Seth MacFarlane directs, produces, co-writes and plays the role of the cowardly sheep farmer Albert in A Million Ways to Die in the West. After Albert backs out of a gunfight, his fickle girlfriend leaves him for another man. When a mysterious and beautiful woman rides into town, she helps him find his courage and they begin to fall in love. But when her husband, a notorious outlaw, arrives seeking revenge, the farmer must put his newfound courage to the test.
Starring alongside MacFarlane are Oscar winner Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman and Neil Patrick Harris. MacFarlane reunites many of the filmmakers behind Universal and MRC’s hit film Ted including Scott Stuber (Bluegrass Films) and Jason Clark who produce, and Wellesley Wild and Alec Sulkin who co-wrote the script.
For me, 'A Million Ways to Die in the West' is one of the must underrated movies of the year. "From the guy who brought you 'Ted'" (which is a line that was used abundantly in the marketing plan), it was expected to be an easy home run – but that wasn't at all the case. It's assumed that a major contributor to the movie's box office letdown was "Family Guy" auteur Seth MacFarlane in the leading role. He's a man whose name and voices may be very well known, but his face is still pretty unrecognizable.
In the movie itself, MacFarlane is the perfect charismatic and funny leading man. His character, Albert Stark, is a misfit in the wild frontier. While others are out shooting, robbing and fighting, with his humble sheep farm, Albert is doing his best to blend in. You see, Albert hates the frontier. The only thing that brings him joy is the love of his life, the woman that he believes has lowered her standards for him, Louise (Amanda Seyfried) - but when Louise realizes that he's not as manly as the other brutes and moustached men in town, she dumps him.
Now with a void in his life, Albert becomes more cynical. He sees his dusty town of Old Stump as being an awful place to exist and decides to make a move to San Francisco. On one of his last nights in Old Stump, while sulking in the town bar with his two best friends (Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman), a newcomer starts a deadly bar fight. In the typical western brawl, the good guy in Albert comes out and he saves a damsel-in-distress, Anna (Charlize Theron), from becoming collateral damage from the fight. Outside the chaotic establishment, the two immediately hit it off. It's not long before they discover their shared pessimism for the deadly frontier and desire to escape it. With the foundation of a solid friendship in place, self-deprecating Albert is unable to see the obvious chemistry that exists between the two of them.
As the title spells it out, staying alive in the wild west isn't easy. Albert must learn to survive the deadly elements that will threaten his life in this vulnerable period – both the things that he's brought upon himself and the uncontrollable outside forces. After being ridiculed and made to feel worthless by Louise's new boyfriend Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), Albert challenges him to a duel in the middle of town – but that's not nearly the biggest danger in his life. Although Anna genuinely cares for Albert, she carries a little secret: Anna is actually the wife of the fastest gun-slinging outlaw in the west, Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson).
Like everyone, I love MacFarlane's feature live-action directorial debut, 'Ted' - but I think 'A Million Ways' is even better. There's a lot more potential for non-repeating jokes in 'A Million Ways' than 'Ted' because the horizon is much broader (literally) in a western than in a movie about a vulgar talking teddy bear. The jokes are not only funnier in 'A Million Ways,' but they're tighter and more consistent. And as much as I like Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis in 'Ted,' MacFarlane and Theron have even better chemistry and comedic timing. Their characters are so much fun to watch interact. And, oddly, as vulgar as the dialog is, MacFarlane and Theron somehow have the ability to make it the most charming filthiness you've ever heard.
The production value of 'A Million Ways' is so strong that few full-blown westerns have matched it. With the iconic cinematography style of an old western, it's a gorgeous film. The score is also just as amazing as that of any western ever made. It's genuine. Knowing that MacFarlane is heavily involved with every aspect of filmmaking, don't expect any half-ass aspects here.
