A very loose interpretation of the story of Anabasis from Greek mythology, Walter Hill's 1979 production The Warriors is a popular fan favorite that does a fine job of mixing action, adventure, and glam rock. Released on a rather dodgy looking disc by Paramount a few years back, they've got back to the vaults for this film and have now released Walter Hill's Director's Cut of the film, but – and let me be clear about this as it's sure to annoy more than a few fans – they've failed to include the original version of the film and there are some serious changes to the film…but more on that in a minute. Let's get the plot synopsis out of the way first.
For anyone who hasn't seen the film, it starts off when a gang named The Warriors are requested to send some delegates to a huge meeting organized by Cyrus (Roger Hill), who happens to lead the biggest of the New York City street gangs, The Riffs. Cyrus pleas with the rest of the gangs for unity – he feels that if they all work together then the city will be theirs for the taking and not even the cops will be able to put a stop to them. Everyone seems to be in agreement about this but then suddenly, a punk named Luther (David Patrick Kelly of Commando) from a gang called The Rogues shoots Cyrus dead. When the crowd turns towards where the gunshots erupted, he blames it on The Warriors and chaos ensues. As the cops move in to shake everyone down, the Warriors run for it and whole up in a cemetery for a while to try and come up with a plan on how to get back to their home turf on Coney Island.
When they spot the subway, they figure that they can hop the train to Union Station and catch the connecting train back home – should be a breeze, right? You'd think so except that The Riff's want payback for the murder of Cyrus and they think that The Warriors are responsible for it. They put out the word by way of a local radio disc jockey who instructs all the boppers to get down to it, and all of a sudden The Warriors find that the rest of the gangs are out to bring them in dead or alive.
An extremely stylized film set in the not too distant future, The Warriors is a blast from start to finish. It starts off with a fantastic opening sequence in which the gang members all make their way to the place where Cyrus will speak and once the murder happens, it's off like a bullet. The movie moves along at a very fast pace and while this does happen at the cost of character development, we still get to know enough about everyone, Swan (Michael Beck) and Mercy (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) specifically, that we at least know enough for the movie to work. The film has a lot more to do with the actual chase than the characters who are being chased and as such it doesn't require an in depth background for each gang member to function properly – we know who they are and that's more or less enough.
The cinematography in the film is excellent. The scenes shot in the innards of the New York City subway system are creepy but very effective allowing gang members to arrive from behind a video game or a tiled wall while the sounds of trains whiz past them, lights painting everything in a very stale and antiseptic hue. Color plays a huge role in the look of the movie and also allows us to differentiate between the gangs, as they all have different colors or uniforms be it the Yankees-esque Baseball Furies or the Leatherman/Village People look of The Rogues. The camera work also does a fine job of capturing the violence that inevitably erupts when the gangs collide – the thud of a baseball bat, the slash of a knife, or the sound of a bullet fired from a revolver are all brought to grim and gritty life when the time comes for the fights to blow up like they do.
In this new director's cut, however, there are some serious changes made to the film. First up is the opening sequence. While the fantastic montage of talking heads, shoulders, subway trains and maps is still intact, we don't go into it until we witness a new narrated prologue which makes the comparison to the Greek myth on which the story is based about as subtle as a brick to the face. In Hill's narration he mentions how he wanted to create a comic book like atmosphere for the movie and to that effect they've seen fit to add some comic book panel transitions to the film. This, more than the narrated prologue and the insertion of a 'sometime in the future' tag, is the most obvious change made to this cut of the film. It feels a little out of place and it makes this less the film we all know and love and more a completely different animal. The scene that this hurts the most is the scene where the Baseball Furies are first introduced. A lot of the impact and sheer coolness of this scene is sucked out by substituting a comic book panel – an unfortunate decision.
Now, had Paramount opted to include the original version of the film on this DVD (they could have easily done it via seamless branching as the run time of the two cuts is very, very close) these changes wouldn't bother me in the least but as it stands now, fans who want the theatrical version are going to have to hold onto their original DVDs (if they have them in the first place) or try and track down the original DVD of the film. What irks me is that the presentation of the film is so much better and so much improved on this release and that Paramount has chosen not to give us the original cut of the film in what is definitely a much better looking and sounding presentation of the film.
Now that I've said my piece, how does the movie itself hold up? Very well. Even in this rather different version it still plays out nicely. The performances are fine for what they are, the cinematography is still ahead of its time and the pacing is still tight. Cyrus and the radio DJ still have some of the best quotable lines of dialogue in movie history and the gangs all still look too cool for school. The Warriors is a lot of fun and has stood the test time better than a lot of other movies of this ilk, including many of the films that came out afterwards and ripped it off. It's a great film, one well worth revisiting even if you have to see it again via this new director's cut. The fantastic sets and costumes are still there, and The Warriors are still the coolest gang around.
