Our review of Silverado (Blu-Ray), published September 14th, 2009, is also available.
Get ready for the ride of your life.
Lawrence Kasdan, the director of The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist, and French Kiss, writes and directs this homage to Westerns from the John Ford and Howard Hawks era. An inspiring and fun romp across the Old West, with a star-studded cast and beautiful scenery, it is given the DVD transfer it deserves. Only in the category of extras does it not meet my expectations for a disc called a collectors edition.
Larry Kasdan had a lot of clout at Columbia following the smash hit The Big Chill. Even so, when he decided his next picture was going to be a western, you could say the studio was underwhelmed. It was believed at the time only Clint Eastwood could make a western that would make any money. But Kasdan and his brother Marc had spent a good deal of time writing what to them was the quintessential western, and they really wanted to make it. Considering Kasdan had also written films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, Columbia shouldn't have worried, but they did. Initially asking for $25 million dollars, Kasdan waived his own salary and made other cuts to bring the figure down a few million, and the studio finally agreed. Afraid they would still change their minds, he set forth right away, despite the fact that it meant shooting in the winter. Shooting in New Mexico above 7000 feet in the winter, the cold and snow represented great obstacles in the making of the movie, especially in building the town of Silverado, the biggest western town set that had ever been built. Many other films in the future would use this town, until Wild Wild West ultimately destroyed it last year with an 80 foot tarantula. I personally think I'd rather have the town still standing than Wild Wild West, but that is another story.
Besides having a script that had, in his words, "everything we wanted to be in a western," Kasdan had some great talent to cast for Silverado. Having felt bad for having to cut his scene in The Big Chill, he went first to a young, relatively unknown actor named Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves, Field of Dreams, Bull Durham). He then cast the versatile Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda, Dave, The Big Chill) as a former outlaw and gambler with a conscience named Paden. Rounding out the main cast he picked Danny Glover (the Lethal Weapon series, Grand Canyon, Predator 2) and Scott Glenn (Silence of the Lambs, Absolute Power, Courage Under Fire). The supporting cast was just as impressive, including Brian Dennehy as the corrupt sheriff, Jeff Goldblum as the nattily dressed gambler named Slick, Jeff Fahey, Rosanna Arquette as the recently widowed homesteader, and the Academy Award winning actress Linda Hunt (Best Supporting Actress, The Year of Living Dangerously), who steals every scene as Stella, the strong willed saloon keeper with a heart of gold. James Gammon (Major League) plays an outlaw leader, and there are a half dozen other familiar faces as well.
As for the plot, there will be few surprises; just about any great plot device used in a Western is here. This is by no means an insult to the film; they use these devices purposely to make it a film that revels in the genre, using the technical advances of modern day to bring them off beautifully. Kasdan does his usual excellent job in taking several characters with separate stories, and weaves them together until they finally tie into each other. The film begins with Emmett (Scott Glenn) asleep in a mountain cabin, when he awakes to find several men about to kill him from outside. The film goes into high gear right away, and Emmett shoots the all the bad guys. He then opens the cabin door to the wide open spaces of the west, contrasting with the claustrophobic darkness of the cabin. The title sequence begins, as does the Oscar nominated score written by Bruce Broughton. Emmett then finds Paden (Kline) lying in the desert with nothing but his long johns. We find out that several men decided they liked Paden's horse, guns, and hat, and left him to die. Fortunately Emmett has a spare horse thanks to his bushwhackers, and asks Paden where he wants to go. Paden replies, in one of many great quotes "Which way is the paint going?" referring to the extra horse. At the next town Paden finds the man with his horse, but alas has nothing but his underwear and a coin Emmett had given him. Quickly buying the only gun he could afford, which looked like it might not even fire, he manages to kill the horse thief. As he's kissing his horse, the Marshall questions him:
Marshall: How do I know this is your horse?
In the next town, the pair first see Danny Glover being mistreated for his race, and save him from arrest by saying what had truly happened. Later we find out Kevin Costner is about to be hanged by a local sheriff played by John Cleese of Monty Python fame even though it was supposedly a fair fight. After Paden kills the man who has hit hat and gun, in another fair fight, he finds himself in the same cell. Costner plays Jake, the wild and happy-go-lucky brother of Emmett. Of course they have to break out of jail, and the posse who is hot on their tail gets turned back by a sniper in the rocks above. It turns out the sniper is Danny Glover, and the group of 4 heroes is complete; as they head off to the town of Silverado. I'm going to leave off the plot here, with all the separate stories, but you'll certainly smile and laugh more than once as this film just inspires you to do it. Of course the bad guys are mean and nasty, and you'll be angry with them too. I won't tell you but you can guess if they get their just deserves.
I can't say enough for the cinematography and the video transfer on this disc. The scenery, the shots of horses running by, the cattle stampede (you KNEW there would be one, didn't you?) are all breathtaking. This release on DVD does it all justice. This is a new 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer, replacing the incorrect 1.78:1 released previously. The few flaws that were present in the first transfer seem to be fixed now, except a tiny bit of grain in some long sky shots. Other than that, this is near perfect video. The earth tones of the desert are crisp and warm. Darker scenes are not muddy or overshadowed, and campfire reds and golds do not bloom or bleed. Blacks and flesh tones are fine, and the dusty streets of the town show no artifacts. There are no nicks or blips or other film problems I could detect.
The audio is every bit as good as the video. The new Dolby Digital 5.1 track is as excellent as any I've heard before. The front soundstage is wide, and surrounds and subwoofer all get a workout, especially on gunfire and horses riding to and fro. Unlike too many westerns, the guns sound like guns. The big Henry rifle booms and echoes, the shotgun sounds like a shotgun, and even the handguns sound like a real pistol. The sound as well as the score were both nominated for Academy Awards. "Rousing" is the inevitable word you must associate with Bruce Broughtan's score, it is classically western but original. The music is very well recorded, and comes up from all around you with your surround system. Great bass extension in the music, and as I said before, the sound effects. Highly recommended.
As for extra content on this Collectors Edition, the biggest and best of them is the 35-minute documentary on the making of the film. This is no congratulatory and promotional featurette; it goes a long way to explain the making of the film and has interviews and clips of many of the actors and crew. I only wish it could have been longer. The liner inside the Amaray Keep Case contains production notes, and the theatrical trailer and fairly extensive cast and crew bios and filmographies round out the extras. I dearly wished for a commentary track from Kasdan, and any of the actors involved.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As I said above, I dearly wished for a commentary track. The other big lack in the extras department was no deleted scenes. The documentary shows a few clips of scenes with Rosanna Arquette, and it is apparent she was nearly completely cut from the film. There was approximately 40 minutes cut from the complete first assembly, and much of it concerned a love triangle subplot with Paden, Emmett, and Rosanna Arquette. While I can understand the need to cut it out, surely the DVD Collectors Edition was the place to bring it back; either as part of the film or at least a deleted scenes area in the bonus materials.
This is the best western to be made in the last 20 years, or even more. This is near perfect presentation for video and audio. If you like Westerns even a little bit, this is the one to buy. Even if you don't, rent it for the best the genre has to offer.
Lawrence Kasdan remains one of my favorite directors and writers, and I will call him back to my chambers to get an autograph before I acquit him. The film and the disc are acquitted, though I remind Columbia of the extras that might have been; especially for the definitive collectors edition release. Otherwise, one of the best discs it's been my pleasure to rule upon.
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