Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s classic young adult novel “The Outsiders” was a modest success — mostly notable for an ensemble that included a young Tom Cruise, Diane Lane and Matt Dillon — but Coppola received years of letters asking why so much of the book had been cut. Those omissions obviously bothered the director, too, because an expanded version of the film, along with plenty of extras, has now been released as a DVD package dubbed “The Outsiders: The Complete Novel.”
With this new treatment, “The Outsiders” may rival “Blade Runner” as the film most improved by a director’s cut. More than 20 minutes of lost footage are restored, and all of it deepens the story of teenage greasers trying to survive in the 1950s. In a commentary track, Coppola says he wanted the film to be “a young person’s ‘Gone With the Wind,’ ” and the epic elegance of the new version shows he got awfully close.
In a wise move, Coppola has chucked the film’s original score, written by his father Carmine, which overstated emotion with syrupy strings. Now we hear rock songs of the period, and as the director astutely observes, the music invites us to pay attention to the actors rather than telling us how to feel about them.
The film itself is outstanding enough to warrant the set’s existence, so the engrossing extras just sweeten the deal. The standout is a brief documentary that chronicles both the original film and the new release, letting Coppola and cast shed memorable light on how the studio process can change a movie’s destiny.
Several thesps also reunite for a commentary, though they tend toward inside jokes more than interesting banter. Much more amusing is the feature that revisits the film’s casting call. Coppola ran the audition like a meat market, making everyone watch the competition perform, and the filmed results include priceless moments like Rob Lowe digging for improvised emotion with C. Thomas Howell. Seeing thesps like Cruise and Emilio Estevez as goofy kids, bending over backward to nail an audition, offers a touching reminder that every star used to be a struggling actor.
The major drawback to the extras — which also include a charming interview with Hinton and some unnecessary clips of cast members reading from her book — is the recycling of anecdotes. Coppola especially makes all his salient points in the first half of his commentary and then just repeats himself, suggesting a full-length track was not necessary. That’s a small stumble, though, for a set that polishes such an expected gem of a film.