The Warriors: Director's Cut

Director: Walter Hill
Screenplay: David Shaber and Walter Hill (based on the novel by Sol Yurick)
Stars: Michael Beck (Swan), Deborah Van Valkenburgh (Mercy), James Remar (Ajax), Dorsey Wright (Cleon), Brian Tyler (Snow), David Harris (Cochise), Tom McKitterick (Cowboy), Marcelino Sánchez (Rembrandt), Terry Michos (Vermin), Thomas G. Waites (Fox), Roger Hill (Cyrus), David Patrick Kelly (Luther), Lynne Thigpen (D.J.)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1979
Country: U.S.
The Warriors Ultimate Director’s Cut DVD
Lookin’ for a rumbleWalter Hill's cult classic The Warriors is a highly stylized gangland fantasy. Although it bore a great deal of criticism and accusation of causing real-life violence when it was first released in 1979, The Warriors has little or no connection to reality. The new “director’s cut” on DVD emphasizes this even more than the original theatrical version by reinserting a title card that places the story in the near future and using gaudy comic-book panels instead of simple wipes to transition between sequences. Ultimately, it is a shameless, but entertaining, ode to the appeal of criminality and gangland camaraderie, A Clockwork Orange without the intellectual and moral baggage.

The movie takes place over one night in New York City. It opens with an enormous rally in the Bronx attended by all the major New York gangs. This meeting has been organized by Cyrus (Roger Hill), the legendary leader of the biggest gang in the city, the Gramercy Riffs. Cyrus makes a grand speech about the need for all the gangs to come together in one large army to take over the city. In the process, he is assassinated by Luther (David Patrick Kelly), the leader of the Rouges, who then pins the blame on the titular gang, The Warriors.

The rally erupts into pandemonium after Cyrus is killed and hundreds of police suddenly appear. The leader of The Warriors, Cleon (Dorsey Wright), is taken down by the police, so it is up to the next-in-command, Swan (Michael Beck), to lead to remaining seven unarmed members of the gang through 27 miles of hostile territory back to their home base in Coney Island. The Gramercy Riffs find out that The Warriors have been fingered as Cyrus' assassin, so they quickly put word out on the street that they should be captured dead or alive (the major medium of communication appears to be a radio D.J. played by Lynne Thigpen, who keeps all the gang members up to date with what is happening on the street while spinning records).

Thus, the majority of The Warriors takes place as a journey. The screenplay by David Shaber and Walter Hill was based on a novel by Sol Yurick, which in turn was supposedly based on the Greek historian Xenophon's Anabasis (the director’s cut makes this explicit with a brieft prologue that connects the story to ancient Greece). So, The Warriors' hasty all-night trip through the many boroughs of New York becomes a late-1970s urban updating of the retreat in 401 B.C. of Xenophon and his army from Persia, in which they found themselves with few provisions and severely outnumbered deep in enemy territory (Xenophon had originally traveled to Persia to help Cyrus the Younger dethrone Artaxerxes II, then king of Persia).

Like Xenophon and his troops, throughout the journey, the unarmed Warriors are faced with numerous obstacles and conflicts, some of which are with the police and some of which are with other gangs. The Warriors is justifiably infamous for its cornucopia of bizarrely stylized and humorously named gangs, ranging from the Turnball A.C.s, a group of skinheads who careen about the city in an old school bus, to the Baseball Furies, a group outfitted in baseball uniforms and painted faces who swing baseball bats, to the Punks, a group wearing overalls whose leader cruises the subway stations on roller skates. The Warriors, by comparison, are fairly bland, as they are branded only by their red leather vests. One of the interesting things about the gangs in The Warriors (and one of the early tips that the movie has no relation to reality) is that none of the gangs are racially based. All of them incorporate members of various races; even the Gramercy Riffs, who are predominantly black, still have a few white faces.

Starring in The Warriors didn't do much for the actors involved, most of whom have gone on to successful, if mostly undistinguished, careers in supporting roles and TV movies. Michael Beck is generally solid in the lead role as Swan, and Deborah Van Valkenburgh does a good job as Mercy, a rival gang's girlfriend who ends up following The Warriors back to Coney Island. The role of Mercy could have been irritating, by Van Valenburgh turns her into one of the most fully formed characters in a movie that is dominated by comic-book outrageousness.

