The Outsiders Movie Review

When Francis Ford Coppola made The Outsiders in 1983, he was in the midst of yet another career paradigm shift. Having broke the bank on the gargantuan semi-failures Apocalypse Now and One from the Heart, he turned to adapting a pair of S.E. Hinton novels - which he hyperbolically termed "Camus for kids" - first this one and then Rumble Fish. The Outsiders was relatively cheap, and also brought Coppola back to a kind of human drama that his post-Godfather work had been lacking, the result enrapturing a good number of teens and pre-teens in the 1980s. Coppola can never leave well enough alone, though, and so now we have his new version, The Complete Novel, overall a case in point for directors not being allowed to do this sort of thing.

The original film takes Hinton's spare 1967 novel of young gangs in Tulsa and turns it into grand melodrama, with gorgeous CinemaScope sunsets, sweeping orchestral score, and teen scuffles that take on all the clashing importance of medieval battles. On the crap side of town live the working-class greasers, with their black t-shirts and slicked-back hair, always getting hassled by the socs, preppie bastards with family money and nicer cars. The film centers on the greasers, particularly the sensitive 13-year-old orphan Ponyboy Curtis (C. Thomas Howell) who lives with his older brothers Sodapop (Rob Lowe) and Darrell (Patrick Swayze). The surrogate family hanging around the Curtis' ramshackle house also includes Emilio Estevez and Tom Cruise, while their friend, born-to-lose Dally Winston (Matt Dillon) has just been released from jail. Almost as childlike as Ponyboy is his best friend, Johnny (Ralph Macchio), an angelically bruised kid from a troubled home who provides the film's most emotional moments.

The storyline is an erratic one at best, though it starts well. After a full night of run-ins with the socs, Ponyboy and Johnny finally get cornered by them in park, where Johnny knifes one to death in self-defense. They head out of town, with help from conveniently knowledgeable Dally, hiding in a remote abandoned church where they cut their hair, read Gone with the Wind, watch sunsets, and wait for the heat to die down. A chain of tragedy follows, from a fire to a climactic rumble in the rain to heart wrenching hospital scenes, none of it ending well for the kids from the wrong side of the tracks. While much of it may seem laughable at times to older viewers, there's an undeniable primal quality to the film's portrait of perennially disenfranchised poor kids, and the heartrending quality of Johnny - Macchio's wide, terrified eyes are hard to shake - is like something out of Dickens.

What Coppola did right in his initial cut of 90-odd minutes, was to prune away some of the book's character-building scenes, which didn't play out too well with his inexperienced but powerfully energetic and Adonis-gorgeous cast. For all those who complained about the film being not faithful enough to the source material, Coppola reintegrated about twenty minutes of material, some good and some bad. Of the better additions is the fleshing out of the opening sequence in which Ponyboy is tailed by socs home from the movie theater, providing now a better introduction to his fringe, alienated world. Worse is the padding added to the end, including a long trial scene and an unduly tidy wrap-up with the three Curtis boys.

Nothing damages Coppola's initial vision, however, as much as his removing the score done by his father Carmine. In the original film, the lush symphonies worked with the beautiful cinematography to give the story - which could seem slight and inconsequential to some - a timeless quality, punching up the already wonderfully florid emotions to an appropriately Rebel Without a Cause level. Now, The Complete Novel cut uses almost entirely rock music of the era, including a half-dozen Presley tunes and far too much surf guitar. This works on occasion, especially early on in the film, but as it goes on, the new music cues strip away the overheated feelings that Carmine's score evoked and actually makes some previously moving sequences almost laughable. The result is a film that can't decide if it's a teen exploitation flick or a classic story of alienation and ends up being neither.

Coppola hasn't managed to ruin his best film of the 1980s, this is too potent material for that, but he did seriously wound it.

The Complete Novel is packaged in a nice two-disc edition, with a gorgeous new widescreen transfer, 10 additional scenes, and several excellent documentaries, including one about the California students whose petition to Coppola gave him the initial idea to make the film.


Comments

outsidersfan3's picture

outsidersfan3

I Absolutely LOVE!!!!the book it is amazing and i have read it several times and continue to do so in my lifetime and i love the movie too i own both the book and the movie. the movie leave some parts from the book out though but it is still a great movie

5 years 4 months ago
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ilovesodapopcurtis's picture

ilovesodapopcurtis

i disagree i think the extended edition is marvellous + much better than the original, it brings out the brotherly bonds + virtually restores rob lowes character sodapop, the middle sensitive brother. although it was great on the original the music on 'the complete novel' is more preppy and brings the movie alive. dont get me wrong i love the original version but all round i think the extended edition is by far the best. well done francis :)

5 years 4 months ago
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ilovedallywinston's picture

ilovedallywinston

IM STILL COUTIN...47 TIMES IN 4 MONTHS.. BOOYAH NOW THATS WHAT IM TALKIN ABOUT.I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE MATT DILLON!

7 years 3 weeks ago
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Ponygirl's picture

Ponygirl

i loved the outsiders. i think it really shows what the world is like. even today in the 21st century.

8 years 4 months ago
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ilovedallywinston's picture

ilovedallywinston

omg i i have been counting and i watched the outsiders 27 times in 3 months! i LOVE it to death.

7 years 2 months ago
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violet's picture

violet

I completely agree- I watched the original so many times when it first came out, and was excited for the dvd disc release. I nearly cried when I heard the new music and how it changed the tone of the scenes. While Ponyboy is being held under water- (a scene that once made me afraid for his life while dissonant cords served the perfect amount of anxiety and tension) the music has been replaced with hotrod surf music that is campy and almost funny. In the scene where he and Dallas get into the argument in the house and then he runs out into the night to johnny's place- the music has gone from fear to rock and roll /surf tunes again. Erasing the fear and aloneness that had once been present. The ending - music change- when Matt Dillon is on the hill- is unforgivable. I used to cry in that scene and instead felt embarrased. I will continue to watch the old edition. The new version only offered some details that were redundant.

6 years 9 months ago
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ilovedallywinston's picture

ilovedallywinston

i love the movie the outsiders! its the best movie of ALL time!! all the characters are so greatly chosen. my mom gets mad at me because i always rent the outsiders fromm blockbuster EVERYtime we go because i love it soooo much and dally is my favorite character (no offense i LOVE the other characters) and ever since i saw the outsiders i fell in love with matt dillon im in a bunch of fan clubs and stuff but i love love love the outsiders so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so much! LOVE IT!!

7 years 5 months ago
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The Outsiders Rating

" OK "

Rating: PG-13, 1983

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