Paramount // 1979 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gary Militzer (Retired) // March 21st, 2001
These are the armies of the night. They are 100,000 strong. They outnumber the cops five to one. They could run New York City. Tonight they're all out to get the Warriors.
The Warriors received plenty of negative publicity when it was first released theatrically in 1979. Reports of brawls between real youth gangs erupting in cinemas screening The Warriors ensured this film a permanent place in the annals of notorious cult movie history. Directed by Walter Hill (48 Hrs., Streets of Fire, The Long Riders), The Warriors is loosely based on Xenophon's "Anabasis," an historical account of how ten thousand Greek mercenaries fought their way across Persia in a long retreat to the sea in 401 B.C., constantly tested by the gods through a series of potentially deadly trials. Instead of ancient Persia, the action here is set in contemporary New York already overrun with riotous violence.
Youth gangs roam New York City's streets and subways, ruling the neon underground of the urban jungle. Nine leather-vested members of a Coney Island gang called the Warriors are on their way to attend a clandestine gang convention of sorts in the Bronx. Thousands of gangbangers have congregated here to listen to the charismatic vocal musings of a prominent gang leader named Cyrus (Roger Hill), who has declared a truce for the purposes of this meeting. Cyrus wants to unite all the gangs to march as one against the whole city, creating a stranglehold over commerce within the boroughs and taxing the crime syndicates and police alike.
The members in attendance all seem to agree with Cyrus's ambitious vision until Luther (David Patrick Kelly -- Last Man Standing, Dreamscape, The Crow), a psychotic member of the rival Rogues, surreptitiously shoots and kills Cyrus, unleashing a frenzy of bloodthirst. In the ensuing chaos, the Warriors are unfairly accused of assassinating Cyrus. The truce is seemingly off and the safety of their home turf is a long train ride away. Soon the Warriors have every street hood in the city out to get revenge against them. Unarmed and miles behind enemy lines, they must make a mad dash from the Bronx all the way back home to Coney Island, all the while being endlessly pursued by the police and rival gangs, including a Clockwork Orange-inspired, wooden bat-toting gang in matching baseball uniforms and decked out in Gothic face paint (think The Crow outfitted in Yankee pinstripes). Now the Warriors must bop and bang their way across New York, matching wits and muscle with the armies of the night.
The Warriors is a good action movie that, for me, has improved with age. My wife likes to dub films like these "fungus flicks" because they really grow on you over time and through repeat viewings. There is no doubt that The Warriors is somewhat stylistically dated and can be viewed as a creature of its time and place, emanating from a more artistically dangerous era of filmmaking. Whether director Hill designed this to be a dark, cautionary satire about a future where gangs of young hoodlums run rampant, or just wanted to make a semi-controversial, straightforward actioner, is best left to the particular interpretation of the audience.
If one does look deep enough, the perceptive viewer can perhaps see some shades of A Clockwork Orange in its brutal, bleak world overrun by furious adolescents. But I think this film is meant to be more of a straight-ahead, kinetic action-fest rather than an intellectual parable or metaphor for the increasingly violent nature of our society. To that end, Hill effectively framed the story like a living comic strip, finely balancing the film with equal parts flashy ghetto fantasy and gritty, anything-goes urban reality, piecing the simple plot all together with jackknife editing, like the spliced panels of a graphic novel.
There are plenty of fisticuffs and head bashing, but probably not enough to satisfy today's hardcore action crowd in the slam-bang violence department. The film, for all the controversy it stirred back in its day, is fairly tame by the standards of today's youthful audiences, who now laugh at shocking displays of onscreen violence with gleeful exuberance. Walter Hill's direction, however, is tight and timelessly effective.
The cinematography by Andrew Laszlo is also a spectacular achievement. From the haunting opening shots of the purplish neon glow of the Coney Island Wonder Wheel at night, to the blue haze of the desolate graffiti-covered subway stations, all the way to the final shots of the soothing ocean waves crashing under the warm, yellow tint of the comforting sunrise, Laszlo's cinematography never fails to impress. His use of stark landscapes, real New York locations, and natural lighting gives The Warriors a gritty, realistic feel that adds immensely to the film's hallucinatory appeal, and helps to mask many of the film's shortcomings and weak areas (namely, its screenplay and acting). Unfortunately, there is not an abundance of good acting by the cast of largely unknowns, and much of their unintentionally hilarious dialogue is badly written and overflowing with clichés. But all of this hardly matters in a film as stylishly choreographed, tightly edited, and well-paced as The Warriors.
