Six reasons why the west was wild.
It's a time-tested formula that is often a can't lose situation: take some young talented stars, throw them in a genre piece, and watch the money roll in. In the late 1980s, the western theme was momentarily revised (until Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven came along) with director Christopher Cain's hit Young Guns. Featuring a hot cast and guns a-blazin', Young Guns tore up the box office and went on to become a 1980s semi-classic (it also spawned a sequel, cleverly titled Young Guns II). Originally released on rather meager disc in the early days of the DVD format, Young Guns rides back into town in a new "special edition" care of Artisan Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
It's 1878 in the dry lands of Lincoln County, New Mexico. Under the wing of a British landowner named John Turnstall (Terrance Stamp, The Limey), five young troublemakers are getting their lives back together as hired hands on his farm. Among the group is the soft spoken "Doc" Scurlock (Kiefer Sutherland, TV's 24), the knife wielding Chavez Y. Chavez (Lou Diamond Phillips, La Bamba), level-headed Richard Brewer (Charlie Sheen, Hot Shots!), the ta'baca chewin' Dirty Steve Stephens (Dermot Mulroney, About Schmidt), and the sensitive Charley Bowdre (Casey Siemaszko, Limbo). When a new kid blows into town by the name of William H. Bonney (Emilio Estevez, The Mighty Ducks)—AKA Billy the Kid—things really start to heat up. Billy is a hot head who makes up for his pint size with a trigger finger as itchy as poison ivy. After John Turnstall is killed because of a dispute with a ruthless business tycoon named Murphy (Jack Palance, Batman), Billy and his men are deputized as the Regulators to serve warrants to eleven of Murphy's men for John's death. Because of Billy's inflamed temper, the Regulators go on a bloody rampage that quickly turns them into outlaws on both sides of the law. Hunted and despised by Murphy and his men as well as the sheriff and his men, the six gunslingers attempt to gain vengeance on those who wronged their father figure the only way they know how: old west justice!
The trusty western is a genre that may never go out of style. Like horror movies, it's had a resurgence numerous times, proving that it's about as resilient as a cockroach after a nuclear holocaust. In fact, just a few years ago there was a small spate of teenage westerns, including the mildly entertaining James Van Der Beek vehicle Texas Rangers and the superior Colin Farrell/Ali Larter flick American Outlaws.
But let's go back to where it all (sort of) began. In 1988, the teenage crowd had a different set of stars to look up to. During the late '80s Emilio Estevez, his brother Charlie Sheen, and Kiefer Sutherland were all hot commodities as well as Hollywood hunks. Taking the Billy the Kid legend and twisting it around a bit, Young Guns hit theaters and became and instant hit with the kiddies (its popularity on VHS was also a defining factor for Young Guns's success). In 1990, it spawned a sequel that followed Pat Garrett's pursuit of Billy through dry lands of the old west.
The reason that Young Guns works is because it never attempts to take itself too seriously. The opening credit scenes, featuring a shot of each cowboy backed by seething rock music, underscores the fact that Young Guns is going to be a fun ride—nothing more, nothing less. There are no hidden messages or Oscar winning performances in the film—it's a simple shoot-'em-up western aimed squarely at the teenage market. The gun battles are all well executed and the horse trotting action staged with aplomb. What more can you ask from a movie about Billy the Kid?
None of the performances in Young Guns stand out as anything extra special. Emilio Estevez giggles and smirks his way through the role of William H. Bonney, while Lou Diamond Phillips whines a lot about the loss of his tribal family (though I am sympathetic to the plights of the Indian nation, I'm not quite so lenient on gratuitous overacting). Kiefer Sutherland and Casey Siemaszko's characters come off as the most believable, while poor Charlie Sheen gets left in the dust in a role that's killed off halfway into the movie. Of course, it's always nice to see the leather skinned Jack Palance whispering his way through any movie—his eyes are so beady that you'd swear they were miniature marbles shoved into his eye sockets.
There isn't a whole lot to Young Guns, and that's okay. This was my first time seeing the film (if you can believe it!) and I was more than happy with the outcome. Young Guns is well worth checking out, along with the equally entertaining follow-up Young Guns II. Giddy-up!
Young Guns is presented in a newly struck 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This image is heads and shoulders above Artisan's previous DVD edition, sporting a far better looking print. While the image on this DVD looks better than previous versions, there are still a few inherent problems with the picture. Most notable is the lack of true detail and a softness in the image that is often times distracting. I also spotted a fair amount of grain in the transfer. Aside of these imperfections, fans will most certainly be happy to get this film in a 16:9 transfer with mostly solid colors and dark black levels.
The soundtrack has been newly remixed in both Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and DTS 5.1 Surround, as well as Dolby 2.0 Surround, all featured in English. The DTS track and Dolby 5.1 mix on this disc are mixed bags—while the sound on both tracks is free of major distortion or hiss, the surround sounds and directional effects often sound a bit forced and sporadic. There is a nice display of dynamic range in a few key scenes (the gunfights being the most notable), but otherwise this DTS and Dolby 5.1 track tend to be very front heavy. The Dolby 5.1 mix is the weaker of the two by a nose, though if you're lacking a DTS decoder it's going to be your only choice. Also included on this disc are Spanish subtitles.
Artisan has put together a decent array of extra features, even it the package is a bit light to be considered a true "special edition." Here's a rundown of what's on this disc:
"The Real Billy The Kid" Documentary: After you watch the movie, begin with this fine documentary to learn about the real story of Billy the Kid. Well constructed and sporting interviews with various old west scholars and historians, "The Real Billy The Kid" is far better than I anticipated. Old time drawings and photos of Billy and the time period pepper this documentary, as well as stories about Billy's friends and various Regulators riders (including Charley Bowdre and "Doc" Sculock). I especially liked the fact that Dick Brewer and "the man who blew his brains out" (the documentary's words, not mine) were buried side by side. This is most likely the best supplement on this disc and worth the time of any old west movie fan.
Commentary Track by Stars Lou Diamond Phillips, Casey Siemaszko, and Dermot Mulroney: I like all of these actors, but let's be honest: Siemaszko, Mulroney and Phillips are most likely the less popular half of this six gun group. Either way, all three participants are chatty, likable guys that have a lot to say about the film's shoot and the conditions in which they filmed in (often dry and cold). A lot of nostalgic reminiscing happens (as well as a few stories about Young Guns II), making this a better-than-average commentary track and a true gem for fans of the film.
Trivia Track: This is one of those lightweight subtitle tracks that feature text factoids and tidbits about the movie from time to time. It's a nice bonus to have on this disc, though of the three main supplements, this is the least enticing.
Finally, there is a full frame theatrical trailer for Young Guns, as well as various trailers for other Artisan releases.
Though it's far from being the perfect western, Young Guns is a rousing romp that entertains for a solid hour and a half. Artisan has done an above average job on this new release of the film even though the supplements aren't as hefty as some fans may have liked.
Ain't gonna be no hangin' here tonight—Young Guns is free to ride and fight another day!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track by Stars Lou Diamond Phillips, Casey Siemaszko, and Dermot Mulroney
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