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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Drama > The Warriors - Ultimate Director's Cut

The Warriors (1979) Ultimate Director's Cut

 

Picture: B     Sound: B     Extras: B-     Film: B+

 

 

Whether it's colorizing old black-and-white classics, modernizing the special effects in the original Star Wars (1977) or removing the guns from the federal agents in E.T., I'm against adding brand new touches to old movies.  That said, I love it when filmmakers can go back and add footage they were forced to cut from a film's initial theatrical release.  There's a big difference, though, between excised footage shot during a film's original principal photography, and footage that was created years after the fact.  Adding previously excised footage can help complete a director's original vision that was, for some reason, compromised the first time around.  But adding brand new footage created years later or deleting footage to pander to political correctness somehow seems impure to me. That's why I'm not totally thrilled with what one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, Walter Hill, has done with one of his most commercially successful films, 1979's The Warriors, for the new Ultimate Director's Cut on DVD.

 

The movie itself has become a cult favorite over the years, and remains a terrific piece of pulp entertainment, but the changes Hill makes do little to make it better.  The one added element I do like is Hill's new introduction at the very beginning of film, where a scroll of words is read by Hill himself about The Warriors being a story of courage based on a group of ancient Greek soldiers trying to find their way home while stranded deep within the Persian Empire.  This little tidbit of information adds context to the story, but I'm not so happy with the freeze frames and new comic-book drawings added to the end of some scenes.  The Warriors is already enough of a comic-book movie without having to state the obvious with the kind of comic-book drawings that were seen between segments in Creepshow.

 

Masterly mixing comic-book pulp and tough-guy mythology, The Warriors is vintage Hill that ranks behind only 48 HRS. as his most financially successful film to date.  And it probably would have been an even bigger hit if Paramount wasn't forced to prematurely pull the film's advertising campaign after some real-life gang violence broke out inside theaters showing The Warriors in early 1979.  But even though it takes place among New York City street gangs, it's really not a movie about street gangs.  As Hill's new introduction says, this is a movie about courage and survival in a perilous environment.  In this respect, The Warriors is a fine companion piece to what I think is Hill's best film overall, 1981's Southern Comfort, in which a group of National Guardsmen are forced to fight for their lives while lost in the Louisiana Bayou.

 

The Warriors opens with a black gang leader named Cyrus (Roger Hill) calling a public gathering with nine chosen members from hundreds of different New York City street gangs in order to discuss how they can take over the entire city if only they'd stop fighting over little pieces of turf and pull together.  The Warriors are a gang hailing from Coney Island, and are the kind of multi-racial street gang you usually only see in movies.  When a member from another gang (David Patrick Kelly) shoots and kills Cyrus at the gang summit, and then blames the Warriors, our falsely accused title characters must venture 27 miles across town at night, and try to get back home to Coney Island with every other gang in the city after them.

 

On their way through the hostile urban streets and subway stations, they'll encounter various obstacles including cops, rival gangs (a gang called the Baseball Furies that wear baseball uniforms and Kiss-style facial makeup while wielding baseball bats are the most memorable) and a vacuum in leadership after the death of original leader, Cleon (Dorsey Wright).  Swan (Michael Beck) assumes leadership with a sensible attitude of only fighting when absolutely necessary, but his more cautious leadership style is challenged by the more belligerent Ajax (James Remar), who lives to bash heads.  There's also a bored Hispanic girl named Mercy (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) with a thirst for danger who starts tagging along with the Warriors on their cross-city trek. 

 

Like Hill's best work, The Warriors is tight, terse and tough, and Hill once again proves that he has few equals when staging intense confrontations.  His stylish direction is nicely complimented by composer Barry De Vorzon's lively synthesized score and Andrew Laszlo's rich nighttime cinematography.

 

After releasing a basic anamorphic widescreen DVD edition of The Warriors a few years ago, which is still worth getting because it contains the original theatrical cut of the film, Paramount's new anamorphic widescreen Ultimate Director's Cut is definitely a must-have for Hill devotees like myself. Yet it still could have been even better.  Hill mentions in his pre-film introduction that he doesn't believe in audio commentaries because "the movie should speak for itself," and I respect that.  Maybe he should reconsider for future special editions of his films to have a moderator ask him questions and/or appear with other cast and crew members during commentaries.  Still, there's no excuse why we're shown clips of the alternate opening during one of the featurettes, but not shown the deleted scene in its entirety.  Furthermore, there's supposedly 6 minutes of additional footage that was used on network television showings that's disappointingly absent from this edition.

 

The picture quality (taken from a new print) and the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound is first-rate and about as good as it gets with a catalogue title that's 26 years old upon its release.  The introduction by Hill and four separate featurettes with recent interviews conducted with Hill, Laszlo, De Vorzon, producers Lawrence Gordon and Frank Marshall, and cast members Beck, Remar, Van Valkenburgh, Kelly and David Harris are nicely intercut with still photos taken on-location during shooting. These interviews are to be relished, though, since not nearly enough has been written or discussed about the work of Walter Hill, an auteur who remains sinfully underrated.  Like Don Siegel and Sam Peckinpah, Hill is one of those no-nonsense, but great filmmakers who probably won't be fully appreciated until after he's dead.  Also included among the special features is the original theatrical trailer of The Warriors, which effectively used Tangerine Dream's music from William Friedkin's Sorcerer (1977) to help sell it.

 

One can only dread how director Tony Scott will likely desecrate The Warriors with his planned remake. Anybody who saw how modern-day hacks destroyed the remake of another 1970s cult classic involving street gangs, John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13, should stop Scott immediately.

 

 

- Chuck O'Leary


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