The western always seems to be on the verge of a comeback every few years, usually spurred on by a director who was shaped by the genre in their youth. Most recently this was on the verge of happening back in 2007, when a whole host of westerns, both literally and "spiritually" turned out to be the best films of the year. But even the mighty line-up of '3:10 to Yuma,' 'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,' 'There Will Be Blood' and 'No Country for Old Men' couldn't stir the western genre up from its cinematic purgatory. (Just ask Ed Harris, whose woefully underrated western 'Appaloosa' was released the following year.)
In 1985, Lawrence Kasdan, screenwriter of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,' 'The Empire Strikes Back,' and 'Return of the Jedi,' and writer-director of thriller 'Body Heat' and the drama 'The Big Chill,' traded on all the goodwill he had in Hollywood to attempt a western revival. That attempt was 'Silverado,' a spunky and fun comic western in the classical tradition.
The film opens with Emmett (Scott Glenn), fending off several assassins while hiding inside a small shack. After taking off on his horse, Emmett runs into Paden (Kevin Kline), a man who has been left objectless in the middle of the desert, double-crossed and left for dead by his partners. The two make haste for the titular town of Silverado, stopping in the town of Turley to bust Emmett's brother Jake (Kevin Costner) out of prison and out of the clutches of a snooty English sheriff (John Cleese, stealing every scene). The trio finally escapes Turley, along with a new friend, sharpshooter Mal (Danny Glover).
The foursome, once they reach the town of Silverado, go their separate ways, and are knocked down a peg or two by various forces. (Hey, that's the narrative rule - get your hero up into a tree, throw rocks at him for two hours, and get him out of the tree as smoothly as possible.) But eventually our heroes are reunited and band together to rid the town of its tyrannical sheriff (professional scenery chewer Brian Dennehy).
There isn't a whole lot of plot weighing down 'Silverado,' which is sort of refreshing. With a cast as universally superb as the one assembled here, Kasdan has chosen to make a shaggy, character-based western, which is content to hit the familiar western beats, but only if there's an equally powerful character moment to go along with it. Everybody is just great. I haven't even mentioned Linda Hunt as a Silverado barmaid, Jeff Goldblum as a morally ambiguous card shark, and Jeff Fahey as a goon. Costner (who played the corpse in 'The Big Chill'), in particular, gives a livewire performance the likes of which haven't been seen from the actor before or since.
As a writer of brilliant genre screenplays, Kasdan is clearly having a ball with 'Silverado.' Far removed from the grim, humorless, post-'Unforgiven' westerns of more recent years, it's a bubbly, wonderful entertainment. If you haven't seen 'Silverado' in a number of years (as I hadn't), then now is a perfect time to revisit it. It's a whole lot of fun. Is it flawless? No. It's 127 running time seems like it could be shaved by at least twenty minutes, and even at its bloated length there seems to be a number of subplots that were left either dangling (like the purpose of Patricia Arquette's character) or entirely on the cutting room floor. Still, for a popcorn movie this long, it rides along swiftly, with an abundance of thrills, chills, and spills (as they say). And at PG-13, it's fun the whole family can enjoy, violent but not excessively so. While 'Silverado' didn't rejuvenate the western any more than the crop of 2007 films did, it still remains a wonderfully fun, timeless western.
The MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer (2.40:1 aspect ratio) on this 50GB disc is really, truly great. Even though the movie isn't terribly old (it was released in 1985), as far as older movies go, this is a really wonderful transfer.
There's a fair amount of grain, but never a distracting amount. There's just a fine layer, one that makes it look like an actual movie and not a hologram.
The first thing you'll notice is the level of detail. This being a western, every bit of production-designed minutiae (the stitching on Danny Glover's gloves, the different gloves, the saddles - everything) really stands out. It just looks like a million bucks and undoubtedly offers a marked improvement over previous home video iterations.
Colors pop, skin tones look great, and there aren't any technical glitches or DNR-related nonsense. This is just a great, natural-looking presentation and probably the best the movie's looked since it arrived in theaters.
Just as good as the video on this disc is its lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 sound mix. This being a western, horse hooves gallop, bullets ricochet, and debris flies through the dusty air - and this is all lovingly, exactingly recreated in a truly dynamic surround mix. These effects, with superb directionality, really bring the movie to life.
Additionally, Bruce Broughton's Oscar-nominated score really soars on this track. It's a classic western-type score, at times optimistic, at times filled with dread, but always impressive. Hearing it boom out of this mix is nothing short of grand, while never overwhelming the effects or dialogue contained within a given scene.
Speaking of dialogue - the many quips the characters make all sound marvelous here. It's clear and crisp and well prioritized and is always audible, no matter what the effects or score are doing. As I've said before, the characters are just as important (if not more so) as any of the western conventions, and this sound mix does a great service to this.
As far as hiss, glitches, pops, or any of the other technical issues, well, they're just not present. Instead, you get a wonderfully full and atmospheric sound mix that will do any surround sound setup, big or small, justice.
Other audio tracks included are in French Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, and Portuguese: Dolby TrueHD 5.1. Subtitles included are in English SDH, English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.
'Silverado' is packaged in the digi-book format, a la 'The Green Mile,' with a little booklet full of glossy photos, a little essay and cast bios, and original posters (like the awesome, Drew Struzan-style illustrated poster by Bob Peak).
Also, this disc is Region "free." Order away, Australian readers!
'Silverado' remains a charming and beguiling comedic western. It's full of wonderful actors (Scott Glenn, Kevin Costner, Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, Jeff Goldblum - it's an embarrassment of riches!) playing really great characters, in a classic tale of good versus evil in the old west. If you're a fan of the film, this is a no-brainer. The A/V is superb, and a solid collection of extras, anchored by a ridiculously awesome western historians' commentary track, are great. (One lousy BD-Live feature won't sink the whole ship.) If you haven't seen the film, or have kids that are too old for animated flicks, this is a gamble worth taking too. Highly Recommended, all the way around.