Tuesday, October 11, 2005

DVD Review - The Outsiders - The Complete Novel

(image curtesy of American Zoetrope)

I first watched “The Outsiders” when I was 12 years old and living in an Army camp in Kota Bahru, Kelantan. I don’t remember who’s idea it was but we rented the movie from the local video store one day and I instantly identified with the story at first sitting. I first saw the movie during a time in my life that I was running around in a group of friends not unlike the “Greasers” in the movie. My old gang were the children of the lower ranking officers in the camp and we had our own version of the “Socs” which consisted of the children of the higher ranking officers in the camp. Of course we didn’t really have fights or rumbles between the 2 groups but at 12 years old, the animosity between the groups were felt like it was a matter of life or death. Of all the characters that I saw in that movie, I identify the most with Ponyboy as like him I was the youngest one in our group and the one who was just acting tough because the others expected me to.

Looking back, it was amazing how similar the story was to the experiences that I was going through at the time despite the fact that the original story was set in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the early 60’s. This was one of the strengths of “The Outsiders” as written by S.E. Hinton in which the story was universal enough that the themes applied to most teenage experiences wherever they may be and in any time period they happen to live in. When I figured out the movie that I watched over and over was originally from a book, I went out to see if I can find a copy to read. I remembered looking for the book in my school library and the disappointment of not finding it. Somewhat obsessed with the story, I even asked my English teacher about it and she was the one who told me to try the State Library where I finally found a copy. This was the exact moment when I started to fall in love with S.E. Hinton’s books especially her earlier works that still have a special place in my heart.

For years I often wondered how the movie would be like if they followed closely to the original book. I’ve always been more partial to the story of the Curtis brothers as presented in the book than the Dally story that they focus on more in the movie. The movie in of itself was a wonderful favorite of mine but I always wished that we had more of the family interaction in it especially those between Sodapop and Ponyboy. I always thought that of the 3 brothers, Sodapop was the glue that held them together and this role was conspicuously missing in the movie. I also remembered the thing that bugged me the most all those years was how the opening and closing of the movie was totally different from the book. The movie always felt like an incomplete adaptation of the book and for the longest time it was the only version that we had to watch.

When I heard that they were planning to re-release a recut version of “The Outsiders” on DVD, I was a bit apprehensive about what would be changed in my favorite movie. As more details came out about the 22 minutes of previously unseen footage incorporated into the pervious version start to surface on the Net, I realize that I had to break my own rule about double-dipping and purchase a copy of this DVD even though I already had a copy that I purchased much earlier. Needless to say that I was very excited when I finally got my copy in the mail from Amazon.com. It went straight into my DVD player the first opportunity I got to watch it that evening and immediately I knew that this was a great buy.

To start off, the picture and audio quality is much better in “The Outsiders – The Complete Novel” DVD than it was in the original release DVD. The print was fairly clean and the same visual flaws that was in the original release appeared here suggesting that the problem might have been in the master copy they used. The quality of the visuals were also shared in the new scenes that was added to the original release so visually they look like they had always been part of the movie. The audio sounded much better to me than the original print of the previous version. There is not much use of heavy bass for explosions and such but the ranges that they do use came out crisp and clear. The remastered audio and visuals on this DVD makes it easy to highly recommend it as the version of the film that fans would want to have in their collection although there is a caveat to that recommendation that I will be expanding more on later in this write-up.

In this re-release, Coppola went through his historical archives and reintegrated scenes that he had to cut out from the original release. Much of the cuts were made after receiving feedback from audience previews prior to the films original release. Unfortunately for fans of the book, these cuts were scenes that dealt mostly with the relationships between the Curtis brothers which many felt was the core of what the book was about. To see them reintegrated into the movie was nothing less that a resounding victory for the fans who have long clamored for a more complete version of the adaptation to their favorite story. In this new cut, we have a new opening and ending to the film that follows closer to how the original book opened and closed. We also see more of interaction between Ponyboy, Sodapop and Darry as well as more emotional scenes that were missing from the original cut. I have to say that the most poignant addition for me in this version was the night time scene between Ponyboy and Sodapop in which Soda comforted Pony after being yelled at by the older brother. It was a favorite of mine from the book and I was happy to see that it got included into the recut version.

