There are basically two kinds of directors' cuts. In one type, filmmakers recreate the films they were trying to make before studios interfered by, for instance, adding a voiceover to Blade Runner, or severely truncating Heaven's Gate. In the other, considerably less promising kind, directors tinker with classic movies, either by tacking on footage left to the cutting-room floor (e.g. Apocalypse Now Redux) or by altering their films' complexions with updated technology, as with George Lucas' abominable Star Wars facelifts. The danger with the latter practiceand this applies specially to the Lucas filmsis that the new cut isn't just an alternative to the old one, it's an unfortunate replacement, akin to the Mona Lisa with a mustache painted on.
Released in anticipation of a new video game by Grand Theft Auto creators RockStar Games, the "Ultimate Director's Cut" of Walter Hill's The Warriors makes a few Lucasian cosmetic changes to the 1979 cult classic, specifically a prologue that evokes Greek legend, as well as a series of animated comic-book-style transitions. The changes are surprisingly effective, since they help draw out elements that were only suggested in the theatrical version. But the key question is, will the new cut replace the old one? This seems unlikely, save perhaps for future DVD reissues, but it would have been reassuring had Hill and Paramount included both options on the new DVD, so purists wouldn't have reason to be ticked off.
In a brief introduction, Hill explains that he'd always intended the Greek and comic-book elements to be part of the film, but the limits of technology didn't allow it. The Hulk-like panels are slightly incongruous with the distinct '70s lookthough not nearly as much as the modern effects in the Lucas filmsbut they're seamlessly integrated into the action, and, most importantly, they suck any scrap of realism out of the film. Not that a odyssey featuring gangs of mimes in suspenders, or painted ghouls in baseball apparel, could be considered all that realistic, but the question of why these gangs transcend any racial or ethnic barriers seems less of an issue than it did before.
As for the movie, it holds up beautifully as a moody, eccentric take on the classic Homeric premise of a hero's journey home. The Warriors opens with delegates from all the New York City street gangs summoned to a single place for a speech by a messianic leader. Shortly after the speaker calls for the gangs to unite to terrorize the populace, he's shot by crazed hoodlum David Patrick Kelly, who immediately fingers the Coney Island gang The Warriors for the crime. With all the city's gangs after them, plus the police, the accused street toughs have to negotiate the subway system and enemy turf, where thugs like the Baseball Furies and the lesbian Lizzies await them. One of the few tailor-made cult movies that deserves its cult, The Warriors has a rich pulpy atmosphere that seems sprung from a lurid comic book, even if Hill's new version didn't put such a fine point on it.