The movie is now viewable on Netflix. I thought, well, it has a solid cast and that famously huge budget and much of it was filmed in my homeland of Montana. Also, a few revisionist critics are now calling it a “misunderstood masterpiece,” as opposed to the earlier consensus of “steaming pile of horse crap.” What the hell? How bad could it be?
The answer came about 90 minutes after we started: Pretty. Damned. Bad. The horse-crap metaphor remains apt. The story is incomprehensible, the characters remote, the pacing nonexistent. Scenes of mumbled dialog go on and on without any discernible reason. Dave Bob says one star.
And this is the short version. The one Cimino first showed the suits at United Artists was more than five hours long. Watching it in the comfort of my TV room, one part I did enjoy was imagining the howling despair that must have settled on those plump executives about halfway through the screening. It wasn’t just a terrible movie they were watching, but the studio itself going up in flames.
Still. I’m not saying you shouldn’t watch it. If you have a lot of time on your hands some night, you definitely should — if only as a parable on hubris and folly, and why certain directors should not also be screenwriters.
Also, there’s this: A few beautifully filmed set pieces are scattered throughout the movie. Viewed separately, rather than as parts of a dreary slog, they impress. One opening scene, of couples waltzing on a Harvard green, might have been the film’s most memorable image. Just exquisite. Too bad it had so little to do with the next three hours.
Who knows how history will remember Michael Cimino: as the gifted auteur behind “The Deerhunter,” or the prideful egotist behind “Heaven’s Gate”? It’s worth comparing the two movies today — his best work and his worst — and appreciating how the first almost certainly led to the second.