Judge Adam Arseneau can dig it.
Our review of The Warriors, published March 21st, 2001, is also available.
"Can you dig it?"
Nothing spells "DVD reissue" like cross-promotion tie-ins. So when Rockstar Games, makers of the always-controversial Grand Theft Auto series, announced its intentions to release a video game adaptation of The Warriors, based on the cult film of the same name? Well, it was only a matter of time.
On a…ahem, completely unrelated note, The Warriors: Ultimate Director's Cut is here, featuring additional footage and an hour of special features. But for all you boppers out there, is it worth an upgrade? Read on to find out…
Facts of the Case
The alleys of New York City are buzzing with the news that Cyrus, leader of the Gramercy Riffs, the most powerful and respected gang in town, has called a meeting with all the gangs across the five boroughs. There is talk of a truce, and it sends shockwaves of excitement, anticipation, and anxiety throughout the underground. New York is a city ruled by gangs, each staking out a corner and defending it mercilessly, and the idea of a cease-fire is both awe-inspiring and terrifying.
The Warriors, a Native American-themed gang from Coney Island, sends its nine finest members across town to represent in the meeting, respecting the rules and bringing along no weapons. Having never left Coney Island, The Warriors are more than a little apprehensive, but interested to hear Cyrus's plans for peace. When they arrive in the Bronx, they find it packed with tens of thousands of gang members, all sharing the same space uneasily, former enemies standing side-by-side.
Cyrus begins to speak, commanding the crowd with his magnetic personality, easily convincing all present of the genius of his crusade. If the gangs unite, they could take the city from the police in a single night. Forget fighting over street corners, he urges; the real prize—the entire city—is right there for the taking! The crowd cheers ecstatically…until a gun lets loose like a cannon, blasting Cyrus clean off the stage.
Making matters worse, the police descend like a pack of vultures. All the gangs flee in a chaotic rush, and in the surmounting panic, The Warriors get blamed for assassinating Cyrus, framed for the crime by a rival gang. A bounty is placed upon their heads by the furious Riffs. Suddenly, The Warriors find themselves isolated in unfriendly territory, a hundred angry gangs between themselves and Coney Island. With every single gang in New York gunning for the nine Warriors, and with no hope of easy escape, their only choice is to plow straight through, fighting through every last thug, with barely a hope in hell of making it home alive!
"Warriorrrrs…come out to playyyyyy!"
Oh, man, The Warriors. This film puts a smile on my face from ear-to-ear every time I hear the opening stab of the aged synthesizer score, a grin that keeps up until the credits roll. Though obviously not intended to be at the time, this film has become an odd sort of comfort food for a great many people; a strange campy nostalgic romp through the dark streets of New York, filled with lavishly dressed gangs, uniformly nameless police officers, a total absence of private citizens, and more slow-motion shots of bodies hurled through wooden doors than you can shake a baseball bat at.
The Warriors is loosely based on an ancient Greek story of war, Xenophon's Anabasis, the same way that American Gladiators is loosely based on the Olympics; which is to say, hardly at all. In Anabasis, the story is told of Greek mercenaries trapped behind hostile Persian lines, the only element that bears even a passing similarity to the plot of The Warriors (that, and the name of the murdered captain Cyrus). Truth be told, Walter Hill's dark dystopic take on street-gang violence in a near-future New York is much more Class of '84 meets Mad Max than Greek literature. Or, perhaps a more literal analogy would be West Side Story meets Escape From New York.
The Warriors has a visual atmosphere like no other. Rivaling the most dystopic depictions of New York ever captured on celluloid, one would believe that regular citizens are virtually nonexistent. For a city that never sleeps, it seems clear that only the gangs come out at night, a fact that helps to keep the tension of the film elevated to boiling levels, since virtually every single person The Warriors encounter is bound to be an enemy. The atmosphere is paranoid and claustrophobic as the gangs flee from one gang directly into the arms of the next, each murky mist-filled alleys with their menacing shadows representing a potential ambush. This fantastic vision is testament to the exceptional cinematography of Andrew Laszlo, creating a dark and dangerous vision of New York City; so much so that The Warriors was criticized during its theatrical run for inciting gang violence. The rumor on the street, believe it or not, was that if you went to see The Warriors, you would be beaten up by gangs in the theater. Seriously. With that kind of publicity, it didn't take long before the film was pulled from theaters.
But despite being delegated to the endless repeats on late-night cable television, The Warriors managed to ingrain itself into popular culture like a virus, its influences visible in everything from punk rock and popular music to hip-hop culture ("California Love," anyone?) The film epitomizes the moniker "cult classic" in every way, yet is a rare example of a movie that still holds up well today, even when revisited a quarter of a century later. Even by today's standards, the fight sequences hold up astonishingly well; if not realistic, then at least hilariously awesome, like the inordinate amount of breakaway doors and bats. The over-the-top stylized costume designs and gangs, like the Baseball Furies and the Hi-Hats, remain notorious in the minds of the millions, if only for the sheer hilarity of a New York Street gang dressing up in KISS makeup and baseball jerseys prowling the streets. The synthesized rock soundtrack, with its droning and pulsing sign waves, is so insanely kitchy and bodacious that it deserves its own subcategory of obscure cult appreciation. Without it, the film would be a mere shadow of its former glory.