'Blazing Saddles' is the only other comedic western that I can think of. How does 'A Million Ways' compare to it? Well, it's not quite as great, but it's pretty close. 'A Million Ways' is like a super vulgar version of 'Blazing Saddles' where most of the racist jokes are replaced with raunchy sex jokes. Luckily, the chemistry and charisma of MacFarlane and Theron take it to another level, making it a crude comedy that you don't feel like you have to tolerate, but can absolutely enjoy. Its jokes and gags will bring tears to your eyes, so don't dismiss 'A Million Ways to Die in the West' as just another crude R-rated comedy. For me, it's the funniest comedy of 2014 … so far.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal has given 'A Million Ways to Die in the West' a very nice Blu-ray combo pack that comes with a BD-50 (which includes the 116-minute theatrical cut of the movie and a 19-minute-longer 135-minute unrated extended cut), a DVD and a code that redeems both Ultraviolet and iTunes digital copies of the unrated cut. The blue two-disc Elite keepcase comes with a slick glossy and embossed cardboard slipcover. When you pop the disc into your player, you will be bombarded with trailers for 'Jarhead 2,' 'The Man with the Iron Fists 2,' 'The Scorpion King 4,' 'The Purge: Anarchy,' 'The Signal,' 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine,' 'The Fluffy Movie' and 'Neighbors,' but all can be skipped over.
'A Million Ways to Die in the West' has been given an absolutely flawless 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode with a wide 2.40:1 aspect ratio that's perfectly fitting for a true western. Shot digitally, this disc offers a noteworthy pristine presentation.
This just might be the best-looking western Blu-ray disc in existence. It's absolutely crisp, clear, sharp and highly detailed. The clarity not only lends itself to showing the fine textures of tightly woven costumes and individual hairs on the actors' heads, but it makes the sweeping wide shots of New Mexico's beautiful and iconic Monument Valley terrain look all the more gorgeous.
The colorization, contrast and black levels are 100 percent consistent throughout. The color palette consists of dusty earth tones and is accented with pale colors. It's very natural and not surreal. Only one scene offers slight oversaturation, but it's exactly as I recall it being in theaters and most likely an intended directorial decision. (It occurs in the candle-lit scene when Albert drunkenly visits Louise at 1AM in attempts of wooing her back.) Exterior daytime shots carry natural sun lighting and nighttime shots consistently feature a very soft eye-pleasing lighting that allows everything to remain clearly visible and detailed. All of the star-filled night skies are enhanced with special effects. There's no place for crushing due to the full lighting and enhanced skylines.
I literally can't find a single flaw in the video quality of 'A Million Ways to Die in the West.'
'A Million Ways to Die in the West' features a solid 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that dishes up exactly what you'd hope for in a western.
The movie kicks off with a loud, traditional and grand epic score by Joel McNeely. As you'd expect, it fills all channels and, in the process, pulls you right into the western mindset. Every time the score kicks in, it fills the space just as efficiently. The mid-movie "mustache song" is even mixed with this strength.
Nearly every outdoor scene is laced with dynamic environmental effects that also turn every scene into a reality. Effects are used strongly in this sense. As Albert and his buddy hang out in a chatty bar, light banter can be heard all around with each speaking giving off channel-specific sounds. When the brawl breaks out, the previously mild surround effects erupt into loudness that's just as dynamic as before, only more noticeable because of the volume. Loud bassy effects – like gunshots and stomping horses – carry the rumbly attributes of thunder.
The vocal track sounds just as crisp and clear as the video quality looks.
Since it's theatrical debut, 'A Million Ways to Die in the West' has been needlessly and relentlessly slammed, which is why I believe most people haven't given it a chance. I urge every fan of comedies to toss out that misdirection and give it a shot. It's a hilarious, charming and crude comedy that carries the true high quality standards of a full-blown western. Seth MacFarlane is a wonderful lead who only benefits from his brilliant co-star (Theron). The video quality is absolutely perfect and the audio is also remarkable. Special features, including an extended unrated cut, are abundant. Being a big fan of the movie, I literally couldn't ask for anything more from the Blu-ray release of 'A Million Ways to Die in the West.' Recommended.