16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cimino's masterpiece finally finds its audience
Let me start by saying that Heaven's Gate is a marvellous film, and in no way deserving of the critical mauling it got on its release. Director Michael Cimino was criticised for bloating the Johnson County War, a relatively minor albeit brutal footnote in American history, into a three-hour-plus behemoth, but to do so is to miss what Cimino was trying to achieve. The film...
Published 3 months ago by Anorakus
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars It's not underrated. It's just plain bad.
I find it difficult to take seriously the growing body of opinion that Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate is some sort of underrated masterpiece. I've seen the film twice. The first time I saw it, I thought it was a massively overlong, pompous mess, consisting of little more than a lot of speciously pretty cinematography decked out to distract attention from a flimsy and...
Published 1 month ago by lexo1941
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cimino's masterpiece finally finds its audience,
This review is from: Heaven's Gate Restored Edition 2 Discs [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Let me start by saying that Heaven's Gate is a marvellous film, and in no way deserving of the critical mauling it got on its release. Director Michael Cimino was criticised for bloating the Johnson County War, a relatively minor albeit brutal footnote in American history, into a three-hour-plus behemoth, but to do so is to miss what Cimino was trying to achieve. The film plays out as a requiem to the American frontier, and a paean to the visceral beauty of the West. The huge budget and Cimino's attention to detail are up there on the screen, and it looks wonderful. As with all great films, it isn't so much the events depicted that draw us in as the journey we're taken on to get there.
Having read the reviews I was fearing there would be precious little plot amongst the cinematic eye-candy, but this is not the case at all. This is one of the most absorbing movies I have seen. Cimino takes his time setting up the story, and the slow-burning Kristofferson-Walken-Huppert love triangle serves to heighten the tension and sense of dread leading up to the climactic battle sequence. Leading man Kris Kristofferson turns in a quiet but mesmerising performance as marshall Jim Averill, backed up by a solid supporting cast. At three and a half hours running time, Heaven's Gate is a long and nuanced film that audiences at the time - at least in the US - were perhaps not ready for. It's no surprise that the film was warmly received in Europe, as its unconventional narrative structure and slow pacing had far more in common with the French New Wave than other Hollywood fare of the time.
On to the UK blu-ray release from Second Sight. This is the sort of film that the format was made for. DP Vilmos Zsigmond's widescreen panoramas look fantastic, with saturated blue skies and green fields. The HD transfer, whilst sharp and detailed, does show up the limitations of the source material, with grain and occasional scratches and sparklies present. Some sequences show reduced contrast and blooming of light areas into dark, as if they were shot with a soft-focus lens - the opening scenes at Harvard are a good case in point - but I assume this was intentional. For audio we get a choice of stereo PCM and DTS-MA 5.1. I watched with the 5.1 option selected (the disc defaults to the stereo track), and whilst it's not the most dynamic track around given the age of the film, it does a good job of balancing dialogue with background effects and music cues. Most of the action does come from the front and centre speakers - the rears could have been utilised to better effect on some of the busy outdoor scenes. HG has been criticised for having a muffled soundtrack and dialogue, and this is another reason why the film works so much better today. With the benefit of a decent surround system I was able to follow characters speaking over the loud background noise present in a few scenes - Caspar, Wyoming being a good example - but it's easy to see that cinema audio circa 1980 would have struggled to separate dialogue from the prominent background mix.
The Second Sight release comes with a DVD of bonus features, the most interesting of which is the "Final Cut" documentary detailing the film's disastrous debut and the resulting fallout on the Hollywood film industry. A few years later, studios were churning out high-concept audience-pleasing hits such as Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop, and producers - not directors - wielded creative control. I'll leave you to decide whether this is a good or bad thing.
One final observation - the UK version of the film has a couple of small cuts for animal cruelty scenes, amounting to about a minute of running time, but in my opinion this does not spoil the film in any way.
Overall this is a must-have blu-ray - it's great to see this most misunderstood classic of American cinema get the treatment it deserves on a Region B disc. (The US market has the Criterion Collection release, but it's expensive and as with all Criterion discs is locked to Region A.)
