Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Warriors

The Action Mutant…
inserts the expected dialogue about “coming out and play-yay…ing”.

The Warriors

review by Joe Burrows

Isn’t it funny how we can laugh at things that seemed like a pretty big deal at the time? Case in point: the advertising for The Warriors when it was first released in 1979. Original posters used to read something like this: These are the Armies of The Night. They are 60,000 strong. They outnumber the cops three to one. They could run New York City. Tonight they're all out to get the Warriors. Now, apparently someone got the idea that this could be seen as a “call to action”, if you will. Somebody could take this message seriously and try to do some serious hurt upon someone or worse. Therefore, the second line of posters was toned down to merely logos and illustrations. And it didn’t matter. People still got into fights during the film’s showings and I’m sure one or two young punks decided to test a cop or two. Life went on. The point is it all depends on how a person is wired. If you decide to take something like The Warriors or A Clockwork Orange or the music of Marilyn Manson seriously, then it’s going to happen unless someone talks some sense into you. Never mind the 95% of us sane folk that will watch the film or listen to the album and move on with our wretched lives. Besides, what if someone went on a killing spree after watching Cabaret or The Way We Were? Would it even be mentioned? Can you dig it?!?

The Plot, as it was:
Michael Beck and James Remar (48 Hrs.) play Swan & Ajax, members of a street gang called the Warriors. They and seven other Warriors visit an open air rally with other rival New York City gangs, hosted by gang-lord Cyrus (Roger Hill). As Cyrus is about to declare a truce between all of the gangs, he’s shot dead by Rogue member Luther (David Patrick Kelly). The Warriors are framed for the assassination and they’re soon on the run, attempting to make it back home to Coney Island. Out for their hides are not only the Rogues but several gangs such as the Punks, Orphans, Furies and the police themselves.

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Judging by the plot description, one would expect The Warriors to be your run of the mill, street tough melodrama. And the elements for such are certainly there, from the corny dialogue (“We're gonna rain on you, Warriors!”) to the expected romance between Swan and rival chick Mercy (Deborah Van Valkenburgh). Just so happens this is directed by Action pro Walter Hill, who was just starting to come into his own as a Hollywood force. The Warriors differs from other genre pieces due to its energy, ballsiness and outright theatricality (the effective score by Barry DeVorzon and the intermittent narration of the late Lynne Thigpen’s DJ adds many layers to the proceedings). It’s a definite audience participatory effort, with the Warriors having to fight their way through an assortment of freaks and weirdoes, which speaks to the survivalist instinct in all of us. The lack of star power gives the gritty settings a bit more substance (real gang members were used at some points!) and the local color heightens things even more. It’s the gangs themselves that make for the most memorable moments, as their appearances are put against the ultra-realistic landscape and made to create an odd counterbalance & visceral fight sequences (everyone remembers the Furies most…you know, the ones that look as if Gene Simmons bought the Yankees…I could see that happening, too!). Everyone does ok by the material they’re given but its Kelly once again that steals it all by making it seem like he’s the craziest person in civilization. The guy just manages to weird the viewer out, even before his now immortal war cry (which has been parodied to death since then but still maintains its creepiness). Though it’s quite dated and shopworn, The Warriors is still gutsy fun and certainly energetic enough to be given a look. Watch…or get bopped!

Character/Supporting Actor Sighting!:
- Mercedes Ruehl (The Fisher King) is the woman on the bench.
- Steve James (American Ninja) is one of the Furies.
- Sonny Landham (Predator) is a policeman.
- Odd trivia: If you watch the TV version (which has 6 minutes of other footage added), you’ll notice a knife thrown into a board during the opening credits. That knife is actually thrown by Penn Jillette of the future Penn & Teller (and of the totally underrated Penn & Teller Get Killed). He was a street performer at the time and was approached by producers in Atlantic City to do that one shot. Funny thing is the film shows a more attractive character before the shot with knife in hand, making it look like he threw it.

Body Count/Violence: 4. This isn’t a very death-heavy film but what it lacks in that, it certainly makes up for in its asskicking. After the opening shooting, there are plenty of brawls and chase scenes and while they aren’t bloody, they are memorable. We get knife slashing, baseball bat play, clubbing, chairs as weapons, Molotov cocktail attacks and more. The brawl between the Warriors and the Punks is the most potent, with gangers crashing through bathroom stall doors and thrown into mirrors and such. Good times. (Note: The villains get their comeuppance at the end but it’s not clear if they’re killed or just messed up really bad. Though I could assume…well, you know what they say about assumptions)

Sexuality/Nudity: There is some forcing upon women and making out but it doesn’t get graphic at all.

Language/Dialogue: Fairly strong, especially when Ajax is involved.

How bad was it?:
Initially, The Warriors wasn’t given many great reviews and was dismissed as mindless Action fare. Of course, its cult measure (and critical response) has grown since people have begun to appreciate its finer points.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Filmed in many locations in New York City (much of it uninterrupted during late nights, a rarity in films) in 1978, Paramount Pictures released The Warriors on 2/9/79. The film proved to be a mild commercial success; earning $3.5 million for the top spot its first weekend and eventually closing with $22.5 million in the States. Things weren’t helped by poor critical response or by many violent brawls breaking out at screenings but that controversy actually helped meld its cult status in the years that followed. A video game released by Rockstar Games in 2005 went on to earn $37 million and there is (of course) talks of a remake with Tony Scott set to direct. Maybe the Orphans will get some love this time.

Film: ***/*****
Entertainment value: ****1/2/*****

Copyright 2008 The Action Mutant.


Anonymous said...

This movie was awesome and it produced one of my favorite video games of all time.

I wish the original theatrical cut would get a DVD release because I was really disappointed by Hill's more comic-booky editing for the DVD release, especially when the Furies showed up.

Joe Burrows said...

I haven't played said video game but I know I marked out pretty well when I saw the trailer for it.

As for the "Ultimate Director's Cut", the comic book transitions are the main reason I didn't pick up that particular DVD in the first place. Just because it was the director's original vision doesn't mean I agree with it. The device sounds too cartoonish to me and would have blunted some of the film's inital impact. As for a DVD release of the theatrical cut, Paramount did release it as a bare bones release in 2001. I have no idea if they will re-release it with new stuff anytime soon.