The Outsiders on Blu-ray

Monday, 31 October 2011 05:38

Francis Ford Coppola’s directing career has veered between thunderous epics such as “Apocalypse Now”, “Dracula” and “The Godfather” Trilogy to subtle and moving character pieces including “Peggy Sue Got Married”. “The Outsiders” falls in the latter category but deserves plenty of attention, not least because it features an excellent cast and a devastating message about wayward youths and the repercussions of gang warfare between the haves and have-nots. It is set in the 1960s but the issues are truly timeless.

C Thomas Howell (“The Hitcher”, “Red Dawn”) leads up the ensemble “Brat Pack” cast as Ponyboy Curtis, the youngest of three brothers left to fend for themselves after their parents died in a tragic car accident. Ponyboy is a member of The Greasers, a gang from the poorer North side of town. Other gang members include Johnny (Ralph Macchio – “The Karate Kid Trilogy”), bad boy Dallas (Matt Dillon – “Crash”), Ponyboy’s eldest and middle brothers Darrel (Patrick Swayze) and Sodapop (Rob Lowe), Two-Bit (Emilio Estevez) and Steve (Tom Cruise).

The Outsiders - an extended version on Blu-rayThe Greasers are always on their guard against their well-to-do rivals The Socs (short for ‘Socials’), who are led by Bob (Leif Garrett). Most of their encounters are bruising scuffles but the stakes are being raised as combatants introduce flick knives and guns. In between the two gangs is Cherry (Diane Lane – “The Perfect Storm” and the forthcoming Superman reboot “Man of Steel”). She is Bob’s girlfriend, fancied by everyone, and takes a particular shine to Ponyboy because of his emotional intelligence.

The film has a lot in common with Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” by way of “West Side Story”. Some of the youths are in the gang purely to engage in mindless violence and because they have nothing better to do. Others, like Ponyboy and Johnny are almost dragged into it because they lack role models or can only draw on poor ones such as parents who are always rowing. The youngest Greasers are the most vulnerable, but also have a dangerous ability to turn when faced with a dire threat.

The movie also repeatedly references “Gone with the Wind”. Johnny and Pony read the book to pass the time in their hideout, and Pony has a thing for sunrises and sunsets. There is also a parallel between the book’s coverage of the American Civil War and the gang hostilities featured in this picture.

In this Special Edition of the movie, Coppola has reintegrated 22 minutes of previously excised footage so that the story now follows S E Hinton’s cherished novel much more closely. For its original release, the director was encouraged to condense it so that the film concentrated on action and the gang conflict. The new version is considerably better and more rounded because it delves much more deeply into the background of the characters, especially the three brothers and Johnny. Their motives are clarified and the outcomes are more gut-wrenching.

The core of the movie centres on Ponyboy and Johnny on the run from the Law, shacking up in a disused church in the country. Neither of them is accustomed to life outside the city (in this case Tulsa, Oklahoma), but they quickly adapt to roughing it and survive on a diet of baloney and peanut butter sandwiches. In spite of the events leading up to their predicament, there is a delightful innocence about their friendship that fills the audience with warmth and admiration.

There is a homoerotic seam that underpins the movie, with barely any female characters and an abundance of half-dressed males, some of whom sleep together although only in a brotherly way (because they are too poor to have their own bedrooms) or for comfort as in Ponyboy and Johnny’s case. The Greasers we follow share a bond, supporting each other through thick and thin. That side of their gang membership reveals some positive qualities which are sometimes overshadowed by darker deeds. One major act of heroism proves that when they focus their bravery to honourable ends, they are capable of greatness.

In general the acting is of a very high standard. Howell, Macchio, Dillon and Lane are all superb, capturing the realism and layers of their characters with confidence. At the other end of the scale but by no means bad are Cruise and Estevez. The former is a familiarly cocky, jagged-toothed muscle-head, and the latter draws on his usual crazy, hysterically-laughing fool.

The original version of “The Outsiders” was a solid if hobbled film by a director capable of better; this new edition is a minor classic with a more substantial heart. Fans of the likes of “Stand by Me” and other coming-of-age movies will find plenty to get their teeth into, though I strongly recommend it to everyone, not least teenagers who will hopefully benefit from the central theme.

The Blu-ray edition reviewed here is simply stupendous. It features excellent detail, warm and vibrant colours, and the new soundtrack accompanying this extended version sets the tone perfectly.

Special features on both the 2-disc DVD and single-disc Blu-ray editions include:

  • Introduction and Audio Commentary with Francis Ford Coppola
  • Audio Commentary with Matt Dillon, C Thomas Howell, Diane Lane, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio and Patrick Swayze
  • Staying Gold: A Look Back at “The Outsiders”
  • S E  Hinton on Location in Tulsa
  • The Casting of “The Outsiders”
  • NBC’s News Today from 1983: “The Outsiders Started by School Petition”
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes
  • A Collectible Booklet “The True Story” - the background behind the movie
  • 8 Exclusive Postcards - Portraits of Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Diane Lane, Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe, C Thomas Howell, Emilio Estevez

These extras are excellent, and really add value to what is already a must-own film. Plenty of information is given on the background to the feature (and the book), the casting process and how the cast felt about it a couple of decades after they shot it. There is real chemistry between them in the movie and that is carried through to the bonus content, especially in the audio commentary. Coppola is warm and open and enrichens the whole experience. It is clear that he was keen for the young actors to really soak themselves in their respective parts and get to know each other in a context similar to that seen in the picture. That approach paid off handsomely.

“The Outsiders” (1983) is out now on DVD and Blu-ray, courtesy of Studio Canal. The main feature has a running time of 115 minutes approx, carries a ‘12’ certificate and retails for £17.99 on DVD, £22.99 on Blu-ray, or less from www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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