Open Range DVD Review

Cover Art and Menu: 7/10
Graphic Designer, Graphic Designer, where for art thou Graphic Designer? Tis I, fair reviewer, seeking that which I desire most..A DISNEY COVER THAT IS NOT CRAP! Come on people you are responsible for visual wonders like Nemo, Beauty and the Beast, Fantasia…somehow your creativity get lost between making the movie and designing the cover of the DVD? I have thrown my hands up in the past thinking I could let go of my deep loathing of these kinds of covers…it didn’t work.

This is a classy movie, I loved it. Unfortunately however, when I first saw the cover I was so unimpressed that I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a cheezy TV movie or a sappy glorified Americana tale about cowboys. Yes, I was judging a book by it’s cover, so to speak. But how do you think that the general viewing public do their movie shopping? I’m sure many DVD’s get plunked back on the shelf because the cover art just doesn’t do the movie justice, which is a shame.

What don’t I like about this cover? A better question would be what DO I like. The color is nice. The sunset is obvious but acceptable. The rest is lazy designing.

Extras & Features: 8/10

  • Commentary by director/actor Kevin Costner (scene-specific) – At some point during the behind the scenes documentary Costner says he doesn’t like to hear himself talk..well, I have to say I think that has to be incorrect. Mr. Actor/Director/Executive Producer/Producer/Writer does his fair share and for a commentary that’s great. I love it when the mind behind the movie is available for us to learn from, however, his claim that he doesn’t like the sound of his own voice might be a bit of a white lie. I love the commentary and the extras, don’t get me wrong. I find Costner very interesting and dynamic. He has made some of the best films ever put on the big screen. I just think he is as convinced of that as I am. Beyond the Open Range Director’s Journal” making-of documentary – This is a really really good documentary with lots of details and it looks great. Costner narrates and describes what you are seeing on the set. It has some interview excerpts with him talking about his honest opinion of what it’s like to work with sleezy Hollywood types who want to get their nose in on a movie like this. He talks about how the money for the production often had to come out of his and other members of the team’s pockets. I have to say this, this is one of the best documentaries, or fly on the wall, extras I have ever seen on a DVD. That gets big points for me. It’s put together well and stays interesting from start to finish. This is not what you always get with these kinds of extras.
  • Deleted scenes with director introductions – This is THE best presentation of deleted scenes I have ever seen on a DVD. Most of the time you just click on each scene, it plays, and then you play the next one. This is where some DVD’s shine and other just kind get lost in your memory due to the drabnness of the presentation. First, there is a Play All feature, which is fantastic. Second, even if Costner is doing a lot of talking, he does take the time to explain and introduce each scene. Third, there is a title frame with music and some semi-interesting graphics that almost makes an event of each scene. Nice work folks! Other DVD authors/designers, take note!
  • “The Real Open Range” historical featurette – This is a mini-documentary that you might show to a history class or on the History channel. It’s a brief background of some of the most notorious real life western characters who forged the early days of the American frontier. The list includes Franklin D. Roosevelt, so it’s really interesting and even a bit educational. Beware, you might learn something. It is full of old photos and readings from letters and writings of people who lived the life of real Open Range pioneers. It even inspired me to go and do some more cowboy that’s an accomplish.
  • Storyboarding featurette – Sometimes you get a storyboard on a DVD that is simply a gallery of images you flick through with your remote. This DVD, however, seems to take that extra step on each extra to make it a great DVD experience. (except for the cover, but I’ve already vented about that) This Storyboard featurette highlights the artist who drew the boards and he narrates over several clips of him and Costner conferring about the look of each scene. He describes the process of how he gets his drawings from pencil to laptop, to an actual mock up of the pace of whole scenes for the director to look at before he ever even shoots a scene. This is interesting stuff, I love it.
  • Music video with behind the scenes footage – Ok, this is the extra that I’m a bit puzzled by. I understand that it’s music set to video, but to say it’s a music video might be stretching it. It basically shows lots of Costner in different moments of his many roles on this movie. I like this little blurb of an extra, it’s just one of those things that makes you go, “hmmm, what is that for exactly?”

Picture & Sound:
Excellent picture, not a pixel, fade, blur, or glitch to be found even in the darkest rainiest scenes.

Sound is just as good. Any DVD of a movie with a lot of rain and scenes set in the wide open outdoors can potentially have problems with sound. Open Range is an exception. Every voice, clap of thunder, horse hoof, and gun shot is sharp and clear despite the elements working against them. Nothing gets lost in the transfer as heard through our 5.1 surround sound system.

