artistic liberties taken in adapting Yurick’s novel to the cinema, and it seems a little risky that Paramount would rework a cult classic and release a new director’s cut of a film that could possibly offset the campy balance and elements that have made Walter Hill’s film a guilty pleasure for so many.
The general theme of “The Warriors” is that the leader of the biggest and baddest gang in New York City, the Gramercy Riffs, has called a large meeting of all of the cities larger gangs. Cyrus (Roger Hill) asks for a truce and plants the seeds for a gang unity that will overpower the law enforcement of the city and have New York City run entirely by the gangs, as the take the turf they feel is rightfully theirs. Nine members of the Warriors gang make the trip from Coney Island to the meeting and are led by Cleon (Dorsey Wright). All doesn’t go according to plan, and Luther (David Patrick Kelly) guns down Cyrus and places the blame on the Warriors. When Cleon is killed by the rioting gangs, Swan (Michael Beck) takes over and must lead the remaining members back to the sanctity of Coney Island and away from the gangs that have been called to arms and asked by the Riffs to capture the Warriors and bring them alive to the leaders of the gang.
Along the way, Swan and the others meet up with Mercy (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) and run into troubles with other gangs. Mercy is tied to a gang called the Orphans, and when the Warriors are stopped crossing Orphan territory, their leader Sully (Paul Greco) resorts to cowardice and is ridiculed by the Warriors. Mercy leaves Sully to travel with Swan. Part of the film’s departure from the novel involves the love story that had originally taken place between Mercy and Fox. In the film, Fox (Thomas G. Waites) is killed off and was removed from the credits when an argument occurred when the filmmakers decided to change the love story and have Mercy and Swan become involved. The Warriors become segmented and run from a vast array of colorful gangs and the police as they try to avoid Luther’s gang, the Rogues, and the Riffs.
“The Warriors” is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination. It could be arguably called a classic, but campy is certainly a better word. The film is fun and entertaining. Its comic-book feel is quite apparent and the new director’s cut helps reinforce that feeling. The overly colorful gangs and their various members certainly do not look like any gangs you will ever see in reality. The members of the Warriors are all over-the-top personalities that cement the film in the Seventies. Having never read the book, I cannot quote on whether or not the film is superior, but the general consensus seems to be that the book is the far better story. When “The Warriors” was created nearly thirty years ago, the technology did not exist that allowed for graphical films such as “Sin City,” and “The Warriors” does suffer due to its vintage. The film is an entertaining guilty pleasure that has loads of campy humor and fun contained between its comic-book styled scene transitions.
The Movie According to John:
When I think of Walter Hill’s “The Warriors” from 1979, I almost immediately think of another movie that came out the same year a few months earlier–Phil Kaufman’s “The Wanderers,” a similarly themed film about New York street gangs. In fact, I most often confuse the two pictures, since even their titles are alike: The two “W” gang flicks.
Comparing the two films today is futile. They both have their charms, and neither is exactly “Citizen Kane.” But I’d say they have by now both attained a sort of cult status, with “The Wanderers” perhaps a touch more realistic, and “The Warriors” a bit more fun. Certainly, both films are energetic enough for two or three movies rolled into one.
Director Hill goes to pains to establish the film’s ties with ancient Greece. In a preface read aloud, I suppose for dramatic effect, we hear (and see): “Over two millenniums ago, an army of Greek soldiers found themselves isolated in the middle of the Persian Empire. One thousand miles from safety. One thousand miles from the sea. One thousand miles with enemies on all sides. Theirs was a story of a desperate forced march. Theirs was a story of courage. This too is a story of courage.”
Well, it is sort of cheeky of the moviemakers to try to draw parallels between ancient Greek warriors and some punkish street-gang members attempting to get back to their home turf by the sea, but I wish they had done more with the idea.
“The Warriors” takes an obvious comic-book approach to street gangs–which is appropriate, given its source material in a pulp-type novel–with some of the costumes and makeup intentionally campy and over-the-top. My own favorite gang is not the Warriors, which is a pretty prosaic group in purple vests with “Warriors” emblazoned on the back. Instead, it’s the Baseball Furies, a group who dress in baseball uniforms, wear bizarre facial paint, and use baseball bats as their weapons of choice the way Samurais use swords. They are obviously meant to be satirically humorous and take the point of gang “colors” to the extreme. Of course, there are also the Lizzies, a tough, all-female gang, to contend with, and they, too, are fun.
However, I would point out that some years before Hill made this movie, Anthony Burgess in his novel “A Clockwork Orange” and Stanley Kubrick in his film version of it had used practically the same ideas and were far more successful with them. This is not to take anything away from “The Warriors,” which is good in its own right, but it was hardly original.
