The Warriors: Ultimate Director's Cut Review
Timelessness - the ability to tell a universal truth through film - has long been considered key for a film to enjoy lasting appeal. Take, for example, Rio Bravo, a film that says much about love and friendship despite the passing years. Equally, though, a film can find an audience far beyond the era in which it was made simply by being so clearly of its time that it becomes almost an emblem of days gone by, much like how we view the Protect And Survive or Charley Says... public information films of yesteryear.
The Warriors is one such film. Watching it over the past week, it bears comparison to something like Streets Of Fire, another Walter Hill film, but one that exists in a certain social vacuum. The rock'n'roll fable Streets Of Fire even opens with the line, "Another time, another place..." as though it bears absolutely no relation to the era in which we live but, in mixing up the cars and styles of the fifties, the gang culture of the seventies and the heavy rock and violence of the eighties, it becomes a film thoroughly of its time (1984), in which the post-modern appropriation of various cultures had a short-lived appeal. Similarly, The Warriors is just as much of its time as Streets Of Fire but unlike that film, it's a glorified view on the gang culture that was, we were told, taking over parts of the inner cities. Produced at a time when, following Assault On Precinct 13, the threat of gang warfare was as beloved of the press then as immigration, MRSA and whereabouts of sex offenders are now, The Warriors is a fantasy based on a classic story of isolation garnished with the trappings of late-seventies culture, which now appears as much of its time in New York as donkey jackets and braziers do of a similar time in Britain.
Based on the Greek story of Xenophon, who, along with his army, found themselves isolated within the Persian empire, The Warriors is a story of the titular gang who, with almost a hundred other gangs, is invited to a conclave in New York. Cyrus, the leader of the Gramercy Riffs, has a vision that, should they unite as one, all of the gangs could take control of New York and looks to take all of the major gangs with him, including the Warriors. During his speech and shortly before the police arrive to break up the conclave, Cyrus gets shot and as gangs look for the shooter, Luther (David Patrick Kelly), he fingers a member of the Warriors who had witnessed the shooting. As the police break up the gangs, the Warriors become isolated in Brooklyn and as the rest of the gangs unite to bring them in either dead or alive, they agree that whatever should happen, they should meet in Union Square station for the subway to their home turf in Coney Island. But the cops are also after them and with a radio DJ calling the gangs out onto the streets, the Warriors must face the Furies and Sirens before their destiny awaits them at sunrise on Coney Island.
Much of the reason for The Warriors being so much a product of its time is due as much to what happened around it than to the film itself. Released in the late-seventies, The Warriors features very little strong violence but, instead, offers fight scenes that are artfully choreographed against a strongly comic-book feel. However, following its release in North America and reports of gang fights in cinemas, the press and the BBFC rewarded it with an X certificate. Combine that with The Warriors being an early VHS release and it garnered a reputation for being a hugely violent film, not helped by the garish film poster/VHS cover, the gang setting, the sexually threatening actions of the Warriors and the film's relative absence from television and from theatrical re-releases. Even my own experience of The Warriors was as a pirate copy obtained through somewhat suspect channels, which, due to the reputation of the film, resulted in a sizeable crowd convened about a television set at a youth club. What with the nature of such videos, one felt that the warnings over piracy should have been heeded a little more given that the first ten minutes were spent in a darkened room wondering if the television had been tuned in properly. But, even then, just having a copy was so thrilling that there was a palpable sense of excitement every time its whereabouts were confirmed.
Looking at The Warriors now, the excitement around the film is confirmed by it being one of Walter Hill's best films - it's a confidently directed action film that owes much to Kurosawa, Hill's beloved westerns and the race-against-time genre of film, such as DOA. It's a mark of Hill's ability, though, that The Warriors has a look that, despite it having such an obvious set of influences, is very much its own film with Hill showing a clear ability to capture the threatening gloom of the inner cities as well as suffusing it with a sense of romantic decay. Rundown New York may not have ever looked this good again and the rain-soaked streets, the fires in the distance, the aluminium subway cars and the deserted stations all hint at a doomed glamour that Hill would perfect for Streets Of Fire.
Equally, though, the controversy that surrounded The Warriors looks to have been entirely misplaced. There is violence, sexual intimidation and gang warfare but none of it, with the exception of the bloodier moments and the strong language, would be out of place on an episode of EastEnders, the producers of which have packed Walford Square with as many gangsters as Cyrus does here in his Brooklyn conclave. Indeed, given that Paramount pulled The Warriors from cinemas over fears that the gang warfare between members of the audience was escalating, you might be surprised to find out how mild the violence really is. There is only one shooting in the film and with the exception of Luther and the Rogues, no other gang uses any weapon more threatening than a flick-knife or a broken bottle. The Baseball Furies, for example, use, as one might expect, baseball bats whilst the Gramercy Riffs track down the warriors with bicycle chains and sticks. You feel that the reaction of the studio and audiences to Hill's work has left the director somewhat saddened that his comic-book movie, complete with wipes and the use of frames, should be so misunderstood. Indeed, one need only compare the relative lack of firepower in The Warriors to the apparent ease with which gangs in British cities have access to handguns to see how stylised and far from reality The Warriors really is.