Paramount's new 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is pretty impressive stuff. The black levels are very strong and very deep but they don't hide any of the fine background detail in the image. Print damage has been all but completely eliminated and only faint hints of film grain are detected during playback. Color reproduction is excellent, especially some of the lighting hues that are used in certain scenes like the subway or the Coney Island amusement park. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and don't appear too pink or too yellow. There aren't any issues at all in terms of mpeg compression artifacts and only some slight line shimmering is present (you'll spot it in the usual places – along the edges of cars, on the speaker covers of a boom box, and on some checkered and striped shirts on background characters). All in all, this is an exemplary transfer and the movie looks excellent.
Yet another reason for purists to be upset is that Paramount has not included the original mono mix for the film and instead opted for your choice of a brand new Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix or a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix, both in English. There is a French mono mix included here, but it's obviously a dub and unless you speak French and don't speak English, you're not going to want to watch the movie that way anyway.
Griping aside, the quality of both English mixes is quite good. The surrounds are used effectively and really get a good work out during the gang rally scene at the beginning of the movie and during some of the more action intensive moments in the later half of the film. Dialogue is clean and clear and the score comes through sounding really, really nice. There's some serious strength to the lower end and your subwoofer will thump along with the film nicely. Some keen directional effects come at you from all angels in a few spots which does add some atmosphere to the movie and there's really very little to complain about here in terms of audible quality.
English and Spanish language subtitle options are available on this disc for the feature only, as are English language closed captions for the hearing impaired.
First up in terms of extra features is a brief one and a half minute video introduction from the director of the film, Walter Hill, who explains that had he had complete control over the film back when it was being made, this director's cut is how he would have wanted it to turn out. While I can't say I agree one hundred percent with the changes, it's his film so who am I to argue.
The real supplements come in the form of four documentaries, each of which focus on a different aspect of the film and feature interviews, stills from the movie and the making of the movie, and clips from the film. Here's a quick rundown of what to expect out of these featurettes:
The Warriors – The Beginning: At just over fifteen minutes in length, this documentary examines the journey from book to movie through interviews with the film's producer, Lawrence Gordon, and director Walter Hill. Gordon is quite interesting to listen to as he is very honest about the hesitation he felt in getting the movie bankrolled, and neither he nor Hill really knew what they were getting into with this project as they fought with Paramount over a few issues in getting it made.
The Warriors – Battleground: With pre-production covered, here we delve into some details about casting and about the first half of the film, mainly the scene with Cyrus and the gang rally. Some nice interview footage with Michael Beck, David Harris, David Patrick Kelly and Deborah Van Valkenburgh is in here as well as comments from Gordon and Hill. This does an interesting job of showing us how they set up the events to come in the later half of the film and some of the changes that were made to the movie along the way. They also cover some of the details of the shooting locations and of the character of Cyrus and why he was so important in starting the movie off. This one runs just under fifteen minutes.
The Warriors – The Way Home: Clocking in at a hair over eighteen minutes, this is the longest of the four segments and it focuses in on the last half of the movie, once The Warriors are on the run. The same interviewees from Battleground are on hand here as they discuss some of the fight choreography, the finale scene, casting decisions, sets, shooting on the subway system and the various burbs of New York City and more. There's also a fair bit of attention given to the costume design used for the various gangs in the film by way of some interview footage with designer Bobby Bianco.
The Warriors – The Phenomena: This last segment, which runs roughly fifteen minutes, wraps everything up nicely and again uses the same interviewees. This time out, everyone looks back on the film and gives some information on how the movie affected their lives and their careers. Many of the actors credit the film with launching their career and Hill considers it a highlight stating that he still has people come up to him on the street and tell him how much they love the movie. The explain why they feel that the film has the staying power that it does and everyone more or less waxes nostalgic on how much fun they had making it and how much they really enjoy the movie.
All said and done, with a combined running time of roughly an hour in length, these four segments do a very nice job of filling in the blanks on the making of the film. While I feel that Hill probably should have recorded a commentary track for this release and the absence of any deleted scenes (supposedly they exist, and one was originally announced for this release but it definitely isn't here) or even a still gallery is a shame, fans of the film should enjoy this material very much.
Rounding out the extra features are a theatrical trailer for The Warriors a preview for the upcoming video game adaptation from Rock Star (which looks really, really cool), and a few other unrelated DVD releases available from Paramount.
While the fact that Paramount DID NOT INCLUDE THE THEATRICAL CUT OF THE FILM on this release is a huge irritation, the new version does play well aside from the comic book transitions. The print quality is great, the sound is great, and the four documentaries are pretty interesting and do give some really good background stories on the making of the movie. While I've got mixed emotions about the new version, Paramount did do a nice job on the release and the film does play well – this one earns a hesitant high recommendation based on the strenght of the material and the excellent presentation, but purists beware…
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.