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Controversial, flawed - but still great,
So much has been written about this movie that the experience of actually watching it is unique: you find yourself trying to ignore the critics, and just lose yourself in, what is, a pretty special film. Yes, it damaged the director's reputation. Yes, it bankrupted the studio. Yes, it failed at the time to live up to the hype. And yet, leaving all that aside, we have as sumptuously a mounted western as you'll ever see, and a complex, fascinating story. For too long people have been unwilling to forgive the perfectionism that went into the production. What they're missing is a film which takes the time to set up a recreation of a true chain of events which ought to be remebered - for comparison, watch the much shorter, glossier Johnson County War. This is the real deal. Buy the full-length Director's Cut, not the truncated version. If you love Hollywood history, especially the 70s when this was devised and filmed, then this is right up there in terms of significance with The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. Not to say that Heaven's Gate isn't flawed. There are traces of self-indulgence - moments when we want a gritty West, not touches of David Lean. But we should remain thankful that one man persevered with his vision towards the end of a time when films like this were still being made.
92 of 97 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic where I come from.,
This review is from: Heaven's Gate [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Michael Cimino's film would be held up as the archetypal Hollywood film that went vastly over-budget & failed to recoup the costs. Deemed a failure, jounalists gathered like vultures and books like The Final Cut (Stephen Bach) appeared- this would spell the end of New Hollywood- an era that had been ushered in with Bonnie & Clyde and Easy Rider would come to a close with this film- and Beatty's Reds (and perhaps Schrader's Lucas/Coppola produced Mishima). Art cinema would be off the menu- Bogdanovich & Coppola would have money problems, Scorsese would become a director for hire & Cimino would never recover. The High Concept would dominate the 80's- movies like Top Gun, Flashdance & Rambo would replace the possibilities offered up by auteurs like Cimino and Coppola. Our loss.
Heaven's Gate has dated wonderfully, this full-length 3hours 28 minutes version is much more satisfying than the edited take previously released (the 1980's would see many works cut to bits- such as Dune and Once Upon a Time in America). This is a far more satisfying Western than many that have followed it, such as Pale Rider, Dances with Wolves, Wyatt Earp, Tombstone & Ride with the Devil (but not Unforgiven or Dead Man). Cimino's epic ambition is all evident on-screen (photographer Vilmos Zsigmond captures a stunning world). As with Reds, you can see where the money went- a stunning recreation of an era in terms of art direction, design & costume.
This easily ranks next to Thunderbolt & Lightfoot and The Deer Hunter (whose epic vision was leading towards this epic-epic) and can a film with a cast including Kris Kristofferson, Isabelle Huppert, John Hurt, Christopher Walken, Jeff Bridges, Sam Waterson, Joseph Cotton & Brad Dourif be anything less than wonderful?
As Peter Biskind notes in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls- it could have been any of the late films of New Hollywood that broke the studio- Raging Bull, Reds, the projected 1983 version of Last Temptation of Christ, One from the Heart etc. Heaven's Gate has an appalling reputation, but in time I believe people will watch it and see that Cimino's vision is one of the great works of late 20th century American cinema.
43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A memorable but flawed masterpiece,
This review is from: Heaven's Gate [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
I only saw this film once a quarter of a century ago, yet it's impact has never left me and I can still remember even now my reactions to it.I was mesmerised by the breadth and the sheer beauty of so much of the photography. I was astounded that an American studio could produce such a European film with it's slow pace and its unfocused plot. The lack of any strong characters felt like a flaw but I raged at the completely unnecessary ending on the yacht which seemed as though it was bolted on to give some kind of plot cohesion and which was entirely at odds with the style of the rest of the picture.It was also refreshing to see a western which made no pretence about the brutality and exploitation that so often was the unfortunate detritus of the American Dream.The western scenes and sets also had an authenticity which was entirely new to me and which prefigured the recent Deadwood series.The film was massively cut for the American audience and its my very real wish that in these days of Director's Cuts that Michael Cimino is given the opportunity of a fresh edit in the light of reflection - a cut which could turn this ill fated movie into the masterpiece it had the potential to become
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic.,
A political western with the finest action sequences ever devised since the wild bunch. But more a wistful European perspective. Lets face it most of Americans were imported from Europe poor huddled masses almost never dealt with in the genre, well here they are in this film. The film speaks of the very rich and the poor and the undying underlining part of westerns that says you can fight back. It's long wide and misunderstood as a film but its a real peace of western Americana some of the shots are pure poetry.
