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Review -The Outsiders: The Complete Novel (DVD-2005)
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The Outsiders: The Complete Novel (DVD-2005)

Warner Home Video

Reviewed by Dennis Kwiatkowski

When a filmmaker of the stature and importance of Francis Ford Coppola releases a revisionist version of one of his films, one is obliged to take notice. Twenty-two years after it was originally released in theatres, Coppola has released on DVD a truly special edition of his film The Outsiders.

When the film was released theatrically in 1983, it received mixed reviews. Based on S. E. Hinton’s novel of alienated youths facing adult crises during the 1950’s, and featuring a full-scale music score by Carmine Coppola, The Outsiders connected with a young audience that has grown over the years. Critics felt the film was uneven, if ambitious.

For this new DVD version, Coppola has restored and reworked the film and inserted 22 minutes of additional footage. But more than that, he has completely redone the film’s soundtrack which now includes rock and roll music from the period – specifically a number of songs by Elvis Presley. It had always been Coppola’s intention to use the Presley songs, music the characters in the film would have actually listened to, but such didn’t prove possible for the initial release. So a dramatic orchestral score by Coppola’s famous musician father, Carmine Coppola was used instead. The Carmine score was somewhat sweeping in nature, highlighting Coppola’s allusions in his film to another famous epic, Gone With the Wind, the novel of which figures prominently in the film’s story.

But the new score changes much of the tone of the film. How much difference can a score make? Quite a bit, especially when coupled with the new added footage. The film opens with a fourteen minute sequence never seen before which, along with the other footage, adds immeasurable richness to the film. The Elvis songs comment on the action in the film scenes, but where the earlier orchestral score telegraphed to the viewer what to think about a scene, the song score brings an objectivity that lets the viewer decide how to react. The result is more stark and powerful. And yet Coppola has not discarded his father’s score. He has retained certain selections, specifically the ‘Stay Gold’ theme, and used them for different scenes. The result is stunning—it packs an emotional wallop that seems divinely inspired and pays more tribute to his father’s talent than if he had left the entire original score intact.

One of the most talked-about aspects of the original film was what some critics called a suppressed homo-eroticism among the characters. Indeed, the open display of emotion, affection and closeness among the teenage boys in the film is one of the film’s strengths and virtues, and the new film contains even more such footage. But, potentially erotically charged subtext or not, the reviewers missed the point. This is not a film about sex or sexual attraction or eroticism. It is an unabashed expression of friendship, loyalty, closeness and love among innocent young adults thrust into the complex adult problems of a violent society. Coppola’s full cut of the film, which incidentally, follows the arc of the entire novel, provides much more of the big picture in a most satisfying way. If audiences are ready for his fuller vision, they will find this version uniquely and poetically satisfying.

Extras on the 2-disc DVD set include commentaries by both Coppola and members of the cast. The Coppola commentary is particularly warm and open and reveals much of his intent in filming the story. It is also highly informative concerning the art of filmmaking. The commentary by the cast, is just a lot of good fun—as the cast wonders, in one scene where they notice and come across a burning schoolhouse billowing voluminous clouds of black smoke, how they could have failed to notice it even from miles away. The comments even include the occasional incisive insight, such as Diane Lane’s comment that, in the performances of the talented young actors, you can see the heart behind the competition.

The cast for The Outsiders featured the near debuts of an astonishing range of talented and soon to become well known young actors: Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Diane Lane, C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise—need I go on? Included in the extras are rare behind the scenes footage of the filming as well as the screen tests of the young stars. Even in the screen tests, the potential of the actors comes through: Ralph Macchio’s sophisticated talent, Matt Dillon’s magnetic charisma, Diane Lane’s beauty, Rob Lowe’s looks and charm, Thomas Howell’s innocence and sweetness, Tom Cruise’s intensity—all apparent from the very beginning.

The behind the scenes material also includes the happy accidents—a hat blowing into the film frame, an actor falling off a chair during a take, which were retained in the final version of the film. Even the special effects—a special dioptic lens used for a particular shot, and a sawed off wall of a house, are revealed in explaining how the look of the film was achieved. And the widescreen panavison anamorphic frame is aesthetically used by Coppola to place multiple actors in a scene at the same time. It is one of the most persuasive arguments for use of the widescreen frame—for it you watch the old full-screen pan and scan version of the film, the beautifully cinematic compositions are utterly destroyed.

The bottom line is that you will likely love this new version of The Outsiders. The picture transfer is gorgeous, the new soundtrack is terrific, and the re-edited version captures in a unique way the adolescent experience of the 1950’s. In addition, the extras are generous, informative and include wonderful documentary material. This is a brilliant reworking of Francis Ford Coppola’s original film, and it may yet become a classic.

2005 Tim Sika/ Celluloid Dreams

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