Nothing, though, gives that away as much as realising, with hindsight, how outrageously camp The Warriors is. The Warriors themselves are quite convincingly presented but as they and other gangs travel to Cyrus' conclave, it's evident that not only did Walter Hill let his imagination wander with the names of these gangs but that his costume design department took his lead without question. The Boppers are quite bad enough but when the High-Hats appear out of a subway station wearing top hats, all-white make-up and the t-shirt-and-braces attire so beloved of mimes, you might well be struggling to breathe between laughs. Worse, though, are the Baseball Furies, who are a vision of the Major League Baseball filtered through the mind of Gene Simmons and Ace Frehley and who wear a standard baseball uniform with their faces painted in the less-than-threatening colours of red, yellow and cyan.
All of which though, along with Hill's introduction, only stresses the point that The Warriors is not the gritty, urban drama that outraged society in the late-seventies but is as much an escapist fantasy as Hill's later Streets Of Fire, which featured just as much violence as this but without carrying any of the social baggage. I've long been a fan of Streets Of Fire, as much for the soundtrack as for the film and can now state, having seen it here with a superb transfer, that The Warriors is even better a film. As with Streets Of Fire, The Warriors would work best on impressionable teenage boys, which is no doubt where much of the controversy originated, but it's still a fantastically exciting film with an ending that, even with a song that would later show up on the final album by The Eagles, just might convince you to take up gang colours. Which is maybe where the problem always lay with this film.
Having mentioned earlier that my previous experience of The Warriors was a less than satisfactory one, it can be confirmed that this Special Edition is a revelatory experience. The picture is, quite frankly, stunning with Brooklyn rarely looking better. The black of the night sky and the bright colours of the city lights are reproduced with so much detail and with such ease that nothing ever gives the transfer a problem.
The soundtrack, which has been remixed with, one assumes, Walter Hill's backing is equally as good. There's no noise, the occasional song jumps out of the speakers, particularly Joe Walsh's In The City and the rear channels are well used, both in action scenes and for ambient effects. Just as good is the seamless movement between the front speakers, best noticed with passing subway trains.
Introduction by Walter Hill (1m19s): Looking good and slimmer than he has done in archive footage and photographs, Hill talks initially about his reticence over Special Editions before warming to the opportunity that it afforded him to go back and ensure that The Warriors was presented in the best means possible.
The Warriors: The Beginning (14m08s): Opening with producer Lawrence Gordon discovering the paperback of the novel in a bookshop, after which he optioned the rights to it using his own funds, this feature follows the production of The Warriors up to the point at which filming begins. As such, Gordon and Walter Hill feature prominently but all of the main cast - David Patrick Kelly, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, David Remar and Michael Beck - talk about how they successfully read for the film and prepared for the forthcoming shoot.
The Warriors: The Battleground (15m025s): Shot on location and with real gang members in the cast and in the background of the production, The Warriors was a difficult shoot but this feature finds Walter Hill and those in his crew in good form as they recount the production of the film, from the conclave in Brooklyn to the finale on the beach on Coney Island.
The Warriors: The Way Home (18m08s): This feature takes a number of scenes and with the cast, Lawrence Gordon and Walter Hill, examine how each was filmed and how they impacted the film. Those under discussion are the fights with the Baseball Furies and the Lizzies, the kiss between Swan and Mercy, the arrest of Ajax, the fight in the men's room and, finally, Luther's taunting of the Warriors on Coney Island. "Warriors...come to play-ay!"
The Warriors: The Phenomenon (15m24s): Concluding the features on this Special Edition, this draws the production of the film to a close through the editing, the rush to be in cinemas before The Wanderers and what fell out during a need to tighten the action, such as an alternate opening, which has been included. Walter Hill and Executive Producer Frank Marshall discuss the fights that occurred in cinemas during the film's first weeks on release whilst the cast come back in to talk about their experiences following the release of the film.
Theatrical Trailer (2m01s): This dates from the original release of the film and plays up the number of gangs in the film as well as its portrayal of gang warfare.
Special mention must also go the menu screen on the DVD, which, with a combination of footage from the film and an updated score, provides an enormously thrilling pre-film treat.
But, like the lone voice at the end of a showing of Citizen Kane who asks, "So...what was Rosebud?", I can't help but wonder why the Warriors didn't just steal a couple of cars. There's even a point where, as the Warriors face off against the Orphans, they use a petrol bomb to destroy one parked car out of a line of three and I found myself asking the Warriors why not just steal them.
In a way, though, that's partly the charm of the film. Like a playground fight in which one youthful scrapper produces, say, a knuckle duster, the immediate reaction is to think, "Oooh, you've gone too far there!" and back away. Similarly, The Warriors portrays a gangland in which broken bottles and flick knives are used but rarely guns and whilst women are mauled by members of the gang, they mumble their excuses at the theft of a car, which is a world away from the assault rifles that were being used on the doormen at the Hacienda in Manchester ten years after this film was released. As I've said throughout, The Warriors is very much of its time but that's no criticism, simply that one needn't expect the film that created so much controversy in 1979.
The DVD has lost the promised commentary but with the film in sparkling condition and just enough extras so as not to become a drain on one's time - a long evening will see you rattle through the disc - it's a fine release.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 07:33:23