Also of interest is the fact that almost all of the gangs we see are exceptionally well integrated. Although there is an Asian gang that appears to be made up mainly of Asians and the Lizzies are all females, most of the gangs have white, black, Hispanic, and Asian members in them. The film tries not to offend anybody. The one thing the members all have in common, though, besides their silly uniforms, is that they all try to look tough. Indeed, the better part of the film is about these guys standing around posturing and looking rough-and-tumble. Then, when they speak, it’s mostly in staccato clichés, which also helps their image. The only trouble is that I half expected them to break out into song and dance any minute a la “West Side Story.” I wish they had.
For the most part, I enjoyed the humor in “The Warriors.” Its cartoonish characteristics are amusing, as is some of its dialogue. When the gangs meet for their big conclave, the crowds look as big as those for a New York Giants football game; I mean, they pack a stadium with people. Cyrus, the leader of the biggest gang, has a plan to unite all the gangs of the city into one, overwhelm the police force, and take over the place. Right, and the national government will never find out. When one of the Warriors, Ajax, is busted by the police after trying to hustle a girl, another of his pals says, “I bet he went out swinging.” Yeah, one swinging guy. And after all that the Warriors go through to get home, their adversaries leave by merely repeating the old Maxwell Smart line, “Sorry about that.” It’s a wonderfully deadpan anticlimax.
“Can you dig it?”
The Paramount video engineers do a good job with the HD DVD transfer. The movie’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio nicely fills out a 16×9 widescreen television, and the MGEG4/AVC encoding preserves most of the film’s color and definition. The new animated transitions look best of all, which should be no surprise, but the rest looks pretty nice, too. The general impression is very slightly soft, and because most of the movie was filmed at night, there will inevitably be some murkiness here and there. Still, with deep black levels and vivid hues, most of the costumes and makeup stand out well, and facial tones look especially natural and realistic. Moreover, a particularly clean, clear screen helps a lot; it looks like Paramount had a good print to begin with and restored it as well as possible. The result looks good, as I say.
The audio engineers probably didn’t have as good an original soundtrack to work with as the video engineers did a print. In Dolby Digital Plus 5.1, the audio is loud, dynamic, and punchy, but voices appear somewhat nasal, frequency extremes a bit limited, and rear-channel activity a touch artificial. Crowd noises in the surrounds, for instance, sound a bit muted and dull, as does a helicopter flyover. Musical ambience enhancement comes off best in the back speakers. Overall, while the video quality is near perfect, the audio quality is relatively lacking. Not bad, mind you, but not quite in keeping with the best of today’s standards.
This is one of those discs where instead of a single one-hour documentary, they give you a series of short featurettes. Yet each featurette includes almost the same filmmakers talking to us about much the same things. So, we have to click back and forth to see it all. Since this approach is taken so often by most of the studios, not just Paramount, I can only suppose it is a marketing ploy to give the viewer the impression that there are more extras on the disc than there really are.
In any case, the featurettes are enjoyable. First, there is a brief introduction to the film by director Walter Hill, who explains why he made the Director’s Cut, saying he needed to explain further the book’s comic-book origins and “its nod to the Greeks, and its slightly futuristic quality.” He says the new version represents his original intentions better.
Next, we have four featurettes, each lasting from fourteen to eighteen minutes. The first is “The Warriors: The Beginning,” in which producer Lawrence Gordon tells us how he found Sol Yurick’s novel “The Warriors” on a discount rack and immediately optioned the rights for it. Then, in “The Battleground” we see some of the locations for the story, plus a few of the stars today talking about their roles in the film and the fame it brought them. In “The Way Home” we get more information from and about the movie’s players; and in “The Phenomenon,” we find out about the public’s reaction to the film. Apparently, the movie attracted real-life gangs to theaters, and some of them got into conflicts with one another. Paramount eventually pulled the film because of the violence it was causing and because of the fear it was putting into moviegoers. Well, any publicity is good publicity, and it obviously increased the film’s cult value.
Things conclude on the HD DVD with fourteen scene selections but no chapter insert; a high-definition theatrical trailer; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; French and Spanish subtitles, with English captions for the hearing impaired; pop-up menus; and an indicator of elapsed time.
Dean and I agree that “The Warriors” is not a great film, but it is an entertaining one. Today, I find it something more of a historical artifact than anything else, but it does give us a certain viewpoint on the era in which it was made, humorously exaggerated or not. Nice picture quality on the HD DVD, too.