I first heard of 1984's Streets of Fire sometime in the last few years, which surprised me given I spent the bulk of the '80s and '90s with my head buried in theaters, HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, and my local Blockbuster. I vaguely recall a comment on Reddit leading me to IMDB, and then dug it up for a viewing shortly after hearing about what an experience it is. It did not disappoint. The soundtrack as a whole is just as compelling as the set designs, editing, and cinematography, but what caught my ear first were probably Jim Steinman's contributions to the music, in a way making this a kind of Meat Loaf: The Musical.
The story opens with Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) kicking off a concert, only to be interrupted by a biker gang set to kidnap her, led by Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe). Reva Cody (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) witnesses the event from the crowd and calls her brother Tom (Michael Pare) in to attempt a rescue. Tom partners with McCoy (Amy Madigan) and sets out to collect a bounty on Aim set by her producer Billy Fish (Rick Moranis). On top of that cast, you still get Bill Paxton, Rick Rossovich, Lee Ving, Robert Townsend, Richard Lawson, and Mykelti Williamson. I even noticed Grand L. Bush, who would later star as one of Die Hard's agents Johnson (no, the other one). With Walter Hill at the helm, that cast, and a soundtrack featuring Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, Ry Cooder, The Blasters, and The Fixx alongside the aforementioned Jim Steinman, you've already got a winning formula.
As the story progresses, you get an uncanny mix of past and future, a sort of sci-fi cowboy mashup with wardrobe and vehicles clearly coming straight out of the early 20th Century, but neon lights and other aesthetics that seemed out of place for the implied setting, but somehow made sense. Kind of reminded me of Firefly in that regard, minus the interstellar travel.
Willem Dafoe was so young and stylized that I didn't recognize him at first, which is a rarity for a man with such iconic features. I guess if you coif anyone's hair to look like a cobra and adorn them in shiny vinyl overalls, their face might not be the thing that grabs the eye. He makes a smarmy and greasy lead biker, vile and unlikeable as they come, and plays the part with just the right amount of cheese.
The core story is pretty thin and basic and utterly predictable, but in this case, I think that works out fine, the way a shirt doesn't need to have three arms when it's boasting sequins and buttons that play music. There's no need for complex plot when the point of the film is the barrage of well choreographed sights and sounds at a breakneck pace. The 93 minutes don't let up, including opening and closing stage musical numbers with serious kick. I never noticed before how much young Diane Lane resembles modern day Mandy Moore. The sledgehammer duel between Tom and Raven also oozes cheese, and Rick Moranis is overbearing as Aim's producer, but it's all perfectly in line with the rest of the tone of the film.
New to this 35th anniversary edition release are the steelbook case, as well as two discs, with the film on one at the best resolutions money can buy with new DTS-HD audio, and the second disc sporting two feature-length documentaries (one making-of and another "revisiting" the movie), music videos, featurettes, the theatrical trailer, and a gallery of stills from the movie. Not sure what more you could want from the package, as the documentaries talk about every aspect of production, from casting to wardrobe to the soundtrack to set-building to capturing each key shot.
The film is really quite an experience and an accomplishment in its own right, but it may not be for everyone -- if you want serious action or a proper musical, you might not be completely sucked in by Streets of Fire. Be that as it may, I can safely say I've never seen anything quite like it. It'll stick with you after it ends, and while I wasn't sure it would grab me on repeat viewings, it has managed to each time. It's been referred to as a "Rock N Roll Fable" and that is an apt description as it's rough around the edges but goes as expected, reinforcing stereotypical characteristics that make good guys good (integrity, charity, honesty, decency) and bad guys bad (stealing, cheating, black clothes, wild behavior). Given the hybrid past and future setting, it's not necessarily bound to '80s nostalgia, either; the first time I saw it was in the last five years and it still surprised and captivated me. Give it a chance, you may feel the same.