Heaven's Gate

Heaven's Gate

3.8 5
Director: Michael Cimino

Cast: Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, Isabelle Huppert


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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…  See more details below


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.

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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide
The dire financial and professional consequences Heaven's Gate visited upon its director and studio can't be disputed, but the virtues of the film itself remain more open to debate. Though unwieldy, unsatisfying, and self-indulgent to a fault -- Michael Cimino appears uncomfortable shooting a scene with fewer than fifty extras -- its excesses also bring quite a bit to admire. But first the flaws: Heaven's Gate plays like an ultra-ambitious first novel in desperate need of an editor. Though it prominently features a love triangle between Kris Kristoferson, Christopher Walken, and Isabelle Huppert, for instance, it not only takes over 90 minutes to establish this relationship, it takes that long to establish that all three characters know each other. By that point, Cimino has already made clear that muscular storytelling will not be a priority, and while that approach suited Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and The Deer Hunter just fine, it fails him here. What's more, for a film about the struggle of the common man against a system of capitalist oppression, it rather hypocritically reduces its poor immigrant farmers into an undifferentiated mass. But for those willing to stick with the 219 minute film (the version to which this review refers and the one most widely available on video and at revival screenings) through those flaws, Heaven's Gate offers considerable rewards. If nothing else, it's a masterful work of cinematography from first shot to last, thanks to the work of Vilmos Zsigmond. More directly to Cimino's credit as a director, he uses Zsigmond's imagery to convey his grandiose themes about the West and America in a way his screenplay only suggests. Where Heaven's Gate fails as a film, it sometimes works as a symbolic pageant, and while that may not be enough to redeem it entirely, it certainly rescues it from charges of artistic disaster.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Region Code:
[Wide Screen]
[DTS 5.1-Channel Surround Sound]
Sales rank:

Special Features

Director-approved two-disc Blu-ray special edition features:; Disc one: ; New, restored transfer of part I of director Michael Cimino's cut of the film, supervised by Cimino; New restoration of the 5.1 surround soundtrack, supervised by Cimino and presented in DTS-HD master audio; ; Disc two:; New illustrated audio interview with Cimino and producer Joann Carelli; New interviews with actor Kris Kristofferson, soundtrack arranger and performer David Mansfield, and second assistant director Michael Stevenson; Restoration demonstration; Teaser and TV spot; ; Plus:; A booklet featuring an essay by critic and programmer Guilia D'Agnolo Vallan and a 1980 interview with Cimino

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Kris Kristofferson Marshal James Averill
Christopher Walken Nathan D. Champion
Isabelle Huppert Ella Watson
Sam Waterston Frank Canton
Brad Dourif Mr. Eggleston
John Hurt Billy Irvine
Jeff Bridges John H. Bridges
Joseph Cotten The Reverend Doctor
Rosie Vela Beautiful Girl
Ronnie Hawkins Wolcott
Geoffrey Lewis Trapper
Jack Blessing Actor
Norton Buffalo Actor
Willem Dafoe Actor
Waldemar Kalinowski Photographer
Mady Kaplan Actor
Caroline Kava Actor
Allen Keller Actor
Anna Levine Actor
Kevin McClarnon Actor
Elizabeth McGovern Actor
Gordana Rashovich Actor
Mickey Rourke Actor
Stefan Scherby Large Man
Jerry Sullivan Actor
Gabriel Walsh Actor
Nicholas Woodeson Small Man
Mary Catherine Wright Nell
Kai Wulff Actor
Marat Yusim Actor
Jarleth Conroy Actor
Robin Bartlett Mrs. Lezak
Paul Koslo Mayor
Richard Masur Cully
Tom Noonan Jake
Terry O'Quinn Capt. Minardi
Judi Trott Actor
T-Bone Burnett Member of the Heaven's Gate Band
Stephen Bruton Member of the Heaven's Gate Band

