With the recent Blu-ray release of Apocalypse Now, beautifully restored and with more extras than you could ever want, it only made sense to release some of Francis Ford Coppola’s lesser-known films on the same format. The Outsiders is Coppola’s take on SE Hinton’s 1967 novel, and despite not garnering the universal praise his more famous films did, it still remains one of his best.
There is a certain school of thought amongst some film fans that Coppola has not made a good film since Apocalypse Now, but The Outsiders, and its companion film, Rumble Fish (both made back to back and released in 1983, four years after Apocalypse Now), are two films that prove that this is nonsense. It’s surprising that The Outsiders isn’t better known, given that it’s credited as the film that brought together the Brat Pack, and provided the inspiration for several songs (Stay Gold, Ponyboy, by The Get Up Kids, being the best one).
The story of how The Outsiders came about is very sweet: Coppola received a letter from a teacher and her class explaining that it was their favourite book, and they would like to see it made into a film. Coppola was so touched that he read the book and created the film.
The Outsiders is a poetic coming of age tale, set in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the 1960s. It’s an America with Cadillacs, leather jackets and switchblade knives – the kind of place we’ve heard about in songs by people like Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen or The Gaslight Anthem. It follows the conflict between the poor kids, the Greasers, and the rich kids, the Socs.
We experience the world from the perspective of the Greasers, with the main protagonist being Ponyboy Curtis (C Thomas Howell). After an incident where Ponyboy witnesses his best friend, Johnny (Ralph Macchio) killing one of the Socs in self-defence, the two boys go into hiding, helped by one of the older Greasers, Dallas (Matt Dillon).
The cast is full of recognisable faces – and you’ll see youthful versions of Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, and even Tom Waits in a brief cameo. The whole cast do a marvellous job, fleshing out the characters from the novel into real breathing people. A lot of the young cast went on to become stars, with Ralph Macchio doing so immediately after this film in The Karate Kid.
The cinematography in the film is gorgeous. This can be credited to shooting the film in cinemascope. The striking sunsets and shallow focus make it look like a film from the Hollywood studio era rather than one that came out in 1983, and the authenticity of the costumes, along with the lyrical dialogue, only add to this. There’s one scene where the Greasers and Socs are having a “rumble” (a fight) and with the lashing rain coming down, it looks like an homage to Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.
Meanwhile, it’s pretty clear that Coppola was concerned with giving the film a realist style, using the true locations where the novel had been set, as well as minimal lighting in exterior shots. This stunning contrast is what makes the film so stunning, and it is as beautiful as any of Coppola’s other films.
For the most part, the film makes the jump to Blu-ray unscathed, with the film still looking as stunning as ever. However, there are two versions of the film: the theatrical version and the 2005 “complete novel” version, which has 22 minutes of additional footage, making it more faithful to the novel than the original film. While the additional material does add to the film for the most part, there are a few issues with the image, and in some scenes it looks very ropey.
The rock and roll soundtrack, made up of songs from the era, and replaces the original score, fits in better, however, but it’s a little too high up in the mix; there are times when it’s really difficult to hear the dialogue, and I found that I frequently had to turn the volume down during the scenes where there was music playing.
These are minor issues, however, and while it would be good to have the option of both the theatrical and complete novel (which wasn’t available here in the UK anyway) versions of the film, this is still as definitive a version of the film as we’re likely to get. With any luck, we’ll get our hands on an equally generous Blu-ray version of the companion film, Rumble Fish, some time soon.
The extras come from those on the complete novel edition of the film, and are available here for the first time in the UK. There’s a very thorough and informative introduction and commentary from Coppola, as well as a separate commentary track from the cast. There’s a featurette, Staying Gold, A Look Back At The Outsiders, which is a making-of and also a retrospective, with the cast giving their anecdotes and insights about their time on the set of The Outsiders.
There are the usual deleted scenes, of poor quality due to their age, as is the NBC News Today feature which has the teacher and pupils who wrote to Coppola asking to create the film, but they’re still very watchable despite this. There is also a brief casting documentary and one with SE Hinton discussing the locations. The Blu-ray set comes with exclusive postcards and a booklet which discusses the story behind the film.
You can rent or buy The Outsiders at Blockbuster.co.uk.