Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Heaven's Gate (movie)
Heaven's Gate (1980) is a big-budget western movie, depicting a fictionalized account of the Johnson County War between land barons and European immigrants in 1890s Wyoming. The biggest Hollywood flop of the 1980s, Heaven's Gate became synonymous with troubled and overbudget film disasters.
Directed by Michael Cimino (who received a Golden Raspberry for worst director for this film), it starred Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, Isabelle Huppert, Jeff Bridges, John Hurt, Sam Waterston, Brad Dourif, Joseph Cotten, Geoffrey Lewis, Richard Masur, Terry Quinn, Mickey Rourke, and Willem Dafoe.
The film opens in 1870 as Kris Kristofferson's character graduates from Harvard University and makes his way West. The epilogue takes place in 1903. Even though Cimino uses subtitles when non-English characters are speaking in their native tongue, some of the English dialogue is obscured by blaring music or sound effects.
Cimino had just won an Academy Award for directing The Deer Hunter, so United Artists had every reason to believe he was creating magic on location in Wyoming. After months of delays and cost overruns, Cimino finally delivered his masterpiece—a 5-hour version of Heaven's Gate. The studio balked and sent him back to recut it to a more manageable length. His recut version was still 3 hours and 40 minutes long. The Cimino version was pulled from release after only one screening: its premiere in New York City on November 19, 1980. A subsequent review in The New York Times called Heaven's Gate "an unqualified disaster," comparing it to "a forced four-hour walking tour of one's own living room." It surfaced six months later with 70 minutes cut by the studio in a desperate attempt to recoup some of its losses, but to no avail. Adverse publicity was largely responsible for a dismal box-office take. The movie's unprecedented US$40 million cost sent United Artists into bankruptcy and eventually led to its purchase by MGM.
The fracas also had a wider effect on the American film industry. During the 1970s, relatively young directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg were given large budgets with very little studio control. This trend was already ending by the early 1980s, but Heaven's Gate is viewed by many as its definitive conclusion.
Cimino has remarked that a popular 1985 book about the making of the film, Final Cut, by former United Artists executive Steven Bach , "should be classified as fiction. [Bach has] made money off my blood, my work, for 20 years." Bach stated in his foreword to the book that Cimino had been unresponsive to requests for interviews.
In October 2004 an uncut version of the film was again shown in selected art-house cinemas in the US and Australia, along with a documentary about the film.
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