Technical Credits
Michael Cimino Director,Screenwriter
Richard W. Adams Sound Editor
Joann Carelli Producer
Brian Cook Asst. Director
Herbert Spencer Deverill Art Director
Eleanor Fazan Choreography
Maurice Fowler Art Director
Lisa Fruchtman Editor
Jerry Greenberg Editor
Michael Grillo Asst. Director
J. Allen Highfill Costumes/Costume Designer
Tambi Larsen Art Director
David Mansfield Score Composer
Charles Okun Producer
Peter Price Production Manager
William H. Reynolds Editor
Tom Rolf Editor
Winston Ryder Sound Editor
Vilmos Zsigmond Cinematographer

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Heaven's Gate 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is not difficult to itemize the weaknesses of Cimino's 'Heaven's Gate'; however, the abundance of negative reviews obscures the fact that the director clearly came close to creating one of the greatest of film masterpieces. The film is too long, the climactic battle is too chaotic and confusing and there are problems with the handling of Kristofferson in the lead role. Given the massive budget and the time and manpower expended in creating the production, these flaws are hard to dismiss. All the same, the thought-provoking examination of political and sociological issues in this picture and the unforgettable array of astounding and unforgettable screen images and electrifying performances, make this a must-see title for any fan of serious film-making. Cimino asks the viewer to 'inhabit' a number of the major scenes in the film. What I mean here is that, rather than offering brief glimpses of dances, parties, carriage rides, battles, etc.. and hurrying on with the storytelling, Cimino lets many of these scenes play at such length that the viewer is given the feeling of truly attending these events. If the viewer is too impatient to get on with the unfolding of the plot, he can not enjoy this film. If, on the other hand, he allows himself to really get into the wondrous details of these scenes, the experience becomes a rich feast of deep immersion into the atmosphere and texture of the life of another era. All the thrill and wonder of a great epic entertainment is here along with an interesting directorial device which can make you feel almost like a participant in the life of these characters. When you feel as though you have shared experiences with them, rather than merely glimpsing these moments, the monumental calamity that they face at the close of the film will strike you with an impact far greater than if your feeling of being connected with it all was more superficial. The film is too long, but it is worth the 'wait' when you consider all the vast riches that you will encounter all along the way.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The cable channel TRIO ran this film, along with a documentary about its making, in a series called 'FLOPS!' I watched the documentary first, all the while asking myself whether the film's enormous problems -- the huge cost overruns, the unreasonable number of takes per scene (from 32 to 57!), the 200% schedule delay -- had any effect on the quality of the film itself. As I started watching the film, expecting to laughat it and turn it off after a few scenes, I found myself becoming enchanted by it. I think it's a gorgeous film, and Cimino's notorious attention to period detail was a tremendous gift to someone like me, because I love to look at 19th-century photos. The film is very faithful to period photographs, and even evokes Manet and Van Gogh paintings. There is no music soundtrack to artificially engage the emotions, other than ambient singing or violin- playing within a given scene, and the pacing is sometimes rather slow. I think it failed at the box office because Michael Cimino thought he was making an American blockbuster like 'Gone with the Wind,' but what he has is an art film. Apparently this movie is considered a masterpiece in Europe. It is a movie worthy of a second chance, to be viewed without prejudice.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I, too, expected to be disappointed. A masterpiece on every level. Not to be missed!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best movie that I have ever seen, and it's entertaining. I offer to buy a copy to everyone I know... if they have an attention span that warrants it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It¿s hard to not be fascinated by a disaster of this magnitude. No matter what you have heard about ¿Heaven¿s Gate,¿ no matter how often you¿ve heard it described as ¿misunderstood and overlooked genius¿ or ¿total garbage,¿ ¿Heaven¿s Gate¿ must surely haunt the mind of every filmmaker who spends more than $5.28 putting his visions on film. Everyone who is serious about movies needs to see ¿Heaven¿s Gate,¿ because it, and the disaster it wrought on the film industry killed anything like the spirit of invention and originality that once made Hollywood great. It is because of the ¿Heaven¿s Gate¿ disaster that all but a very few moviemakers have all the originality of a photocopier spewing out cookie-cutter like imitations of the Last Big Thing. 'Heaven's Gate' failed in the only way the people who make most popular films understand: revenue, and it failed very big. This is not the worst movie ever made, not by a long shot, but its name is synonymous with failure. That alone is the best possible recommendation for seeing it.