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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

Heaven's Gate [Blu-ray]


(Michael Cimino, 1980)


Released by Second Sigh (UK) in November 2013


Review by Gary Tooze



Theatrical: MGM United Artists

Video: Criterion Collection Spine #636



Region: 'A' (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 3:37:04.636

Disc Size: 48,697,489,757 bytes

Feature Size: 47,938,639,872 bytes

Video Bitrate: 24.29 Mbps

Chapters: 53

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: November 20th, 2012



Aspect ratio: 2.39:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video



DTS-HD Master Audio English 3596 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3596 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)



English (SDH), none


Extras (on 2nd Blu-ray):

• New illustrated audio interview with Cimino and producer Joann Carelli (30:57)
New interviews with actor Kris Kristofferson (9:23), soundtrack arranger and performer David Mansfield (8:45), and second assistant director Michael Stevenson (8:05)

Restoration Demonstration (2:30)
• Teaser (1:30) and TV spot (1;12)
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic and programmer Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan and a 1980 interview with Cimino





Description: A breathtaking depiction of the promise and perils of America’s western expansion, Heaven’s Gate, directed by Michael Cimino, is among Hollywood’s most ambitious and unorthodox epics. Kris Kristofferson brings his weathered sensuality to the role of a Harvard graduate who relocates to Wyoming as a federal marshal; there, he learns of a government-sanctioned plot by cattle barons to kill the area’s European settlers for their land. The resulting battle is based on the bloody real-life Johnson County War of 1892. Also starring Isabelle Huppert and Christopher Walken, Heaven’s Gate is a savage and ravishingly shot take on western movie lore. This release presents the full director’s cut, letting viewers today see Cimino’s potent original vision.



The Film:

A notorious artistic and financial failure, Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate was blamed for critically wounding the movie Western and definitively ushering out the 1970s Hollywood New Wave of young, brash, independent filmmakers. Taking a revisionist, post-Vietnam view of American imperialism, Cimino used the historical Johnson County War incident in Wyoming to create an impressionistic tapestry of Western conflict between poor immigrant settlers and rich cattle barons led by Canton (Sam Waterston) and his hired gun Nate Champion (Christopher Walken). Attempting to mediate is idealistic Harvard graduate and county marshal Averill (Kris Kristofferson), who is both Nate's friend and his romantic rival for the affections of Ella Watson (Isabelle Huppert). However, war erupts, at great cost to all involved. Flush from his success with the Oscar-winning The Deer Hunter (1978), Cimino demanded creative control, and his insistence on shooting on location and building historically accurate sets and props multiplied the film's original budget to a then-astronomical $36 million. When United Artists premiered the original 219-minute version (sight unseen), they discovered that Cimino had produced an elliptical epic, compounding the box-office difficulties of making a Western without any major stars. Critics howled about Cimino's incomprehensible self-indulgence, and United Artists pulled the film after several days. Re-released five months later, 70 minutes shorter, Heaven's Gate bombed again, and MGM bought out the financially crippled United Artists. The ailing Western genre virtually vanished during the 1980s, Cimino's career never recovered, and Hollywood studios had had enough of bankrolling financially risky ventures by "auteur" directors. Heaven's Gate's reputation recovered somewhat after its video release, as it garnered praise from some viewers for such visually remarkable sequences as the Harvard dance and the final battle, as well as for David Mansfield's haunting score. Steven Bach's book Final Cut provides a full production history.

