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The Outsiders – The Complete Novel DVD Review

The Outsiders – The Complete Novel

February 20, 2006

Director: Francis Ford Coppola,
Starring: Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Diane Lane, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Leif Garrett, Glenn Withrow, Michelle Meyrink, Tom Waits, William Smith, ,

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DVD Review

“When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.” And so begins S.E. Hinton’s classic novel about troubled youths in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 1983, fans of The Outsiders and another Hinton book, Rumble Fish, were treated to excellent cinematic adaptations of both thanks to Francis Ford Coppola. Fresh from the critical and commercial failure of his ambitious cinematic experiment, One from the Heart (1982), the veteran director regrouped with this movie based on Hinton’s popular novel.

Ponyboy Curtis (Howell) is a young teenager from the wrong side of the tracks. He’s a greaser, Hinton’s romanticized version of poor, white trash. When he and his friend Johnny (Macchio) are jumped by a gang of Socs (rich white kids), Johnny kills one of them in self-defense. Figuring that the cops would never believe them because they’re greasers, Ponyboy and Johnny run away from home.

Coppola’s original version was quite faithful to Hinton’s book and this new edit is even more so. He has put back in 22 more minutes, most noticeably at the beginning and end of the movie. This new footage opens up the film more. We are introduced to the greasers much earlier on now that Coppola isn’t reigned in by the dictates of test screenings. He is able to take the time to immerse the audience in this richly textured world shot in glorious widescreen by Stephen Burum who adopts a look that evokes another epic about troubled youth, Rebel Without A Cause (1955). The film is drenched in the golden hues of warm sunrises and sunsets like something right out of Gone with the Wind (1939).

Another significant change has Coppola replacing all of his father’s beautiful, classical score in favour of period rock ‘n’ roll music. In some cases, like the opening scene where Ponyboy is jumped by some Socs, it works and in others, like the whimsical surf music that plays over the scene where the Socs jump Johnny and Ponyboy, it feels awkward and out of place. Part of the film’s original charm was its moments of ‘50s style melodrama, as epitomized by the film’s orchestral soundtrack, and this diminished by the newly inserted period music that could be right out of an episode of Crime Story. Hinton’s books are timeless with their universal themes and the original music reflected that. This new music, while accurate for its time period, contributes to a loss of some of the timeless feel.

The Outsiders is clearly Coppola’s homage to Rebel and other melodramatic teen movies of the ‘50s. The screenplay is peppered with the occasional grandiose statement like when Dallas (Dillon) dedicates the upcoming rumble with the Socs, “We’ll do it for Johnny,” like a declaration of war that seems anachronistic and cheesy by today’s standards but would not seem out of place in a James Dean movie.

Watching this movie more than 20 years later it is amazing to see how many actors got their start or that this was their first major role. Matt Dillon, Diane Lane, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise were all relative unknowns and went on to greater fame after the success of this movie. Coppola has always had an uncanny eye for casting and this is readily apparent with The Outsiders. C. Thomas Howell, in easily his finest performance to date (what happened to this guy’s career after this movie?), projects just the right amount of vulnerability and decency. Ralph Macchio’s Johnny is the film’s Sal Mineo from Rebel—the fidgety, abused teen who has a doomed air about him. The final stand-out is Matt Dillon as the rebellious bad boy, complete with a cocky Steve McQueen swagger. He would prove to have a real connection with Hinton’s books, starring in two other adaptations, Rumble Fish and Tex (1982).

One of the themes that drives The Outsiders is a loss of innocence. Despite his poor upbringing, Ponyboy is an idealist who believes in the basic decency of people—even Socs. It is Johnny who keeps him hopeful, to “Stay Gold,” to paraphrase the Robert Frost poem they both love. Ultimately, the film is about looking beyond one’s socio-economic class and judging people by their actions. Although, it is pretty obvious that Coppola’s sympathies lie with the greasers as opposed to the selfish Socs. This is a wonderful special edition with extras of substance and crafted in a way that fans of this movie will love.

Special Features:

On the first DVD is an audio commentary with director Francis Ford Coppola. Over the years, people kept asking him why he cut out certain scenes from the book and so with this version Coppola was able to put back footage in an attempt to get it closer to the novel. Coppola addresses the changes in the soundtrack by saying that after all these years he wanted to move away from a score that commented on what was happening to music that the characters would actually be listening to. The filmmaker delivers another top notch commentary full of smart observations and talks at length about why he prefers this cut.

There is an additional commentary featuring Diane Lane, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe and Matt Dillon. Coppola invited all of them back to see this new cut of the film with Lowe and Dillon recorded separately. The others have a lot of fun watching it together as they talk about Coppola’s loose, almost improvisational approach that allowed them to play out long takes and develop them organically. Dillon and Lane confirm that their on-screen relationship mirrored their off-screen one. This is an entertaining track that fans will love. It’s great to hear these actors talk about this movie after all these years.

The second disc kicks things off with a retrospective look at the movie, entitled, “Stay Gold: A Look Back at The Outsiders.” A class of grade school kids wrote Coppola a letter asking him to make the book into a movie so he read it and wanted to make it. There is vintage rehearsal footage of the cast shot on video. The actors praise Coppola’s filmmaking process and how much he taught them all. The veteran director made sure that the cast spent time together and bonded and this is reflected in the movie. In a nice touch, we see Lane, Macchio, Swayze and Howell being reunited with Coppola at his ranch where they recorded their commentary. This is an excellent look at the movie with all kinds of good, on set footage.

“S.E. Hinton on Location in Tulsa” features the publicity-shy author revisiting the locations that Coppola used in the movie, including the drive-in which still exists. She talks about how Coppola worked closely with her on the set to make sure that the script was true to her book.

“The Casting of The Outsiders” has casting director now producer Fred Roos take us through the casting process with audition footage from back in the day. People like Kate Capshaw and Adam Baldwin tried out for the film. Anthony Michael Hall even read for the role of Ponyboy! Coppola brought everyone in together to test and see how they worked with each other which was considered very unconventional at the time. Roos talks briefly about why he cast the actors in their respective roles.

A nice addition is “Readings,” with some of the cast who came back for these featurettes reading their character descriptions from Hinton’s novel.

“NBC News Today Segment: The Outsiders Started by School Petition.” This is a new story done during the film’s original release about how a class of California school kids wrote a letter to Coppola asking him to make Hinton’s book into a movie.

There are six “Additional Scenes” with more footage from the opening that is even more faithful to the book but the rest of the scenes amount to extensions of existing ones.

Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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