One of The Warriors' greatest strengths is how straightforward it is. It's a gauntlet, with the Warriors running and fighting their way from one train station to the next. The movie doesn't pause to shoehorn in any clunky social commentary or weepy backstories about why these eight scattered punks joined up with a gang. There's no redemption angle or any attempt to paint them as heroes. The Warriors may not wantonly destroy everything in sight, but these are bad guys. When Ajax (James Remar) decides he wants to rape a woman in the park, the couple of straggling Warriors with him don't try to stop him because it's wrong...they just say they don't have time. Even with the breakneck pacing the movie charges forward with for an hour and a half, it's still able to sketch a personality for each of the Warriors, or at least enough of one for me to give a shit whether or not they made it back to Coney Island. The cast of unknowns aren't exactly seasoned actors, but they're good enough.
Director Walter Hill compares The Warriors to a comic book, but it plays more like a video game. The Warriors plow through one borough, square off against a bunch of gang members along the way, and hit the train on their way to the next level. Repeat that a few times, and that's pretty much the entirety of the plot. The Warriors has a strong visual style and a complete lack of restraint, a combination that's cemented it as one of the top pop culture touchstones to come out of '70s cult cinema, from Cyrus flailing his arms around and bellowing "Can you dig iiiiiiiiiiiiit?" to the Warriors brawling against the flourescent KISS makeup and Yankees uniforms of the Baseball Furies to the extreme close-ups of Lynne Thigpen's mouth as her radio DJ broadcasts the plot to all the boppers out there. The Warriors was shot on location throughout New York, and even though the movie's an over-the-top, Saturday morning cartoon version of gang life, the late night location shoots add a dank, grimy authenticity that helps set the movie's tone.
The Warriors is a violent cartoon rather than a grim, intense look at gang life, and the movie's aged surprisingly well; the bursts of campiness just make it that much more fun to watch. The Warriors is an energetic, fast-paced, and unrelentingly quotable gauntlet through New York City and just a hell of a good time. Highly Recommended.
This version of The Warriors adds a lightly animated prologue connecting the movie to the Greek story of Anabasis along with comic book panel transitions from scene to scene, complete with word bubbles and "meanwhile..." narration. Walter Hill mentions in his introduction on this HD DVD that these better reflect his intentions for the movie, but the prologue is completely unnecessary -- okay, the story harkens back to a Greek legend. So what? -- and the way the camera pans around pages of a comic book between scenes is distracting and pretty thoroughly awful. Unfortunately for purists, an untainted version of The Warriors hasn't been included on this HD DVD and doesn't look to be on the horizon. Oh well. As bad an idea as Hill's revisionist changes may have been, at least they're tolerable.
Video: Originally filmed in 1978, The Warriors is the deepest Paramount has dug into their back catalog at this early stage in the game. This HD DVD doesn't just look spectacular for a movie whose thirtieth anniversary is right around the bend; it looks spectacular, period. There are stretches of The Warriors that could almost pass for a film straight out of theaters, if you gloss over the feathered hair and bare-chested vests. No flecks of dust or other visible wear creep in at all, and even though virtually the entire movie is set at night and often under low lighting, film grain is never intrusive. The image is razor sharp, boasting a level of detail and clarity that holds up well even next to many of Paramount's day-and-date releases on HD DVD. With so much of the movie draped in shadow, it follows that black levels would be as robust as they are here, and the spilled Crayola box of gang colors pop off the screen. A few scattered shots look flatter and more ordinary by comparison, but The Warriors stands out as one of the most thoroughly impressive catalog titles on HD DVD to date.
The AVC-encoded video is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1.
