Friday, March 23, 2007

Movie Review: The Warriors

Last weekend, Carlo and I played the PlayStation 2 game The Warriors, and around the half-way point in the game we decided to see the movie it was based on. Fortuitously, it was available for rental at the local BlockBuster video.

The movie is vintage 1979, and lives up to all the stereotypes of that era. I don't think I've heard the word "sucka" used quite so many times in a two-hour period.

I'm not really going to spend much time reviewing the movie per se. It's a pretty good movie, with solid acting and imaginative camera work. I especially enjoyed the way the subways of New York were portrayed, in particular the opening montage shots taken from train fronts, and the long shot at night of a train approaching a Coney Island above-ground station - nothing is visible except the lights of the train and of the amusement-park rides in the background, lending the scene a certain science-fiction-esque visual quality.

Reviews of the movie in 1979 apparently were rather polarised, with some critics hating the movie, and others recommending it as a great example of its genre. The focus of the negative reviews seems to have been that recurring favourite, excessive and gratuitous violence.

That's a stupid critique, for at least two important reasons. 1. By today's standards, The Warriors is remarkably tame. The one scene not shot on-location, a dramatic fight in the men's room of a subway station involving perhaps 20 actors, is by far the most violent scene in the movie. It didn't feel gratuitous to me at all - the set-up to the fight and the fight itself fit the story very well, and do not appear excessive in any way. 2. There's almost no blood in The Warriors - the few times people are struck with fists, feet, or weapons, they tend to flinch or fall down, rather than get cut or heavily bruised. The story is fast moving, as are the main characters, so potentially gruesome aftereffects, like blood spatter on walls, is left behind by the camera and the characters. I've seen more blood in children's movies (warning: possible exaggeration in previous statement).

My reason 1, above, could be countered by some argument about shifting standards in popular culture, or the decline of society, or some other bullshit, but I'm not interested.

I will say that the game is much more violent - blood spatters frequently, and the characters in the game are much more criminal in behaviour and attitudes than their alter-egos in the movie were - the game involves such fine citizenry as muggings, looting, theft, extortion, and beating up prostitutes (and, to be fair, their pimp). Yet it was the movie that was described as glorifying violence and criminal activity!

I've seen rumours that someone wishes to remake The Warriors (the movie) and set it in contemporary Los Angeles. That would be a mistake, in my opinion: New York has a subway system that LA lacks, and the subway is a major character in the movie in its own right. Another gang-ridden subway-equiped city might make an interesting setting though. Two possibilities occur to me - London and Tokyo. Additionally, this intensely-American movie had two very un-American features - almost nobody drives a car, and there are almost no guns (only one character, Luther, the leader of the psychotic gang the Rogues, both drives a car and owns the movie's only gun).

One of the interesting features of the original movie was the racial mix of the gang members. Other gangs portrayed in the movie were racially segregated - the viewer sees scenes of all-Chinese, or all-black, or all-hispanic gangs, as well as some other mixed gangs. LA could certainly pull this off as convincingly as did New York, and London would similarly have no problems there. Tokyo, however, would have trouble convincing viewers that the 99.9% ethnic-Japanese population of the city is not representative of its criminal underclasses. Tokyo would have the advantage of being able to showcase some of the extreme weirdness that Japan seems to generate copious quantities of at regular intervals.

I'd like to take another paragraph to talk about the ethnic mix of the 1979 movie, since I think it was an important feature. Of the nine principle Warriors, Cleon, Snow and Cochise were black, Swan, Ajax, Fox, and Cowboy were white, Vermin was vaguely hispanic, and Rembrandt was a little girl from Switzerland.


Carlo said...

"...owns the movie's only gun..."

You're forgetting the leader of "The Lizzies", she was trying to shoot the little girl, Rembrandt.

But other than that, I agree wholeheartedly. The film was WAY better than I expected. And I wouldn't mind owning it someday. My only gripe would be that certain scenes (including the end) seemed really cut short, as though the movie was on a tight schedule/budget, and couldn't spend another minute on this part before moving on... I don't think it was a 'big-budget' picture.

TheBrummell said...

You're right, I forgot about the Lizzies' gun. But they didn't have a car. And that shooting may have had more to do with percieved competition for access to top-tier males than anything else.

I agree that some scenes did seem under-budgeted, but overall the movie was very good.

langmann said...

Hey man,

nice review. I'll check this movie out now, though I might find it kind of boring since it doesn't have enough gratuitous violence ;)

BTW, thebrummell, I know once you said I should set up a blog so I did. Its guaranteed to make people angry. Anyhow at least it saves Carlo from me publishing in his comments section. Not sure if I'll keep doing it with my busy schedule.

Check it out:

langmann said...

Make that

Forgot the c.