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Warner Home Video presents
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (SE) (2005/1988)

"This country's getting old and I aim to get old with it. Now, the Kid don't want it that way. He might be a better man for it. I ain't judging. But I don't want you explaining nothin' to me. And I don't want you saying nothin' about the Kid and nobody else in my goddamn county."
- Pat Garrett (James Coburn)

Review By: Nate Meyers   
Published: January 12, 2006

Stars: James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson
Other Stars: Richard Jaeckel, Katy Jurado, Chill Wills, Barry Sullivan, Jason Robards, Bob Dylan, R.G. Armstrong, Luke Askew, John Beck, Richard Bright, Matt Clark, Rita Coolidge, Jack Dodson, Jack Elam, Emilio Fernandez, Paul Fix, L.Q. Jones, Slim Pickens, Jorge Russek, Charlie Martin Smith, Harry Dean Stanton, John Chandler, Claudia Bryar, Mike Mikler, Aurora Clavell, Rutanya Alda, Walter Kelley, Gene Evans, Donny Fritts
Director: Sam Peckinpah

MPAA Rating: R for western violence, sexuality/nudity
Run Time: 02h:01m:56s (2005 version)
Release Date: January 10, 2006
UPC: 012569516526
Genre: western


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B C+BB- A+

DVD Review

William H. Bonney is a genuine mystery and will likely remain one until the end of time. The oft cited stories of Billy the Kid are primarily legends, with only some very rudimentary facts accepted universally. As a matter of fact, the real historical figure remains so unknown to us that some of these widely accepted facts—namely, that Billywas left-handed—have recently been called into question. Thus, Billy the Kid's legend is truly an open book for anyone to pick up and use for his own devices. Some filmmakers have used it to create B-movies (Howard Hughes' The Outlaw), weak action westerns (the Young Guns movies), or even social dramas (Arthur Penn's The Left-Handed Gun.

Leave it to Sam Peckinpah, the western's quintessential maverick, to take this outlaw's mystique and twist it into an opaque, meandering mediation on life. Or so it would seem, because I honestly am not sure what his film is trying to convey. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is a striking, disjointed film that nobody will ever see as Peckinpah intended it, due to various reasons. As with Major Dundee, there's a great debate over what precisely Peckinpah intended to have audiences see. Prior to his death, he never truly assembled a final cut. Thanks to the valiant efforts of Peckinpah expert Paul Seydor, among others, a "special edition" is now available that presents the film based on Peckinpah's speculated intentions. It is better than any of the previous cuts made available to audiences, including the 122-minute Turner "preview version" released in 1988. Yet, despite Seydor's efforts, the film never truly comes together.

James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson play the title characters, respectively, with Coburn turning in a strong performance as the aging, world-weary Garrett. Near the end of the 19th century in New Mexico, Garrett takes the job of sheriff and must arrest his old friend Billy. After a shoot-out at an isolated farmhouse, Billy is arrested only to escape after brutally murdering two of Garrett's deputies. The rest of the film follows Garrett's pursuit of Billy, but this isn't a pursuit in any traditional sense. Garrett chases Billy as if he's suffering from depression, while Billy flees with no real sense of urgency. Peckinpah doesn't attempt to make a historically accurate movie, as evidenced by Bob Dylan's unique and unfitting score (with the exception of Knockin' on Heaven's Door, which slips in perfectly at a crucial point). Made in the wake of Watergate, Peckinpah seems to be delving into American disillusionment and governmental corruption. Garrett may technically be the law, but his dealings with cattle baron Chisum (Barry Sullivan) certainly paint him every bit as crooked as Billy—he's just more of a realist.

Playing Billy, Kristofferson presents a tremendous problem for the movie. Lifeless and without any purpose, Kristofferson's performance fails to capture the viewer's imagination in any significant way. There's no sense of menace in his murdering, nor does Kristofferson manage to present Billy as an adequate anti-hero. Perhaps this is partly due to the script by Rudolph Wurlitzer; it's so eclectic that there's no genuine arc for either lead character. Compounding this problem, Peckinpah's direction never seems to have any momentum—possibly due to numerous health problems and purported destructive alcoholism he suffered on the set—and the result is a hodgepodge western. The supporting cast is enormous, mixing the likes of Bob Dylan (in a frighteningly odd, aloof performance as Billy's associate, Alias) with veteran character actors Slim Pickens (as Sheriff Baker) and Chill Wills (as Lemuel) to a fault. At the expense of moving the narrative forward, Peckinpah stops to give various tributes to random characters who enter and leave the story either clumsily, bloodily, or both.