Paramount has released The Warriors in its original 1.85:1 theatrical ratio, with anamorphic enhancement for 16x9 televisions. This is a commendable effort from Paramount; there is an overall clarity to the picture that will be a startling revelation to those fans of the film accustomed to only seeing it on broadcast television or blurry, cropped videocassette over the years. I feared that the transfer would be plagued by dull shades of gray and blurry composition; thankfully, the video is surprisingly notable for its deep black levels and detailed, delineated shadows. The night scenery is incredibly sharp for a film of this age. The terrific print displays scant few speckles, scratches, or blemishes. Grain unfortunately rears its ugly head and is visible throughout the film, but is never too overwhelming to detract from the overall clearness of the picture. Fleshtones are subdued, but basic colors are vibrantly bright and pop right out.
In the audio department, The Warriors is graced with a functional Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix. The track is audible and decent, free of noticeable hiss or distortion, but is ultimately underwhelming. A dynamic 5.1 remix certainly would have served this material well by opening up the soundscape and freeing inclusive sonic effects from the limited fidelity of the mono presentation. Still, this mono Dolby Digital language track is adequate, and few will complain about its clarity.
The only extra included in this package is the original theatrical trailer, also enhanced for 16x9 televisions and in mono sound. This is one of the better trailers I've seen, with the eerie, John Carpenter-like electronic score by Tangerine Dream, originally recorded for William Friedkin's criminally underrated Sorcerer, temporarily inserted into the action. Like the original theatrical teaser for Gladiator, which featured music recorded for another film (in that case, Basil Poledouris' excellent score for Conan the Barbarian) that totally fits the onscreen preview, this music from Tangerine Dream perfectly compliments the visual style of The Warriors and makes for a memorable little trailer that will remind viewers more than just a little bit of Carpenter's later Escape From New York.
My complaints with this DVD are twofold. First, Paramount should have stuck with the ultra-cool original theatrical poster art, showing all the gangs standing around in one big, evil mural. Instead, we get some of the worst DVD box art yet assembled, with the front cover of the package looking like a still from some cheesy 1980s rock video production. It's horrible, plain and simple.
Second, Paramount probably could have slapped some extras on a disc for a movie as notorious and controversial as The Warriors was back in its day. Surely, Paramount could have put together a thought-provoking featurette showing just what all this controversial fuss surrounding this film was about back in 1979. Also, I have heard that extra footage exists from the television cut; it would have been a nice addition to this DVD if scenes from this reworked version were included on the disc. Would it have been too much trouble to gather participants for a commentary track? I know I certainly would love to hear about the creative origins of the clanging beer bottles-on-the-fingers trick during the now-famous "Warriors come out to play" sequence, but I'm a freak like that.
The Warriors DVD boasts a stellar transfer of the film, but there are no supplementary materials or noteworthy extras included. However, this is a minor classic that simply must be a part of any self-respecting exploitation flick aficionado's film collection. Cult movie mavens will relish hiding out in the grim urban shadows of the neon underground for a front row seat to the gangland warfare raging through the boroughs of a stylized New York City nightworld. Indeed, The Warriors truly is one of the most kinetic and memorable action films of the 1970s. For that reason alone, this under-appreciated gem deserves to be given the special edition treatment; hopefully, Paramount will revisit The Warriors sometime in the future and rectify this oversight.
Yeah, you Warriors are good. Real good. The Warriors are hereby acquitted of all charges, but ordered to spend more quality time with their youth workers so that they can learn to get in touch with their softer, gentler feminine side a little more often. Can you dig it? However, Paramount, for its disrespectable treatment of The Warriors in the extras and packaging department, is remanded to the authority of the Gramercy Riffs, where the full hockey stick and chain treatment shall be doled out, and punishment shall be strict, painful, and oh-so severe.
Review content copyright © 2001 Gary Militzer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Golden Gavel 2001 Nominee
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer
* Warriors Fan Page