Directed by Walter Hill (Paramount Home Video)
Ask your average American male in his late thirties about Walter Hill's 1979 film The Warriors and in all likelihood, he'll reply with either a robustly barked "CAN YOU DIG IT?" or a strenuously whined "WARRIOOOORRSS....COME OUT TO PLAAAA-YAAAAAAYYY!"
I was a paltry twelve years old when The Warriors hit theaters in 1979, but even being too young to get in, I can vividly remember the sensation it caused. The movie poster alone was enough to capture my rapt, wide-eyed attention. "These are the Armies of the Night," it screamed, "they are 100,000 strong. They outnumber the cops five to one. They could run New York City." Preying upon the justified phobia of urban upheaval in a bankrupt, crime-ridden metropolis, Hill's highly stylized depiction of New York City as a violent street-gang battleground struck a major chord with audiences not just in New York, but nationwide. Despite the film's inarguably over-the-top cartoonishness, it was still perceived as a potential powder-keg, resulting in cries for its banning reminiscent of the furor over Stanley Kubrick's similarly inclined A Clockwork Orange eight years earlier.
Twenty-six years later, The Warriors portrays a New York City that is barely recognizable in its desolate, graffiti-ridden squalor. That said, Hill's painterly, apocalyptic vision wasn't especially indicative of late `70s NYC either. Rife with dated lingo, elaborate costuming, and an almost utopian innocence (Hill's gangs are harmoniously integrated and there isn't the slightest allusion to racial strife or drug abuse), The Warrriors, in its original form, now cannot help but look quite campy and almost quaint. Apart from the odd homophobic and/or misogynist epithet blurted out by James Remar's character, Ajax, there is little to be actively offended by.
The Warriors strove to display a vista of savage lawlessness, but its power to shock has long since dissipated. But to this ardent fan's mind, that's part of its charm. The failure of the film to achieve timelessness isn't a flaw but rather grounds for its inclusion in a pantheon of great films of a bygone age. The director, however, seems to disagree. In the just released "Ultimate Director's Cut" DVD, Walter Hill takes great pains to re-cast The Warriors as a purposely cartoony fable. Perhaps smarting from his studio's refusal to let him cast the gangs as exclusively African-American and Latino and subsequent accusations of the end result's irrefutable campiness, Hill now claims that he purposefully strove for an comic book approach. To this end, Hill has severely re-edited the film to include comic book elements such as paneled segues and even thought balloons. Key scenes are truncated in order to facilitate these effects, diffusing crucial atmosphere and robbing the film of any semblance of dignity. Prior to this heavy-handed approach, the film's more fanciful aspects were legitimized via passages of genuine tension-building.
In the new cut, the film loses cohesion in a spliced-up mess of unintentional self-parody. Yet another unfortunate example of revisionism, "The Ultimate Directorâ€™s Cut" of The Warriors joins the ranks of the noxious "Greedo-shoots-first" version of Star Wars. As DVDs go, this is also a bit of a cheap affair. While the "Special Features" packaging boasts "four featurettes," they essentially comprise one documentary with the same cast of interviewees in four brief chapters.
Along with the film's original trailer and a relatively unnecessary new introduction by Walter Hill (laboriously emphasizing the comic book element and force-feeding the viewer, Oliver Stone-style, the narrative's roots in Ancient Greek history), the finished product comes off as strikingly less than "ultimate." To his arguable credit, Hill does offer in his new introduction that he's perfectly fine with some viewers preferring the original version. Since he's given us that option, might I emphatically suggest skipping "The Ultimate Director's Cut" DVD in favor of its original incarnation (released on DVD in 2001) instead. - Alex Smith