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Either the anti-western of the New Hollywood era or a beautiful 3+ hour waste of time....
Criterion / 217 Minutes / 1980 / Unrated / Street Date: November 30, 2012
Heaven's Gate is a majestically realized vision of a stupefyingly bad movie - I mean that with whole-hearted esteem. There are so few filmmakers left in Hollywood allowed to use deep pockets to bring to life these sorts of robust, bigger-than-life ideas that the concept (especially in a Blu-ray edition) of a flick like this one is exotic and affirming, but I doubt that anyone could successfully mount a case for Heaven's Gate as a legitimately good movie.
It's shot wonderfully, that much is certain (Vilmos Zsigmond's work is exceptional). And Heaven's Gate is the kind of movie that wears its opulent, over-financed production design budget on its sleeve. But the script here - about the west and Harvard and uprising and a bunch of other elements that all get thrown into the jumble - is impermeable to the point of frustration. Director Michael Cimino clearly wants to bring us an anti-western, a movie that defies genre footholds and transcends its very shape and size, but there's nothing under the hood here.
But Criterion has realized that there remains an implicit draw to Heaven's Gate, even 30+ years on. The idea of a filmmaker flummoxed with a Best Picture and Best Director Oscar (for The Deer Hunter) insisting on final cut and outlandish production and post-production decisions is irresistible for those of us drawn like moths to a flame to the spoils of Hollywood excess, yet while Heaven's Gate remains anomalous as a product of the industry of its time, it's dull as dirt. Beautiful, atypical, laudable - but completely boring.