27 June 2011

"Silverado" 2-Disc Gift Set DVD

Starring: Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Rosanna Arquette, John Cleese, Kevin Costner, Brian Dennehy, Danny Glover, Jeff Goldblum, Linda Hunt
Written by Lawrence Kasdan & Mark Kasdan
Produced & Directed by Lawrence Kasdan
DVD Release Date: 5 April 2005
MPAA Rating: PG-13
List Price: $19.95
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I came to Silverado in an unusual fashion.  Someone had brought into my family's consignment shop the soundtrack album on cassette and it piqued my curiosity so I bought it.  Within minutes, I had fallen in love with Bruce Broughton's score.  I enjoyed it so much I just had to see the accompanying film.  When Lawrence Kasdan released Silverado in 1985, I subsequently learned, he rescued the Western from oblivion.  It is not rooted in Western history so much as Western cinematic history, which is perfectly fine.

Four protagonists: brothers Emmett (Glenn) and Jake (Costner), Paden (Kline) and Mal (Glover) cross one another's paths throughout the film until eventually they are brought together as a foursome to confront corruption in Silverado.  Along the way, they are confronted with intimidation, jail time, theft, brutal assault and the murder of loved ones.  What would a Western be without courageous protagonists standing up to the bad guys?  Kasdan wants his protagonists to be heroic, and they are.  Cynical viewers accustomed to anti-heroes and gritty environments will be disappointed; Silverado bears more resemblance to Gene and Roy than to Deadwood.  It's a love letter to the Westerns of yesteryear, and it is just as fun to watch in 2011 as its inspirations were to see in their heydays.

The cast is solid, particularly a scenery-chewing Costner in one of his earliest film roles, and Jeff Goldblum as a roving gambler who dresses like A Pimp Named Slickback.  Danny Glover brings a muted dignity to the role of Mal, and has the best line in the entire film.  Covering the bad guys with his Henry rifle, he threatens, "I don't want to kill you, and you don't want to be dead."  This is the kind of stuff you pay to see in a movie like Silverado, and it delivers the goods.  The only real complaint is that Rosanna Arquette's role as Hannah was mostly left on the cutting room floor, which butchered the love triangle story between her, Paden and Emmett.  Not only do you wonder why she seems to come and go without much fanfare, but she inexplicably shifts her affections from Emmett to Paden.
Disc One presents the film in Superbit and Along the "Silverado" Trail": A Western Historians' Commentary featuring Frank Thompson, Paul Hutton and Steve Aaron.  If you can endure their seemingly endless self-promotions, this is one of the most entertaining and engaging commentary tracks I've heard yet.  These guys not only know their stuff and take it seriously, but they enjoy it.  Their discussion is as much about the Western period as how Hollywood has interpreted and depicted it, and they have a terrific sense of humor about glaring inaccuracies and storytelling absurdities.  This is the real gem of this release.

Disc Two includes two featurettes: A Return to Silverado with Kevin Costner is self-explanatory, as is The Making of Silverado.  The former is fairly interesting as Costner has, of course, made several Westerns as both actor and as director since Silverado so his reflections are colored by not just hindsight but experience.  I continue to find Costner one of the most articulate and passionate film-makers of our era and it's a delight to hear him recall what lessons he learned from the making of this film so early in his career.  The Making of Silverado is pretty much a paint-by-numbers piece that runs 37 minutes, compiling 1998 interviews with the Kasdan brothers and composer Broughton with vintage interviews, film clips and a few outtakes.  After hearing the speculation on the commentary track and seeing the outtakes in this featurette, I was particularly disappointed that no deleted scenes appear on this release.

The DVD package lists A History of Western Shootouts as a third bonus feature and while it is "narrated by John Cleese" as indicated, it's nothing more than an extended promotional ad for ten different Western DVDs from Sony.  The original Silverado trailer is presented by itself (in full frame), as well as another promo ad for classic Westerns on DVD from Sony.  Only the remarks from Costner and the outtakes rescue Disc Two from being a complete disappointment.

The gift set is in an oversized box inside a slipcover.  The front of the box is designed like the swinging doors of a saloon; open them and you'll find a deck of cards.  I haven't opened mine, so I can't comment any further about them.  Inside the back of the box (accessible from the sides) is where the DVD can be found, along with a booklet containing an essay, "Silverado and the American Western," by commentary participant and Western film historian Frank Thompson.  Thompson thoughtfully and passionately places Silverado in the historical context of the genre and makes the argument that the Western is a far more malleable canvas for storytelling than is often recognized.  It's a great read, populated with numerous photo stills from Silverado.  Western enthusiasts should enjoy reading Thompson's thesis.

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