John Hughes, writer and director of the seminal 80s film The Breakfast Club is often credited with the creation of the Brat Pack, a group of young, up and coming actors who ruled Hollywood in the mid-Eighties influencing the styles and ideology of a generation of teenagers in the process. However, it was in fact a very different and unlikely auteur that made the first true Brat Pack movie in 1983.
Francis Ford Coppola, director of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, had suffered a major blow when his 1982 film One From The Heart had failed miserably at the box office forcing him to declare bankruptcy. In the months that followed while looking for a project to restore his reputation he received a letter from a California high school teacher with a petition signed by the whole class requesting that the director turn their favourite novel into a movie. The book in question had been written in 1967 by teenager S.E. Hinton and seemed to continue to strike a chord with children and teenagers during their formative years. Not wanting to let the school kids down Coppola seized upon the opportunity to bring the book to the screen and set to work on The Outsiders which make its UK debut on Blu-ray and DVD today.
Set in Sixties Oklahoma, The Outsiders tells the tale of the bitter rivalry between the Greasers leather clad poor kids with Elvis style pompadours, and their affluent preppy high school classmates, the Socials (Socs). Ponyboy Curtis (C. Thomas Howell) leads a rebellious life with his older brothers Darrel (Patrick Swayze) and Sodapop (Rob Lowe) alongside his adopted family of Greasers Johnny Cade (Ralph Macchio), Two-Bit (Emilio Estevez), Steve (Tom Cruise) and just released from prison, Dallas (Matt Dillon).
After a chance meeting with Cherry Vallance (Diane Lane), the trophy girlfriend of a hot-tempered Soc, Johnny and Ponyboy find themselves involved in a violent altercation and on the run. With the help of Dallas they hide out in an abandoned church avoiding the police until an unexpected act of heroism brings them to justice.
On its original release The Outsiders caused some to bemoan the fact that some important scenes from the book were missing from the film and so for many years Coppola continued to receive letters from fans of the book asking what happened to the missing scenes. Luckily Coppola, being the fastidious director that he is, did shoot a number of the said scenes and has since restored them to the version that is presented for this Blu-ray and DVD release. Entitled The Complete Novel, this is Coppolas directors cut of the film with more than 20 minutes of previous excised material reinstated and the most faithful version of the film available.
Coppolas aspiration for the film was to make a Gone With The Wind style epic for kids primarily due to the book featuring in the storyline but also aping the cinematic style of Victor Flemings classic feature using rear projected backdrops in one particular scene as Ponyboy and Johnny watch a sunrise together. Thematically however the film has more in common with classic American gang movies West Side Story and Rebel Without A Cause with a dash of American Graffiti thrown into the mix.
The casting of the film is something to behold. It is an incredible achievement that Coppola, producer Fred Roos and casting director Janet Hirschenson managed to assemble such a hugely talented ensemble of future stars for the lead roles and it is possible to see in each one an eagerness to stand out from the crowd. The film is a kind of time capsule offering the chance to witness the likes of Tom Cruise in a rare supporting role as well as proving that the young stars really can act.
C. Thomas Howell and Ralph Macchio, despite being the youngest of the group excel in their roles which form the main thread of the story. Macchio in particular proves to be the most adept and has some of the most demanding scenes and delivers many of the films most poignant lines of dialogue. Although he will always be most well known as The Karate Kid he demonstrates here that is a truly great actor capable of real depth and understanding of character. It is a shame that both Macchio and Howell never found the same level of fame as their peers beyond the 1980s.
Coppola obviously connected with the films subject matter and saw great potential to expand on the idea as his immediate follow up was the similarly themed Rumble Fish which while criticised for its style over substance approach would go on to become a cult favourite. While The Outsiders may be one of Coppolas lesser known efforts I would argue that it is one of his most accessible films and as it approaches its 30th anniversary the film still remains as relevant and thought provoking as it did on its original release.
The film is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and for the most part looks outstanding. The restored scenes suffer from a few defects in the source print but on the whole the film has been well restored with a great colour range and a clear image with only the mildest hint of grain.
The 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio is equally well presented. The new cut of the film removes most of the original score and replaces it with period rock n roll hits from artists such Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis effectively soundtracking the film with the kind of music the characters in the film would have listened to. The music sounds superb and the dialogue is well mixed and perfectly audible throughout.
The disc is extremely well served with special features and includes an extensive retrospective look at the film. Extras include:An Introduction with Francis Ford Coppola A Feature Length Audio Commentary with Francis Ford Coppola A Feature Length Cast Commentary with C. Thomas Howell, Diane Lane, Ralph Macchio and Patrick Swayze with contributions from Matt Dillon and Rob Lowe recorded separately Staying Gold: A Look Back at The Outsiders Retrospective Documentary Author S.E. Hinton on location in Tulsa The Casting of The Outsiders Featurette Cast Members read extracts from the novel Archival NBCs News Today from 1983 The Outsiders Started By School Petition Six Deleted & Extended Scenes Original Theatrical Trailer
Both commentary tracks are well worth a listen, Coppolas is extremely informative about the whole genesis of the project while the cast commentary is packed with anecdotes from the set with Howell, Macchio, Lane and Swayze watching the movie together at Coppolas ranch. The deleted scenes are all relatively short and add little but also include some scenes removed from the original cut for the new version of the movie.
Staying Gold is a comprehensive retrospective look at the film from the novel to the screen to the making of the re-release and restoration of the complete story. Illustrated with interviews and behind the scenes footage the documentary also features footage from the cast reunion at Coppolas home. The casting featurette is an enlightening piece not just on the casting process but details just how many of Hollywoods young stars applied for roles in the film. The featurette is complimented with clips from the casting sessions as well as interviews looking back.
The other extras all compliment the package which includes all you could hope for in a special edition although Cruise and Estevez are noticeable in their absence. The only feature not included in the set that I would have liked to have seen is the chance to view the original theatrical cut of the film to compare and contrast with this new edition or even a featurette detailing the changes made but this is a minor omission.
Film 4 out of 5
The tale of gang violence still resonates today and is complimented by an incredible cast at the top of their game and great music.
Visuals 4 out of 5
The film has never looked better. A thorough restoration makes the film look as though it was made yesterday.
Audio 4 out of 5
This new version of the film replaces the original score with classic rock n roll hits of the era and sounds excellent with the newly remastered 5.1 DTS HD Audio.
Extras 4 out of 5
Solid set of extras provide all you could wish for from a retrospective appraisal of a film.
Presentation 4 out of 5
The cover artwork is a slight reworking of the original imagery from the theatrical marketing campaign but it still looks good. Menus feature rolling clips from the film and are well constructed and easy to navigate. A set of art cards and booklet are also included.
Overall 4 out of 5
One of Coppolas lesser known films featuring the birth of the Brat Pack finally gets a UK release and this comprehensive package is well worth the wait.