The movie has been rightly praised for its stylish photography by Andrew Laszlo and for Hill's creative direction. Hill, in one of his first stints in the director's chair (he would later direct one of the biggest hits of the early 1980s, 48 Hrs.), incorporates carefully orchestrated street fights that get better and better with each viewing. Compared to the balletic montages of Sam Peckinpah, the fight scenes in The Warriors are well-staged and expertly filmed, combining almost dance-like tough-guy choreography and limited, but effective, use of slow motion. Many viewers like the baseball-bat fight between The Warriors and The Baseball Furies the best, but I feel that the bathroom duel between The Warriors and the Punks is superior in the way it uses a closed space to heighten the impact.

Of course, as mentioned earlier, The Warriors took a great deal of heat when several gang-related murders were linked to its release (in one case, it was later brought out during a trial that one of the murderers couldn't have been inspired by the movie because he had drunkenly slept through it!). Viewing the movie more than 25 years later, it is hard to see what all the fuss was about. The Warriors is violent, yes, but in a cartoonish kind of way that makes it hard to take seriously. Seen now, The Warriors looks more like the inspiration for Michael Jackson's "Beat It" video than a call to gang violence. Perhaps it is best that the fury surrounding the movie has subsided, for now it can be enjoyed for what it is: a fast-paced, entertaining, if ultimate banal action movie with a lot of style and nerve.

The Warriors Ultimate Director’s Cut DVD

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
AnamorphicYes
Audio
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
  • French Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural
  • SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish
    Supplements
  • “The Beginning” featurette
  • “Battleground” featurette
  • “The Way Home” featurette
  • “The Phenomenon” featurette
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • DistributorParamount Home Entertainment
    SRP$19.99
    Release DateOctober 4, 2005

    VIDEO
    While the phrase “Ultimate Director’s Cut” would seem to suggest a radically different version of the film, it isn’t. In fact, the only differences between this version and the previously available theatrical version is the inclusion of the brief prologue explicitly linking the movie to ancient Greek history and the use of comic book panels in the transitions between sequences. That’s it.

    Since this is a new cut of the film, I can only assume that it is a new anamorphic transfer, although it looks much as the original 2001 DVD looked, which is quite good. Cinematographer Andrew Laszlo's ample use of neon colors contrasted against the pitch blackness of night in the urban jungle is very well rendered, with remarkably good shadow detail and only a few hints of grain in the darkest portions of the screen. Dirt and debris are almost nonexistent, and there were no noticeable compression artifacts. The look of the film is deliberately gaudy, and the image on this DVD is appropriately intense without becoming oversaturated.

    AUDIO
    Unlike the earlier DVD, this one sports a newly remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack. The new mix is excellent throughout, with good depth and surround effects. An early scene that takes place in a graveyard with a helicopter flying over is a particularly good instance of directionality and sonic depth. The New Wave synthesizer soundtrack also gets some added kick from the multi-channel remix without sounding forced.

    SUPPLEMENTS
    In addition to the original theatrical trailer, this disc includes a new introduction to the film by director Walter Hill, which is really fairly inconsequential, and a thorough look at the film’s origins, production, and reception in a lengthy retrospective documentary divided into four featurettes. The retrospective reassembles an impressive array of talent associated with the film, including director Walter Hill, producers Lawrence Gordon and Frank Marshall, cinematographer Andrew Laszlo, costume designer Bobbie Mannix, editor David Holden, composer Barry De Vorzon, and stars Michael Beck, James Remar, David Patrick Kelly, David Harris, and Deborah Van Valkenburgh. Although there is no behind-the-scenes footage, there are plenty of production photographs and intriguing anecdotes, such as when the actors playing the Warriors had to remove their colors when they went to lunch lest they offend the actual street gang who ran Coney Island at the time of production. Overall, it’s a good look back at the making of the film, even though it skimps a bit on the controversies surrounding its theatrical release.

    Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © Paramount Pictures

    Overall Rating: (2.5)



    James Kendrick

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