However, despite all its shortcomings, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is worth seeing. There are moments of great beauty and poetry, such as when Billy rides off to Mexico and John Coquillon's cinematography captures the sky's reflection in a lake, or when Pat and some travelers are shooting at a bottle floating in the river. The production design creates a claustrophobic stage for various set pieces, creating a deeply personal film rather than an epic, and Peckinpah composes the various gunfights effectively. In fact, when Garrett and Sheriff Baker engage in a firefight, it is one of the best scenes I've ever scene in a western, as it is both haunting and exhilarating. The more I think about it, the more I realize that just about every scene works on its own and it is only when viewing the movie as a whole that it becomes incoherent. Peckinpah's clearly trying to express something here, but he never fully articulates it.



[NOTE: The story behind Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid's various editions over the years is quite complex and interesting. There are supposedly at least three official documented versions of the film. The original theatrical cut from 1973 runs 106 minutes and, by some accounts, the editing was supervised by Peckinpah. In 1988, a new 122-minute version of the movie received a release, commonly called either the "director's cut" or the "Turner Preview Version," which closely resembles Peckinpah's private copy of the film. This DVD includes the Turner cut as well as one called "2005 Special Edition" that runs 115 minutes.]

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen picture contains flaws, but is still fairly good. The 2005 special edition of the movie is presented on Disc 1, with accurate colors and great detail. Print defects, scratches, and dirt are noticeable at certain spots in the transfer, however. Over on Disc 2, the transfer of the Turner "preview version" is not quite as good, featuring more frequent print defects and quite a bit of grain in some scenes. Blacks look good in both transfers, however, and it's tough to determine if the picture's flaws result from the transfer or the source material.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: The 2005 special edition has both an English and French mono track available. Audio is clean, with crisp dialogue and minimal hiss. The music and sound effects come across nicely, too. The other version only has an English mono mix created from the film's rough audio. Dialogue is generally inconsistent in volume, there's a great deal of hiss, and many sound effects are missing. However, those flaws are actually a fair representation of the preview version.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 57 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Ride the High Country, The Wild Bunch, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, The Getaway, The James Dean Collection
1 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, David Weddle
Packaging: Amaray Double
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:15m:28s (Disc 1); 01h:12m:

Extra Extras:
  1. One Foot in the Groove: Remembering Sam Peckinpah and Other Things—Kris Kristofferson and Donny Fritts reminisce about making the movie, their careers, and Sam Peckinpah.
  2. Songs—a video clip of Kris Kristofferson playing two original songs in honor of Sam Peckinpah.
Extras Review: As part of Warner's Sam Peckinpah's the Legendary Westerns Collection, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid gets a nice collection of extras. On Disc 1, there's an audio commentary by Peckinpah biographers/documentarians Nick Redman, Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and David Weddle. Seydor dominates this track, since he is largely responsible for this new version's creation, and about 95% of the conversation here is a discussion of the various subtle differences between the film's numerous versions. Each man seems to admit that the movie isn't entirely coherent, but they clearly love it, and offer a nice history of the film's troubled production. Also included on Disc 1 are the trailers for Ride the High Country, The Wild Bunch, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, The Getaway, and The James Dean Collection, as well as the film's original trailer.

The supplements on Disc 2 begin with a commentary by the same four men listed above. As opposed to the other track, this one is more balanced between them—although they do repeat some material—and offers a lot of insight into the movie's themes and so on. Each participant analyzes the film and shares some keen insights, though this track isn't as entertaining as the others recorded in this collection. Combined with the other commentary, however, the four men give a thorough, educational description on just about every facet of the film.

Also on Disc 2 is a featurette, Deconstructing Pat and Billy (14m:49s), containing interviews with Seydor and Peckinpah's assistant Katy Habor. Seydor discusses the film's checkered past, while Habor reveals Peckinpah's deteriorating condition during the shoot. This is a brief, engaging extra. In a video interview with Kristofferson and Donny Fritts entitled One Foot in the Groove: Remembering Sam Peckinpah and Other Things (27m:51s) Kristofferson dominates, speaking about his early career and his time in the military. Eventually things focus on the movie and their respective relationships with Peckinpah, adding both sad and anecdotes. This is a nice tribute to Peckinpah, with both men paying their respects to him without sugar-coating his demeanor. In the final extra on this disc, Kristofferson performs two songs he wrote for Peckinpah, One for the Money and Sam's Song (05m:37s), another nice touch in Peckinpah's memory.

Extras Grade: A+

 

Final Comments

To some Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is a masterpiece, but I simply can't overlook Peckinpah's overall lack of coherence. Warner gives the film more than its due with this two-disc release, supplying two versions of the film and a nice collection of extras. My only complaint with this DVD is that it doesn't include the original theatrical cut.

 


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