The Warriors: Ultimate Director's Cut Review

Watching The Warriors is like jumping into Doc Brown’s Delorean and travelling back to the 70’s - few films possess the “time capsule” quality that Walter Hill’s 1979 classis exudes. It’s a vivid example of American cinema from the period; one of political unrest, radical ideas, and plenty of grit. It was Hollywood’s most indelible era, with many filmmakers telling stories that pushed the boundaries of the medium; reflecting the social upheaval that surrounded them. Hill’s film tapped into the inner-city fear of gang culture, a popular theme during the decade, which was utilised to great effect in films like Assault on Precinct 13. Cities like Los Angeles were eroding from crime (at least that’s what the authorities led people to believe), and directors didn’t miss a chance to exploit such fears. The Warriors takes such a threat and puts it into a fantastical setting - a dystopian view of New York, which is filled to the brim with rival gangs, who seem to outnumber the model citizens…

It’s also a big dose of pure cinematic cheese, but I mean that in the nicest possible way!

The story comes from a book by Sol Yubrick; itself loosely based on the mythic Greek tale Anabasis. Legend told of a group of mercenaries who were stuck behind enemy lines - the only element of the Greek story to make its way into The Warriors. In most respects, Hill’s film plays more like Class of ‘84, crossed with Escape From New York and West Side Story. As with most urban action films, the plot is of little consequence; it’s about style, not substance. Here, a proposed truce between the gangs of New York City is shattered when the rebellious Luther (David Patrick Kelly) kills the influential Cyrus (Roger Hill). Unfortunately, our heroes - “The Warriors” of the title - are blamed for the murder, and find themselves stranded miles from their turf on Coney Island. They’ll have to fight through the city’s many goons to stay alive…

As soon as it was released, The Warriors courted controversy. It’s treatment of gang culture raised a few eyebrows, and the film gained a bad reputation (the BBFC even gave it an X rating). Rumours circulated that if you went to see the film, you’d be assaulted by gangs in the cinema. The tension started to mount, and it wasn’t long before the film was yanked from theatres. In this respect, it was guaranteed to become a cult entity - it found an afterlife on late-night television, and the cult grew with the advent of video and DVD. After all this time, it’s amusing to look back on The Warriors and see how tame it actually is. Nothing in this film is shocking, or overly-offensive. It’s an action film with a comic book streak; not to be taken seriously. Strong violence is kept to a minimum too - you’ll see worse on a mainstream television show. I don’t think it was Hill’s intention to rustle so many feathers, and there isn’t much social commentary to be found either. The filmmakers wanted the audience to have fun, and the picture delivers on that noble aim.

The Warriors has a distinctive visual style and flavour, adding to the kitsch atmosphere that makes it so relentlessly entertaining. Despite being set largely at night, the film is a colourful concoction. Andrew Laszlo’s photography is nothing short of brilliant - depicting a dark, yet beautiful New York, with a searing attention to detail. Sets were used sparingly, and the camerawork makes the most of NY’s locales, especially the conclave scene which starts the picture. Hundreds of extras; all made up to represent their particular gang. And that’s where most of the fun resides in The Warriors - the gangs are so wildly OTT. They range from threatening to downright silly; such as the Baseball Furies, who deck-out in Yankee’s merchandise with face paint, or the Hi-Hats, who seem to be from a different century entirely. Hill takes great pleasure in giving each troupe their own identity, including The Warriors themselves.

Each of the main protagonists are nicely-crafted by Hill and co-writer David Shaber. They’re strong, loyal and likeable; despite their nefarious goals. Michael Beck makes an impression as Swan, the only character in this motley crew who gives a damn. He also sparks brilliantly with Ajax, played with a typical hard-ass manner by James Remar. In fact, the entire film is swimming in testosterone. The only female to impact the story is Mercy (Deborah Van Valkenburgh). She helps to give the film another perspective, in a world ruled by men. Her role might not seem too important, but the director gives each character their own subtle nuances, so they never blend together - we know enough about them to forget character development, and concentrate on the action. It’s a shame that the filmmaker couldn’t find more for the villainous Luther to do, however. Kelly portrays him with a wild-eyed exuberance, that lingers in the memory (“Warriors…come out to play-ay!”).

Despite the diversity of the cast, the action is what we’re really interested in. Hill shows plenty of skill in this area, and he builds the tension admirably. The Warriors run into several gangs as they try to reach Coney Island, not to mention the police force. As my colleague Eamonn McCusker noted in his review, one wonders why the gang don’t just hot-wire a car and drive home. But logic doesn’t belong in a film like The Warriors. This is a film that moves along at a cracking pace, and doesn’t require its audience to dwell on the details - I dare you not to get a kick from the ridiculous bathroom punch-up, or the gang’s tussle with the Baseball Furies in Central Park. The story would have suited Marvel, with its simple, direct pleasures.