Excerpt from MRQE located HERE

For all the abuse heaped on it, this is - in its complete version, at least - a majestic and lovingly detailed Western which simultaneously celebrates and undermines the myth of the American frontier. The keynote is touched in the wonderfully choreographed opening evocation of a Harvard graduation in 1870: answering the Dean's ritual address urging graduates to spread culture through contact with the uncultivated, the class valedictorian (Hurt) mockingly replies that they see no need for change in a world 'on the whole well arranged'. Twenty years later, as Hurt and fellow-graduate Kristofferson become involved in the Johnson County Wars, their troubled consciences suggest that some change in the 'arrangements' might well have been in order. Watching uneasily as the rich cattle barons legally exterminate the poor immigrant farmers who have taken to illegal rustling to feed their starving families, they can only attempt to enforce the law that has become a mockery (Kristofferson) or lapse into soothing alcoholism (Hurt). Moral compromise on a national scale is in question here, a theme subtly echoed by the strange romantic triangle that lies at the heart of the film: a three-way struggle between the man who has everything (Kristofferson), the man who has nothing (Walken), and the girl (Huppert) who would settle for either provided no fraudulent compromise is asked of her. The ending, strange and dreamlike, blandly turns a blind eye to shut out the atrocities and casuistries we have witnessed, and on which the American dream was founded; not much wonder the American press went on a mass witch-hunt against the film's un-American activities.

Excerpt from TimeOut located HERE

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

Heaven's Gate is a fabulous choice for Blu-ray by Criterion. A grand, sweeping epic film that is essential to appreciate with its grand and glorious cinematography and widescreen splendor of magnificent landscapes.  This is advertised as "new, restored transfer of director Michael Cimino’s cut of the film, supervised by Cimino" and viewing 2.5-minute restoration example in the supplements you can see a huge improvement in the 1080P video - especially over the drab 2000 MGM DVD.  This feature disc is dual-layered and nothing else shares the disc with the over 3.5 hour masterpiece. Key attributes on this Blu-ray are the thick, rich film-like quality of the video and the earthy colors - both standing out beautifully in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio frame. Contrast, a Criterion hallmark, is wonderfully layered and supports the visual textures triumphantly. I may have seen a speckle or two but otherwise this all-encompassing image looks pristine for Home Theater enjoyment. Wow.

















Audio :

Audio is advertised as "New restoration of the 5.1 surround soundtrack, supervised by Cimino and presented in DTS-HD Master Audio". We are treated to a competent 5.1 surround, in lossless, at a healthy 3596 kbps. There are notable separations and explosive gunfire with resounding and impacting depth. This was David Mansfield's first feature film as a composer (he's also the fiddler in the film) and his bouncy score is supported dynamically by the uncompressed track. It ranges from the Heaven's Gate Waltz sequence to the more grassroots with lilting hints of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic". The score is now heavily revered - described as 'strings are prevalent; the mandolin and violin receive most the exposure.' Quite brilliant. There are optional English subtitles and my Momitsu has identified it as being a region 'A'-locked disc.


Extras :

Criterion offer quite a lot of supplements in a second Blu-ray disc. Extras give us a new 1/2 hour illustrated audio interview with Cimino and producer Joann Carelli with a backdrop of photos from the production. This was conducted by Criterion in 2012 as were the three new interviews with actor Kris Kristofferson (9:23), soundtrack arranger and performer David Mansfield (8:45), and second assistant director Michael Stevenson (8:05) each discussing their role in the film production and the experience of working with Cimino. There is a revealing and impressive Restoration Demonstration running 2.5 minutes plus a Teaser (1:30) and TV spot (1:12). Criterion also include a liner notes booklet featuring an essay by critic and programmer Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan and a 1980 interview with Cimino.


Blu-ray Disc 2


Cimino's film is so masterfully realized. The Director's Cut of Heaven's Gate reminds us that films of this magnitude are no longer financially feasible for the ever-shortening attention spans of today's mindless audiences. This is beyond film but an experience - think in the vein of Visconti's The Leopard or Costner's Dances With Wolves. We are given an important historical re-telling without précising to pander to audience whims. At lunch once with the late film scholar and author Robin Wood - he remarked that he was asked to create a 'Top Ten' list for some periodical - and his number one choice would be Heaven's Gate. It is so pleasing to have Criterion do this Blu-ray giving full justice to the a/v and adding some interesting and worthy supplements. Another of the Blu-rays of the year, IMO. 

Gary Tooze

November 6th, 2012

Released by Second Sigh (UK) in November 2013


About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

Gary's Home Theatre:

60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze





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