This important double-disc set contains two essential films.
This is the first time Michael Cimino's epic 216-minute western has been available for domestic viewing in Britain. The second disc contains a shortened version of Michael Epstein's documentary feature Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven's Gate. Beautifully restored on DVD and Blu-ray, Heaven's Gate is one of the finest westerns ever made. It's a measured, magisterial account of the Johnson County War in 1892 Wyoming, when the powerful stock growers' association brought in a vast posse of assassins to destroy the wave of European immigrants they saw as threatening their monopoly of grazing land.
The film is seen largely through the eyes of an alcoholic aristocrat belonging to the stock growers (John Hurt) and two class enemies: a Harvard-educated sheriff who sides with the settlers (Kris Kristofferson) and an immigrant hired gun working for the landowners (Christopher Walken). It's a powerful metaphor for 19th-century America, beautifully photographed by Vilmos Zsigmond. Among numerous breathtaking sequences is the recreation of the smoky, booming late 19th-century Casper, Wyoming, and it's significant that the one Oscar nomination went to production designer Tambi Larsen.
Epstein's documentary concerns another bitter conflict a century on between a hubristic moviemaker, Cimino, who after the success of his The Deer Hunter, took advantage of United Artists' weak management and went wildly over budget, attempting to match Gone With the Wind and Lawrence of Arabia, to make the most authentic western. In the event, he infuriated United Artists, encouraged the film industry to teach extravagant film-makers a lesson and put the media's backs up. The film was denounced by US critics whose reviews crossed the border into vindictive malice, was severely cut and became a box-office disaster. Its initial supporters, mostly European, have now been thoroughly vindicated.
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