Heaven's Gate - Restored Edition15 ¦ Blu-ray, DVD
In 1978 director Michael Cimino was enjoying the critical success that came from his film The Deer Hunter. It was some feat when you consider that it was only his second stab at directing.
This success continued when the film won five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. Two weeks later, he began shooting Heaven's Gate. Its studio, United Artists, must have thought that with such a visionary on board behind this western, nothing could go prevent it from being a hit; how wrong they were.
1890, Wyoming and the wide open spaces of the State are enjoying a huge influx of immigrants from all parts of Europe. Also returning to these parts is marshal James Averill (Kris Kristofferson); apparently the arrival of the immigrants is causing concern amongst the business elite of the State, known as the Association. They believe that these foreigners are nothing more than a bunch of thieves, anarchists and outlaws and that must be dealt with as such.
With government backing, they created a death list featuring 125 names, giving them the legal right to track them down and bring them to justice, by murdering them. Of course this news isn't greeted well by the immigrants who look to Averill to help them out.
Morally Averill certainly knows what side he's on, but he isn't just facing the odd bandit, he's up against the force and power of the US government who don't appear to be in any real hurry to back down.
Although Cimino showed considerable talent with The Deer Hunter, he truly took advantage of United Artists with his vision; he made them pay in more ways than one. He took complete control of the project, and even hired a friend with little experience to be his producer.
The budget quickly spiralled completely out of control and ended up costing over $44 million dollars, making it the most expensive film at that time. When it went on release it made just over $1 million. You don't need to be Rachel Riley to do the maths. It's still considered one of the biggest flops of all time. It also destroyed United Artists.
Twenty year on however, and the film, like a fine wine, has matured magnificently. This restored cut, coming in at a bum-numbing 216 mins (it could have been much worse; Cimino's original cut for the studio was over five hours long), on Blu-ray, may well be a hefty investment of time to watch, but delivers so much.
Where it impresses most is in the sheer scale of it all. Each single frame is just breathtaking to behold. Cimino shoots, in places with the gusto of a busy 1920's musical with some impressive set pieces, mixed with the elegance and beauty of a John Ford western.
Despite its length, the film must only contain a couple of pages of actual dialogue, making it less a film, and more a cinematic poem; it's certainly a visual language displayed on the huge canvas of the screen, with a flowing rhythm that at times can be best described as achingly beautiful. It's because of this that the background normally displaces anything in the foreground.
The actors involved, including Christopher Walken, Jeff Bridges, Isabelle Huppert and a very young Mickey Rourke (who went on to star in Cimino's hugely underrated Year of the Dragon) are only secondary to the sumptuous world that Cimino has created for them, but they do their best, considering.
Clearly Cimino's biggest hindrance on this project was his ego. It didn't just bring about the end of a studio, but ultimately his promising career too. He's made only four films since, with the last being 1996's Sunchaser - yet another box office failure.
Yes Heaven's Gate is a film brimming with excess, so much so that it's understandable that it can put audiences off, yet if you choose to indulge it, you will be rewarded with an epic, albeit flawed masterpiece that, on this restored Blu-ray edition, has never looked better.