November 1999

Silverado (Collector's Edition)
Reviewed by Greg Weaver
DVD Format

Overall Enjoyment: *****
Picture Quality: ****1/2
Sound Quality: ****1/2
Packaged Extras: ****

Starring Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover, Brian Dennehy, Jeff Goldblum, Linda Hunt, Rosanna Arquette

Directed by Lawrence Kasdan

Theatrical Release: 1985
DVD Release: 1999
Dolby Digital 5.1
Widescreen (Anamorphic)

Written and directed in 1985 by Lawrence Kasdan, Silverado may well be the quintessential post-modern western. From the stirring opening two minutes to the final showdown between the good guy (Kevin Kline) and the bad guy (Brian Dennehy), it is an action-packed, humorous, sonic and visual tour de force. Kasdan’s directorial success with The Big Chill and his overwhelming screenwriting accomplishments, The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, have afforded him the clout and confidence to make his own version of the "granddaddy of all-American cinema," the western.

Staring Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover, Brian Dennehy, Jeff Goldblum, Linda Hunt, Rosanna Arquette, and a very fresh and unknown Kevin Costner (whose scenes were removed from The Big Chill at the last cut), Kasdan has created yet another winning ensemble of wonderfully fresh and inventive actors. The inclusion of Monte Python veteran John Cleese as the sheriff of the frontier town of Turley is a wonderful stroke of casting. The interplay among the cast reveals the closeness the actors seemingly developed during the project and allows it to shine through loud and clear. This is one fun film.

The story opens with an action-packed two-minute sequence in a line shack with Emmett (Glenn) who, as the film progresses, we learn has just been released from prison for a self-defense shooting. Traversing some very picturesque country as he rides through the opening credits, Emmett encounters Paden (Kline), left for dead in the middle of the dessert wearing only his underwear. When they make it to the first town, Paden finds his horse and tack in a hilarious scene. We meet Cobb (Dennehy) at the climax of this recovery scene, and the stage is set for some intrigue and twists. We soon learn that Cobb and Paden have some history; they apparently rode together in the past and likely participated in illegal activities, seeing how neither of them are willing to talk about it.

Next we are introduced to Mal (Glover) in a scene in which he manages to get himself into a bar brawl when the local owner of the hotel asks him to leave. Didn’t he know they didn’t serve "his kind" there? Enter the local sheriff (Cleese) with his British accent. He breaks up the disturbance and sends Mal packing -- with his Henry rifle. Meanwhile, Emmett and Paden are having breakfast during the whole ruckus and they subsequently offer to tell the sheriff that Mal didn’t start the disruption. Their interference draws the sheriff’s curiosity. Since they are strangers in "his town," the sheriff wants to know what they plan on doing there. After comically explaining that he is "not from these parts," Emmett explains that he is just meeting somebody and moving on.

When the Sheriff asks Emmett who he is looking for and Emmett answers, he tells him that he happens to know exactly where he can find the man he is looking for. The audience is then introduced to Jake (Costner), who is in jail for shooting a man and is about to be hanged the next morning at ten o’clock (not dawn!). As the pair leave the jail, Emmett confesses to Paden that Jake is his brother and he informs him that there is no way that he can tell his sister that he left their brother to hang. He asks Paden to help him find a way to rescue Jake. Although Paden gracefully declines from helping him with the break out, he nonetheless offers to buy him a drink. Who’d have guessed that Paden would soon find himself in jail with Jake, and that only after shooting a man in the saloon who had stolen his hat and gun from him back in the desert?

Well, they break out and meet Emmett who has been busy lighting the freshly built gallows on fire in order to draw attention away from the jail. Together and on horseback they all light out of Turley, but not without a posse on their tail. They are almost caught -- rifle shots ring out from a rock escarpment, which significantly causes the sheriff to rethink his "territory." Mal, having saved the day and repaid the favor, is now a friend and an ally. The stage is set for the bond of friendship the ties the rest of the film together.

The plot gets very involved as we get caught up in the middle of a wagon train whose scouts have held them up, situated in the crossfire of a range war, and finally thrown into a saloon power struggle. Arquette is the recently widowed, comely but earthy farmer (whose scenes were cut drastically in the final cut) who wants to build a new life. Hunt plays Stella, the caring and warm manager of the Midnight Star saloon who wants to do the right thing. Goldblum gives a good but uneven performance as Slick, the card shark who sides with the local land baron. The ending presents one of cinemas classic gunslinger showdowns with one of our heroes positioned in front of a white church while dust, sagebrush and open dessert billow and blow behind the antagonist. There are enough sub plots to make this one of the most involved and engrossing westerns of all time. High drama, good casting and great filmmaking.

The camera work and the sound are exceptional. The shotgun shots fired from on high during the opening line-shack sequence have audio height as well as just front/back, left/right location. Bruce Broughton’s scoring and soundtrack is well thought out and implemented; in fact, it is without a doubt some of the best application of sound to film I’ve ever experienced. Each gun belonging to each leading character has its own signature sound, so that even when Paden or Mal are firing off screen there is no doubt who is doing the shooting. Shootouts and gunfights place you in the middle of the action with shots ringing and ricocheting all around with remarkable clarity and detail. Deservedly, Silverado was nominated for the Best Sound Oscar of 1985. Kasdan’s use of the camera, his choice of camera angles and framing and his final editing are simply extraordinary. Some of the scenes of the countryside and the horses churning up snow as they ride the blanketed range are so picturesque that they are breathtaking.

Silverado was one film that made the transfer from film to Laserdisc with stirring success. The result was stunning in its day and still is actually one of the finest video transfers I can recall. I am pleased to say that the DVD transfer seems to have been handled with the same care and attention. The film is visually stunning, and I found it to be virtually free of the often-plaguing digital artifacts detected on many of the more recent big-budget, action-adventure transfers.

In addition to being a great example of filmmaking, the special features include an hour-long documentary about the making of the picture with insights and behind-the-scenes material from Kasdan and cast. It includes a discussion both on how the film’s final version made it to the screen and some great scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor. This is a must see, if not a must own, for even those of you who aren’t western fans by any stretch of the imagination. The story, cinematography and sound combine to add up to one first rate and thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience. It has my unbridled recommendation.

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