Combustible Celluloid
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With: Michael Beck, James Remar, Dorsey Wright, Brian Tyler, David Harris, Tom McKitterick, Marcelino Sanchez, Terry Michos, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Roger Hill, David Patrick Kelly
Written by: Walter Hill, David Shaber, based on the novel by Sol Yurick
Directed by: Walter Hill
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 93
Date: 02/01/1979

The Warriors (1979)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Coming Out to Play-eee

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

For some reason, I had it in my head that the events in TheWarriors took place in the future. But watching the brand new DVD of the filmrecently, I was amazed to see that the film, nor any of the characters, ever sayanything about the future. Nevertheless, something about Walter Hill's 1979 filmfeels simultaneously contemporary, timeless, and not of this time.

One of the great cult films of all time, The Warriors features a brilliantly simple plot. At a gathering of all the street gangs in New York City, the organizer of the gathering is assassinated, and the Warriors from Coney Island are blamed. The gang then has to travel all the way across the city back to their turf with hundreds of other gang members and thousands of cops after them, all in one night.

I suppose the reason the film feels futuristic is the nature of various gangs who attend the assembly. One gang dresses as baseball players and brandish bats as weapons. Another gang wears roller skates. Many of them wear elaborate face makeup. Some of them are organized to the point of military rigidity. The gangs we usually see in movies (or on the streets) smack of randomness and carelessness.

Then there is the Hill's amazing use of art design, using neon and graffiti and the dingy gray of subway trains to decorate the movie. Few films get such a deliberately intimate feel and look of a city, the kind of city that most middle-to-lower class people are familiar with. We never see any penthouses, limousines, or thousand-dollar suits.

The Warriors themselves play a game of and-then-there-were-none, disappearing one after the other through carelessness or just bad luck. They're not cliched characters, nor do they have irritatingly one-note personality traits to stand apart from each other. To make them more adaptable, Hill deliberately denies them any background or character habits. To the audience, they seem like normal folks, scared and desperate and looking for home (despite the fact that they're wearing leather vests with their gang insignia on them).

Though the movie is a thrill-a-minute, and there are no bad scenes, the kicker comes at the end, when the Warriors make it back home, only to meet their rival gang, the true killers. The leader inserts his fingers into four empty beer bottles and clicks them together, chanting in a nasally voice, "Warr-EE-ors.... come out to PLAY-eee!"

(Most of these actors were unknowns, but many of them turned up to work with Hill again on later, 1980's films like 48 Hours and Streets of Fire, a movie that actually does take place in the future.)

DVD Details: Paramount's 2000 DVD has no extras except for optional subtitles and a trailer. The menu is cleverly designed so that a swatch of red spray paint selects your menu choice. The picture was grainy to begin with, so this letterboxed transfer is probably about as fine as we can possibly get, and the sound is clear and sharp. Longtime fans of The Warriors should rejoice.

DVD Details II: In 2005, Paramount and director Hill released the "ultimate director's cut," which runs less than a minute longer, but casts the film in a new light. Hill adds a prologue about Greek soldiers, and turns some of the transitions into comic book frames -- highlighting two of the film's original inspirations. Hill provides a brief introduction in which he decries "director's cuts" and commentary tracks, but the disc contains a series of "making of" featurettes that together run just over an hour. The new disc comes with the same mono audio mix and theatrical trailer from the 2000 disc, but also contains a new stereo mix (the mono works better at certain times, such as music interludes or looped dialogue). The picture has been cleaned up as well; several scratches and pops from the first disc are now gone. I enjoyed the new cut, but to tell the truth, I haven't decided if I like it better than the original. It would have been nice of Paramount to include both cuts on the same disc, just in case.

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