Coppola also replaced much of the soundtrack in this new version of the movie with songs reflective of the times and the Greaser sub-culture. In his commentary, he stated that he always thought that the original soundtrack was a bit heavy and operatic compared to what he envisioned it to be. While some of the soundtrack changes in this case worked with the new cut, others were woefully out of place if not completely jarring. The song that he had playing in the scene in the park where Ponyboy and Johnny got attacked by the Socs was totally wrong for the intend of the scene and I personally thing that replacing the original soundtrack with the beach-surfer song here is nothing less than criminal. The same could be said in the Curtis brothers reunion scene at the hospital after the fire at the abandoned church which previously was evocative of the emotional content of the scene but now was conspicuously missing. I have to admit that the epic sounding Dally’s theme that used to play in the background in the scenes of his flight from the hospital after Johnny’s demise was sorely missed in this version. Although the soundtrack to the original version of the movie was at times may sound overblown and corny, it was one that resounded well with the fans and fondly remembered all these years. It made this film stand out from the other teen movies that was released around and about the same time “The Outsiders” was released. It was unfortunate that Coppola felt like he had to change that essential mix that made this movie unique.

There are 2 commentary tracks on “The Outsider’s – The Complete Novel” DVD set. The first one was by Coppola himself in which he gives wonderful insights about the characters and the process of making the movie. Halfway through the commentary, he seemed to repeat himself on more than one occasion especially on the subject to the music that he replaced in this new release. I wonder if this was to justify the reasons of doing something that he knew would be a sore point for the fans watching this version of the movie. All in all it was not the best commentary that I’ve heard from him. Fortunately the second commentary by some of the original cast members was much more exciting to listen to. The cast commentary included thoughts from C. Thomas Howell (Ponyboy), Diane Lane (Cherry), Patrick Swayze (Darry) & Ralph Macchio (Johnny) who recorded it in a cast reunion previewing the re-cut version of the film. There were also comments from Rob Lowe (Sodapop) and Matt Dillon (Dallas) which were recorded separately but so seamlessly spliced together that one could image they were all in the same room. Notable absence on the commentary track were Tom Cruise (Steve) and Emilio Estevez (Two-Bit) but I guess it was because they were minor characters in the movie comparatively to the others. Those on the cast commentary track gave wonderful personal anecdotes of making the film and occasionally ribbed each other at how young they were when they made this movie. Their joy at watching this movie again after all this time was apparent in their commentary track and it made watching the movie with them enjoyable.

Disk 2 of this set holds a few notable bonus extras for this new release. At the heart of it was a new making of documentary entitled “Staying Gold: A Look Back at the Outsiders” that tells the story of how the movie came about and the process of making the movie. Fans would learn that Coppola actually filmed the whole movie on video once as part of the rehearsals before shooting the first frames on film which for most filmmakers at the time was simply unheard of. We are also treated to wonderful behind the scenes footage as they were filming that must have long languished in the archives and unseen before now. In another DVD extra, viewer’s get to visit the locations where the film was originally shot in and around Tulsa, Oklahoma with S.E. Hinton who wrote the original book as a teenager. It was wonderful to see how much of the original locations and buildings was still around and looked relatively unchanged to the way they were shown in the movie. The other bonus extra worth highlighting is the “Casting The Outsiders” documentary which documented the unique casting method that Coppola used to cast for this movie. It was interesting to see how many young actors who have now become big stars themselves trying out for the various parts in the movie.

All in all, “The Outsiders – The Complete Novel” DVD set is an easy recommendation to make. Fans of the original movie will find that this new cut with the additional 22 minutes of footage reinserted further expands the story and provides richer details of the relationship between the characters than in the first movie. Fans of the original book would like this version much better than the original as it follows the book much closer this time around. The extra bonus features on Disk 2 adds another layer to the appreciation of the movie which would be a welcome addition to any fan’s collection. If there was a flaw in this release that would have made it truly exceptional then it has to be the unfortunate replacement of the original soundtrack with songs that clearly undercut the what was happening on screen. This flaw was something that would be enough to convince people to hold on to their original copy of the DVD instead of replacing it totally with this set. Flaws aside, this will be the version of this beloved story that the next generation of fans will come to discover and love.


fadz said...

ohoiiii, disinilah bersemayam nik iskandar rupanya..hehe, aku saje2 je, jumpa blog kau tetiba...cool reviews man, kalah aku!! aku add kau boleh?

Nickxandar said...

Fadz ... I think you're confusing me with another person :p