On its surface, The Outsiders is a deceptively simple story – a timeless class struggle as seen through the eyes of wayward teenagers that has resonated with new generations of youthful readers for close to four decades – Oklahoma native S.E. Hinton's 1967 novel has been required reading for legions of high school students. Matt Dillon makes a valid point early in the cast commentary track: "I appreciate that the book is still a classic; a lot of times, when a book is made into a movie, the book gets forgotten. The book is still read and still appreciated."
Simmering tension fuels this tale of bitter rivalry between the Greasers and the Socials ("Socs") – Ponyboy Curtis (C. Thomas Howell) and his best friend, Johnny Cade (Ralph Macchio) live a rough-and-tumble life, with his biological brothers Darrel (Patrick Swayze) and Sodapop (Rob Lowe) alongside his ragtag adopted family: Dallas (Dillon), Two-Bit (Emilio Estevez), Steve (Tom Cruise) and Tim (Glenn Withrow). Ponyboy and Johnny meet up with Soc Sherri "Cherry" Valance (Diane Lane) one night at the drive-in but soon find themselves on the run after a violent altercation that results in the death of a Soc, Bob Sheldon (Leif Garrett). Hiding out in an abandoned country church, Ponyboy and Johnny touch off a chain of events that culminates in a rumble between the Greasers and the Socs – one that will alter lives forever.
The teenage years are highly charged and overly emotional ones, a mindset that Hinton (and by extension, director Francis Ford Coppola) captured perfectly: it's no mystery why this story continues to resonate with generation after generation of teens who feel "outside" the norm and need to identify with something. The melodramatic dialogue and larger-than-life actions fit snugly within Coppola's description of The Outsiders as "an epic for children," along the lines of Gone With The Wind. Indeed, the occasionally chuckle-inducing histrionics ("Let's do it for Johnny!") still have the capacity to catch your laughter in your throat; this grand "let's put on a show" endeavor has the ring of truth to it and for that, it renews its audience with each successive generation.
It was a long path for Coppola to arrive at this complete realization of The Outsiders. Filmed on location in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1982 and starring a veritable who's-who of Eighties (and beyond) movie stars, The Outsiders was released to so-so critical reaction and middling box office in 1983; while fans of the book embraced the film (adapted by Kathleen Knutsen Rowell, whose screenplay was eventually discarded by Coppola), there were still large chunks of the narrative missing from the filmed version. Only in the late Nineties, when Coppola was faced with presenting the film to his granddaughter's class did he dig into the archives and assemble a rough cut of the entire book.
Working with producer Kim Aubry, Coppola began re-assembling The Outsiders in 1999 – revising entire sequences, shuffling events on film that happened at different points in the novel and eventually re-incorporating 22 minutes of additional footage to create The Outsiders: The Complete Novel. Dispensing with the overwrought score composed by his father, Carmine, Coppola juiced his soundtrack with a selection of period-appropriate rock songs from the likes of Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. While the new soundtrack adds considerable zest to the proceedings, it too is overdone in some scenes where it feels as though Coppola was keen on eradicating as much of his father's sappy instrumentals as possible. Fret not, however, the Stevie Wonder chestnut "Stay Gold" is intact.
Fans of the earlier theatrical release can still find that cut on DVD (it hasn't been discontinued, as of this writing) but it's more likely that fans of both the book and the film will appreciate the expanded version Coppola touts as the definitive cinematic adaptation of Hinton's classic novel. Discover it for the first time or get lost in The Outsiders all over again.
The Outsiders: The Complete Novel is presented in a gorgeous, nearly flawless 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that suffers from slight grain (more noticeably in the restored scenes) and occasional flecks but otherwise looks absolutely sterling, betraying its age. An excellent visual presentation.
As with the visuals, The Outsiders: The Complete Novel has been aurally spruced up to great effect – the remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack fairly pops out of the speakers, particularly when the well-chosen rock songs kick in. There's no discernible distortion or drop-out; English, French and Spanish subtitles are also available.
Warner Bros. has seen fit to load up this beloved film with a wealth of supplemental material – nearly all of it glowing with respect for Hinton's source material and Coppola's film. The first disc houses a pair of commentary tracks – Coppola contributes a reliably informative and candid track, complete with a two minute, 18 second intro explaining the genesis of The Outsiders: The Complete Novel project while the cast commentary (recorded in May 2003 at Coppola's Napa Valley estate and cheekily labeled "Watch 'The Outsiders' with the Greasers and a Soc") includes a three minute intro where the four cast members (Macchio, Howell, Swayze and Lane) who viewed the film together are spliced in with Dillon and Lowe, who viewed the film separately. It's a great track, loaded with reminisces and perspectives gained from maturing and continuing to work as actors.
The bulk of the bonus features are found on the second disc – the terrific retrospective 26-minute fullscreen documentary "Staying Gold: A Look Back at 'The Outsiders'" includes new interviews conducted with most of the cast and crew; "S.E. Hinton On Location in Tulsa" is a seven minute, 30 second fullscreen, newly created featurette centered on precisely that; "The Casting of 'The Outsiders'" is 13 minutes, 56 seconds that details the legendarily epic casting sessions Coppola held for the film; a somewhat innovative feature, "Readings," showcases Lowe, Swayze, Howell, Dillon, Macchio, Garrett & Lane reading excerpts from Hinton's novel – playable (in fullscreen) separately or together for an aggregate of seven minutes, 23 seconds; a vintage segment from NBC's "Today" show, "'The Outsiders' Started by School Petition" runs for four minutes, 43 seconds in fullscreen while the film's original theatrical trailer (presented in anamorphic widescreen) and 10 minutes of six additional deleted scenes (presented in rough, time-coded, non-anamorphic widescreen) round out the package.
A timeless literary classic given new cinematic life, Francis Ford Coppola's winning adaptation of S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders arrives on DVD in a deluxe two-disc package that provides ample material for fans and the curious alike. Highly recommended.