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Based on the Johnson County War of 1892. Michael Cimino's epic western has Harvard graduate James Averill (Kris Kristofferson) returning to Wyoming as a Marshall and begins to face growing divisions and escalating tensions in the local community. The powerful, government-backed cattle barons are waging war on the immigrant settlers and are hiring mercenaries to act take them out. As hostilities mount, the inevitability of a full-scale and bloody war edges ever closer.

Video


There's a of talk about this newly restored transfer of Director Michael Cimino's cut supervised by Cimino himself but given this is my first time to the film I'm not entirely sure what's improved here or what the state of previous home releases were in. I say that because this doesn't strike me as a great looking restoration but you'll have to forgive me if I'm missing the subtle or even grand improvements here.

The opening hazily shot of our lead running though Harvard is initially worrying as it looks awful but after a quick run around a hazy corner we land in HD street and while it’s by no means a striking 1080p presentation it’s still one with some noticeable well defined edges and a much better hold of its hazy visuals.

Close ups on faces certainly look much better than wide shots. Skin tones have more warmth, more texture and better edges. The image is consistently grainy, consistently hazy looking and often has elements look out of focus but many of the external scenes come with a good level of depth.

Colours are a little muted and reds run very warm and pinky at times. Textures in costumes are not all that striking unless in tighter close ups and landscapes never really pop in the ways you expect a naturally lit HD presentation to pop. Sure the wide open land and snow covered mountains look grand and epic due to the films huge looking scale but this presentation never quite sells the beauty of the pre-CGI era surroundings as you might hope and older films with this same epic feel and have landed much better on Blu-ray.

Audio


The dialogue in the opening Harvard meeting, sounds realistically set in a large hall but at the same time that means its quite hollow and voices, cheers and claps all seem to travel out of the central speaker rather than spread across the central surrounds. The score reaches a little further with a nicely balanced frontal feel with the odd instrument holding up the rears. Guitar plucks are a good showcase of the score sounding its best with a real depth to the sound and they feel separate to the other elements of the score when its at its most rich.

Well placed crowd noises and sound effects are also well placed in the rears but some of the frontal sound effects sounded a bit hissy to me. The track is layered enough but it feels very central even with certain elements adding a bit of depth from time to time. Amore than a handful of bass moments add the oomph but even at its best this one struggles to reach a clean, crisp sound and feels like early released CD mixes before CDs got digitally remastered for a wider sounding experience.

Extras

(DVD Disc)
'True Gate: Interview With Jeff Bridges' (19:33 SD) has the always warm actor talking fondly of his director and he also fleshes out where the story of Heaven's Gate spawned from andhow the film's epic scale was achieved. He talks of his research, small details in the film and his enjoyment of the film.

'Painting Jackson County: Interview With Vilnmos Zsigmond'(18:00 SD). talks to the film's cinematographer about his love of the film.

'Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven's Gate (DVD Release Version)' (55:10) is narrated by William Dafoe and is frankly brilliant. It begins with the detail that the epic film destroyed the legendary production studio United Artists. We then hit the stars and producer as they tease us with the behind the scenes tragedy that was the production and then we proceed into the details regarding the trust that United Artists had in the director and just how badly it all went. It’s a very well paced documentary and paints a picture of the bullheaded approach to budget limitations from Michael Cimino's and the studio's soft handling of the project and the ongoing issues surrounding the production. This seems to be a frank and honest account, especially from the United Artists side of things but it sounds like an absolute hell on earth process and makes for a great behind the scenes look at an epic power struggle. I enjoyed this extra much more than the film itself and it does a great job at painting a picture of film's legendary status... for all the wrong reasons.

Overall


I'd never seen Heaven's Gate and was actually unaware of its legacy of failure as well. The film feels grand and indulgent and has its own style and pacing and it is indeed very hard to penetrate, which may account for some of it's criticisms over the years. The film clocks in at over three and a half hours, so watching it in one hit was a real struggle even with some big name actors holding it all together. The film is epic and huge in style but the transfer here didn't do anything to excite me at all. The audio fares better but it's the extras (largely previously available it seems) that make this a worthy package and the making of regarding the films insanely turbulent history is fantastic.

Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

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