The film that broke UA the film that one day critics will look at and say damn that was pretty good, until then you will be ahead of the pack if you have this on your shelf
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A near masterpiece.,
What a fool I was: for a long time I have been put off by the reputation of "Heaven's Gate" as the undisciplined sprawl of an unfettered auteur. It's flawed, certainly; the exegesis of the plot is poor and some scenes remain enigmatic, but Cimino is a master of the panoramic set-piece and balances realism, intimacy, near-fantasy and violence with aplomb. The pace is European, but the violence surpasses Peckinpah. I can only assume that the reexamination of the American dream is unpalatable when the powerful are portrayed as fascists, even when dressed in the uniform of Commissars, as Sam Waterston frequently appears to be.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars It's not underrated. It's just plain bad.,
This review is from: Heaven's Gate Restored Edition 2 Discs[DVD] (DVD)
I find it difficult to take seriously the growing body of opinion that Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate is some sort of underrated masterpiece. I've seen the film twice. The first time I saw it, I thought it was a massively overlong, pompous mess, consisting of little more than a lot of speciously pretty cinematography decked out to distract attention from a flimsy and pointless story. The main actor, Kris Kristofferson, is an inert hulk of a man - I'm prepared to believe that he is or was a decent singer-songwriter, if you like that kind of thing, but he can't act - and scores of fine character actors are wasted in minor roles. Literally wasted, in that basically all of the main characters except one - spoiler alert! - don't survive until the end of the movie. Nor are their deaths meaningful; basically, this movie is what the TV Tropes website calls a Shoot the Shaggy Dog Story, extended to vast length and with very little result. That, at any rate, was my opinion when I first saw the film.
Some time after seeing it, I read Steven Bach's book Final Cut, which details how the Heaven's Gate shoot was allowed to run wildly out of control because the studio placed too much faith in a director whose ego was far bigger than his talent. Michael Cimino behaved as though the purpose of a Hollywood movie was to be High Art. The purpose of a Hollywood movie, at any rate when he made this one, was to make money for the studio, and this one failed so badly to do that, that it killed the studio. If this sounds excessively cynical, bear in mind that directors as different as Howard Hawks, Billy Wilder, Steven Spielberg and Francis Coppola made movies that were far superior as art than anything Cimino ever made, but which were also major commercial successes. Heaven's Gate is boring, humourless and without entertainment value, but the pretty visuals, the evidently huge amounts of money poured into the bottomless pit of its production, and the film's general air of complacent, elegiac soulfulness still fool some people into thinking that surely it must also be a good movie.
Some time after I read Bach's book I made myself watch Heaven's Gate again, just to see if I was wrong the first time round. I managed to make it to the end, and then I had to stay up another couple of hours watching a Cary Grant movie just to wash this piece of garbage out of my brain.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A thing of rare Beauty,
This review is from: Heaven's Gate (Original cut)  [DVD] (DVD)
"Heavens Gate" stands like some long abandoned monolith to a strange long extinct race. Its beauty is undeniable but all understanding of its reason for existence gone. An enigma whose dark murky depths are hard to fathom. The film has gone down into legend for all the wrong reasons. Due to the directors grand vision the film went way over budget. On its initial release it was poorly reviewed and made a pittance. It led to the collapse of the prestigious United Artists studio and was a salutary lesson to the industry. Never was a director to have such control again and the shift went back to the studios. It is a lesson the studios still remember with clarity. Unfortunately the reputation of Michael Cimino was destroyed and he was never trusted by Hollywood afterwards.