Audio: Paramount has opted to leave off the film's original monaural audio, instead just offering a Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 remix. It's essentially a stereo track, with only a handful of sounds awkwardly bleeding to the rear speakers. Even if it doesn't take advantage of all of the channels it has on tap, the mix is still fairly robust. There's not a tremendous amount of bass, but the audio is reasonably punchy when the movie calls for it, adding a meaty thud to the slugs and kicks that punctuate The Warriors' brawls. The sound effects and squawking synthesizers in its score are spread convincingly across the front channels, and the film's dialogue is crisp and clear enough throughout. The Warriors may not sound as good as it looks, but the audio is still nicely polished.
Also included are monaural dubs in French and Spanish alongside the usual assortment of subtitles.
Extras: The Warriors includes all of the extras from Paramount's 2005 DVD re-release, although only the film's speckled theatrical trailer is presented in high definition.
Walter Hill chimes in with a minute and a half introduction to this revised version of the film. Hill opens by stating that he prefers that his movies speak for themselves, indicating why there's no audio commentary on this disc, and he briefly touches on how the new animated transitions reflect the comic book-ish tone and Greek origins he'd always meant to have in place.
The Warriors' extras are anchored around an extensive documentary helmed by Laurent Bouzereau, segmented into four parts that run just over an hour in total. Much of the surviving cast and crew are interviewed throughout, including Walter Hill, producers Lawrence Gordon and Frank Marshall, cinematographer Andrew Laszlo, composer Barry De Vorzon, editor David Holden, costume designer Bobbie Mannix, and actors Michael Beck, James Remar, David Patrick Kelly, David Harris, and Deborah Van Valkenburgh.
The first segment, "The Beginning", takes a look at how Gordon licensed the rights to Sol Yurick's novel and runs through the challenges of getting an adaptation greenlit, including an abrupt change in financing weeks before cameras were to roll and Hill having to embrace a comic book reality for The Warriors since the studio frowned on purely ethnic gangs. Casting is covered in great detail, and costume designer Bobbie Mannix touches on having to come up with distinct looks for so many dozens of gangs and shows off some of her original conceptual art.
"Battleground" follows some of the battles the crew had to fight off-camera, dealing with absurdly short New York summer nights, location shoots, inconsistent weather and limited lighting, competing for crew as a slew of other movies were shooting in the Big Apple at the same time, swapping The Warriors' romantic leads, and filming an elaborate gang summit with a thousand untrained extras.
"The Way Home" spends much of its time on the movie's brawls, delving into the fight choreography tailored specifically for each scene and the film's one and only set that was built for a battle in a Union Square men's room. Also covered are Walter Hill's disappointment with the way one character anticlimactically disappears from the movie, the cast having to ditch their colors so they wouldn't be attacked by a real gang on their way to a nearby restaurant, and how David Patrick Kelly came up with one of the signature moments of the film, clanking together empty bottles he'd scuttled out from under the boardwalk and taunting the Warriors to come out and plaaay-ay.
Finally, "The Phenomenon" opens by aiming the spotlight at the late Lynne Thigpen, who played the radio DJ that serves as the movie's Greek chorus and is never seen in the film outside of extreme closeups of her lips and teeth. The featurette also offers a look at one deleted scene, an alternate introduction that sets the stage in Coney Island and occasionally pops up when the movie airs on cable. This final segment also follows the film through post-production, including composing its synth-heavy score, the grueling editing process to get the movie in theaters before competing gang flicks, and narration originally slated to feature the voice of Orson Welles. The Warriors' box office success and aborted theatrical run due to threats of gang violence are also discussed along with some brief comments about movie's lasting influence.
This extremely thorough documentary covers The Warriors from just about every conceivable angle and more than makes up for the lack of any sort of audio commentary. Essential viewing for anyone buying or renting this HD DVD.
Conclusion: One of the most enduring and influential cult classics to emerge from the '70s has gotten the treatment it deserves on HD DVD, sporting a tremendous high definition presentation, a strong soundtrack, and a comprehensive hour long documentary. I can dig it. Highly Recommended.
Other Reviews: Ian Jane wrote a review of the standard definition DVD when it was first released in 2005.