The comic book connection is certainly more evident in Hill’s “Director’s Cut”, which adds a variety of graphic novel-style transitions to the film. Many fans were annoyed by Hill’s meddling, but I think the aesthetic works. It certainly suits the tone and design of the picture - it makes the more outlandish quirks easier to bare, and helps to define the films unique atmosphere. 21 years later, The Warriors stands up remarkably well. It’s a potent mix of action and drama; revelling in it’s offbeat characterisations, and stylish visuals. Throw-in a wonderfully cheesy electronic score, and you have the very definition of “guilty pleasure”. The Warriors isn’t high-art, but it remains a hugely entertaining slice of escapism. And that’s all it ever wanted to be…

The Disc

“Can you dig it?”

While a new edition of The Warriors is certainly welcome, you have to question Paramount’s reasoning behind this release - it did, after all, appear just before Rock Star unleashed their video game adaptation. A perfect marketing strategy, which seems to be working; both the film and the game are rising up their respective charts.

This isn’t a definitive “Special Edition” of Hill’s cult curio, but the director has stated that he has little interest in extra-packed DVD’s - he expects a film to speak for itself. The features that are present, certainly go into enough detail on the picture; offering a groovy retrospective. The new cut also means a new transfer, which does The Warriors justice.

The Look and Sound

I was amazed at the clarity of this transfer, and Paramount have clearly spent a lot of money on restoring The Warriors to its former glory. It blows past editions out of the water; the new anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer gives the picture a modern sheen. The new cut provided Hill with the perfect excuse to go back and give the film a digital makeover. I’m glad he did. The colourful vistas of Brooklyn pop, and the blacks are rock-solid. Detail is high, and the disc really makes the most of the rich photography. Any grain was very hard to spot - the print is remarkably clean, with no major instances of print damage. If it wasn’t for the 70’s fashions and hairdos, it might have been mistaken for a recent movie…

The audio isn’t too shabby either, with a perfectly-functional Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack; helping to defy the films age. It’s a clear mix, with no signs of hiss or distortion. It’s not the most active in terms of surround action, but the film rarely requires an audio onslaught. The directional effects are great though, and used with skill when needed; especially the frenzied conclusion to Cyrus’ speech, or the frequent chases through the city. Music has a vibrancy too, and the dialogue was never hard to catch. A fine re-master overall.

Paramount also provides an English 2.0 track, and a French mono option. English and Spanish subtitles accompany the film.

Bonus Material

The only downside to this disc, is that the promised commentary by Hill is missing. If you can get over that, the new edition is an enjoyable experience; not comprehensive, but entertaining despite its brevity. Fans will speed through these supplements, but they achieve that rare goal - you’ll want to watch them again…

Introduction by Walter Hill

A typical DVD introduction by the director, which is pretty brief. He goes on record about his lack of interest in “Special Edition” releases, but is quick to acknowledge his desire in presenting The Warriors in the best way possible. The intro plays automatically at the start of the film, but can also be selected from the main menu.

“The Warriors: The Beginning”

As you’d expect, the first featurette documents the pre-production process behind the film. Producer Lawrence Gordon reveals that it was he who discovered the source material, and offered it to Hill for his perusal. The Greek influences are also highlighted, with Hill’s comments on the story and his screenplay. Typical topics like studio problems are presented, as well as casting. David Patrick Kelly, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, James Remar and Michael Beck all talk about their roles in the film.

“The Warriors: Battleground”

The filming of The Warriors was hardly a picnic, but the cast and crew look back on the shooting fondly; detailing the real gang members that were featured in the picture, and what real-life locations were used. There are some interesting anecdotes here.

“The Warriors: The Way Home”

Hill and Gordon take several key scenes from the film and examine them in detail, such as the various fight scenes, Cyrus’ speech, and the finale on Coney Island. Shooting methods and narrative elements are discussed, with some spirited contributions from the cast.

“The Warriors: The Phenomenon”

Concluding the supplements, this final featurette highlights the turbulent rush to finish the film, and its controversial release in theatres. Executive producer Frank Marshall offers his two cents on why the film caused such a stir, and the cast talk about their careers following the The Warriors’ cult success.

Last but not least, is a clutch of trailers, one for the film itself, and another for the aforementioned video game adaptation - which gets the films look down to a tee…

The Bottom Line

A popular cult classic, The Warriors seems to get better with age; like a fine wine, or in this case, a bottle of hard-hitting liquor. It's a blast of white-hot cool, and worth a look for fans of action cinema. Paramount's new edition looks and sounds the bees-knees, making it a must-buy for Warriors devotees everywhere...

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 07:09:36

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