The film is set around the Johnson County War of 1890 in Wyoming. A true historical event but not on the epic scale portrayed in the film. The area is being flooded by European immigrants some of whom have been killing cattle to live. This upsets the local cattle barons who hire regulators to dispose of the worst offenders. Within this framework we have a love story between a prostitute Ella Watson played by Isabelle Huppert, Nate Champion a cowboy enforcer played by Christopher Walken and a sympathetic lawman Jim Averill played by Kris Kristofferson. The story heads to a tragic and bloody climax.
Of the films characters, I have to say Walken as Champion is the most compelling. Kristofferson is a little stiff, but as Champion says of him "He has style", and he certainly does. An interesting cameo is thrown in by Joseph Cotten that old Welles favourite in one of his last roles. Jeff Bridges is excellent as ever as one of the immigrants. Mickey Rourke has an early appearence long before his recent resurgence in Aronofskys "The Wrestler". John Hurt also gives his usual impeccable performance as a friend of Jim from Harvard days. Overall a very strong cast.
Today the film has been viewed by some as a revisionist Western and has made some respected top film lists. For myself I liken it to indulging in a very rich chocolate truffle after Christmas. So indulgent that I question whether I really needed it. The film is beautiful to look at. The dancing scenes seem to go on forever. The strangely choreographed dancing in the Harvard scenes owes more to Busby Berkley than a Western and must have cost a fortune. But to what end? Undeniably beautiful but was it necessary to the story? The film stands like a beautiful folly. Lovely to look at but what point. In the final analysis I enjoyed revisiting this film and would recommend it to you, history and all. Like some lovely paintings it is a thing of rare beauty.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wrongly maligned masterpiece,
This review is from: Criterion Collection: Heaven's Gate [Blu-ray]  [US Import] (Blu-ray)
How did this film get such a bad reputation? Having heard little about it except that it was one of Hollywood's biggest financial flops, I bought this restoration with no great hopes. However, it is an astonishing film on every level. It feels and looks very much like The Deer Hunter, which one would expect from the same director. It deals with similar themes, and shares one of its lead actors. However, it is a more ambitious and far more confident film. It is ravishingly beautiful, epic in vision, and despite all the crashingly bad reviews it received at the time, it is riveting. The only segments I would have cut if cuts were needed, would be the prologue and epilogue, which serve little or no purpose, and were filmed as an afterthought (although the prologue still looks fantastic) Cimino could be accused of indulgence, and in terms of the budget, he probably was, but this is by no means the bad film we were told it was, and the huge expenditure of time and money is evident in every frame. It is beautifully paced, elegantly shot, and I can't recommend it highly enough. It has flaws, of course, but they are trivial compared to its strengths. This film killed off the Western, and United Artists, but it was a victim of its time. I can't understand why it gets on '50 worst movies of all time' lists, it seems just to be laziness on the part of the compilers, and I assume they base their assumptions on box office take alone. This is an intelligent, powerful film, and should never be put on the same lists as Showgirls or Pink Panther 2.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars prophetic,
I first saw this shortly after it come out, and have just seen again. It seemed prophetic then, as it does now. Disparities of wealth; the heartwarming spirit of the dispossesed; the strength of love and friendship; the trampling over liberty by the powerful; the frailty of human beings; the arrogance of the greedy; the brutalising of the beautiful; the blind self-serving rule-making tendency of the professional classes (bankers, lawyers, academics, politicians); heroism in strange places; pain and pleasure; they are all in this film, and it is mesmerising to watch, and hear. It is a wonderful, tragic story, beatifully told, with music and scenery that is haunting and touching; and it has truly sensitive performances from the actors. They allow you to see the narrative because they do not try to dominate it. This is a film that was ahead of its time, but spoke of what was to come; what we see now. Relative to the budgets, violence, trivia, superficiality and propoganda of too much of what film now is (with a few exceptions), this stands out as a paragon of virtue, whatever minor flaws it might have. And the film's length? What a joy it is to have the space and time to watch it unfold, as unhurried and majestic as the countryside in which it is set. Come back Mr. Cimino! More of this.
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Criterion Collection: Heaven's Gate [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] by John Hurt (DVD - 2012)