And yet, The Warriors isn't a good movie, not in the strictest sense. I mean, Shakespeare, this ain't. Despite the auspicious associations to ancient Greek lore, with brilliant lines like, "Whoah, look at those muscles. I bet the chicks love all those muscles," The Warriors won't be winning any literary awards anytime soon. The acting is tenuous at best, inane at worst; save for a few electrical performances, like David Patrick Kelly's immortalized over-the-top portrayal of Rogues leader Luther. Clink a few beer bottles together in a crowded room, and see what happens. I mean, entire sequences of the film are head-scratching in their transparency and foolishness. But despite all these surface flaws, The Warriors manages to be extremely entertaining and enjoyable, like a fine wine having matured with age.
And speaking of maturing with age, did they ever do a fine job restoring The Warriors for this special edition. The previous transfer was the textbook definition of lackluster, but the presentation on the Ultimate Director's Cut is a thing of beauty. Shot almost entirely at night, the transfer features lush, deep and rich black levels, almost no evidence of grain or distortion, no marks or film defects to speak of. Detail is sharp, and the color tone is vibrant, though reds are slightly saturated occasionally. The stops have been pulled out for this one—The Warriors has never looked better.
Audio fares nearly as well, with three choices: a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track, a Dolby 5.1 Surround track, and a French mono track. The 2.0 track is serviceable enough, with well-defined bass, ambient noises and dialogue, but the full five-channel surround sound is where it's at, suckas. Take the disc a spin during the subway sequences and hear every scrape of the track perfectly reproduced. Listen to Cyrus's speech echo convincingly into the rear channels. The sound is dynamic and forceful, and the electric score by Barry DeVorzon throbs from the speakers with gut-wrenching awesomeness. The score simply makes the film, nothing less. Without it, this movie would be a joke…this is a fact that bears repeating. One thing to note: conspicuously absent is an English mono soundtrack, a glaring omission sure to be noted by purists. This is one small area the original version outshines the Ultimate Director's Cut. Fortunately, the available audio tracks are more than satisfactory to make up for the loss…especially the 5.1 track.
In addition to the introduction by director Walter Hill in which he justifies his changes to the film, and a bodacious retro theatrical trailer, this DVD also contains four featurettes, each about 15 minutes in length: "The Beginning," "Battleground," "The Way Home," and "The Phenomenon." Each is quite excellent in quality and scope, full of detailed and insightful interviews with cast and crew. No director's commentary track, unfortunately, but the featurettes contain enough inside information about production and filming that a commentary track would be redundant. And frankly put, after hearing Walter Hill's spoken introduction, I'm not sure I'd want to sit through him talking for 90 minutes. An hour of additional material is pretty borderline in terms of material quality, but considering the paltry offering on the previous edition, this is a gold mine in comparison.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It remains a timeless truth that, no matter how excellent it may be, a revisited director's cut of a film will always piss somebody off. Case in point: The Warriors: Ultimate Director's Cut. Director Walter Hill, an admitted critic of such revised cuts, decided in favor of restoring some of the more neglected aspects of his vision back into The Warriors, consisting primarily of comic book-style segues and frame transitions, as well as an introductory narration (by the director, it seems) edifying the Greek mythological tie-ins with Anabasis, of which Yurick's original novel clearly emphasized. Why the movie needs to emphasize them, I am uncertain, but what can you do?
The added comic-style segues do not bother me too much, but many a purist has already complained that, in addition to being extraordinarily corny, they interrupt the flow of the film quite badly. This is a claim I do not challenge—especially the former—but neither do I feel they genuinely detract from the film. It should be reiterated, however, that they are extraordinarily lame. Not sure what they were thinking there.
If you be a die-hard purist who fears change, by all means, grab a copy of the original version to keep you warm and safe during those stormy nights. Depending on where you live, many retailers will still have the original version in stock for discounted prices. However, it still behooves you to pick this version up, in my opinion. The cosmetic changes inserted into the film by no means outweigh the excellent facelift given to this cult classic, and the low cost of the DVD make it worthwhile, if only for the extra content. I mean, this isn't Star Wars, after all.
Despite being corny and dated as hell, The Warriors is a film fondly remembered by many, possessing an odd sense of timelessness, even by the harsh and modern standards of action films today. A quarter of a century later, and The Warriors remains as tense, as action-packed, and as entertaining as ever. Unfortunately, in this climate of cinematic unoriginality, this makes it ripe for a Hollywood remake. Whoops, too late…word on the street is, Tony Scott has set a 2006 release date for his updated version set in Los Angeles, in collaboration with—get ready for it—MTV Films. I suggest writing a letter to your congressman now, and beat the postal rush.
In the meantime, you go out and you get The Warriors: Ultimate Director's Cut. The time that you need to do this is now. Considering that the original DVD version of The Warriors is now out of print, the reasonable price of this new edition, the quality of the transfer, and the extra goodies it contains, this version gets the nod as the edition to own. Come out to play already.
The Court can dig it. Not guilty on all charges.
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Scales of Justice
• Introduction by Director Walter Hill
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