The Movie: 8/10
I’m a fan of epic stories whether they are set in outer space or the wild west. I like the darker side of characters when it’s done with style rather than for shock value. Costner and Duvall play two hardened cowboys who have seen and done a lot in their lifetimes. They have settled into their own kind of friendship and devoted their lives to riding the open range. They are accompanied by two young guys who are not jaded, yet, but who represent the youthful lives our leading men have passed up along the way.

This is not just a story about cowboys taking their cattle across country. In fact, that is just a backdrop to a bigger idea. These men operate on a level of honor and justice that, while diluted at times, is solid and unwavering. They stand up for what they believe, for what they have decided are worth fighting for.

There journey is interrupted when one of their hired hands goes into a town and runs into trouble. A town in the west where “free rangers” are hated and the big man is a bully who doesn’t just live in this little town, he owns it.

Conflict comes from a few places. There’s the battle between the sheriff and the business man who owns the town. That’s an obvious one that could be found in many western books and films. Another struggle is between the town and their own identity. It is hinted at but not tossed in your face like a “and the town rallies around the good guys” kind of way. There are subtle moments when townspeople stand up for themselves, little by little, but not so that it’s a main theme that takes over the film.

Another drama that takes place is, of course, a budding romance between Costner and Benning. No, it’s not mushy or annoying at all. In fact it’s classy, which is due 100% to Benning and her elegant quiet but powerful style. There are so many things in this film that look predictable on the surface, but as you watch and get more into the characters, you are continually surprised by not only their reactions to circumstances but to each other.

Charlie (Costner) is a hardened man, and yet he kneels on the floor picking up clumps of mud he has gotten on Sue’s (Benning) parlor floor. There is not gentleness about his character so don’t worry, you won’t think he’s “selling out” to the idea of home and hearth. He is consistently hard, cold, distant and we only ever see glimpses of the man he wants to be. This is a well written character and I think Costner does him justice.

Duvall is always brilliant. I will say that right away. I have loved him in almost everything I have seen him in. As “Boss” he brings that rough and tumble edge to an aging cowboy that endears him without making him seem like he is on his last legs as a cowboy. He never goes soft, even when describing his troubled past. He is matter of fact about everything but delivers enough emotion with every line that he did for me what no other actor has ever done. He IS the cowboy that I have always wanted to see on screen. He’s not too tough or too rough. He’s not a hero or a bad guy. He’s not borderline anti-hero like some westerns try to create. He reminded me of my grandfather in his ideas about right and wrong and how a man should stand up for his principles. Not because it’s what is expected of him, but because he doesn’t have a choice.

The look of the movie is gorgeous, of course. It comes from the director who made Dances With Wolves and The Postman (I loved The Postman, get over it!). This is not a small scale movie. It might not be a huge budget flick, but it’s got so much visual goodies to feast your eyes on it’s a nature lover’s dream. Long shots of rolling hills on the open range..get it!

And this is not ordinary western town they shot in, oh no, Costner insisted that they build their own town. It’s a beauty of a set and looks as authentic as I can imagine a town from 1882 would look. One thing that is unique is that the town’s streets actually flood and a river slices it in half. There is a scene in the rain that stands out for me. Costner and Duvall need to cross the street in the middle of the flood and use plank boards end to end to get across. It’s not genius or anything, in fact, it’s an ordinary detail that adds so much to the reality of the movie.

Often Westerns leave out the day to day difficulties that people had to live with over a hundred years ago. The details make this movie that much more inviting and engaging. Even after a gun fight we see the aftermath, the effects of a shoot out on a town. We rarely get to see the dead men being buried or see the townspeople pulling things back together.

The pace of the film is controlled and hypnotic. I love the fact that it’s not an in your face action Western that a modern audience might demand. There are quiet scenes that roll out the nature of the characters, the hardships of life in the 1880’s, and the conflict brewing between our leading men and their adversaries. I like a movie I can soak up slowly instead of having it all hit me like a tidal wave. It’s good for the senses and it makes me feel like I have taken a real journey along side the people in the story.

The movie has it’s flaws. I was not that taken by the bad guy. He was just a bit shallow compared to the other characters. His band of thugs was more of a gang of misfits that just did not match the power of who our leading men are intended to be.

I’m not totally a sucker for the love stuff, the story, characters, and nature shots..oh no, I also love the action shots. There is the inevitable gun fight, but it’s not just a shoot’em up, believe me. There are some amazing falls and explosive stunts when the bullets fly. I don’t think there was even one of those dramatic stunt falls from a rooftop, which is a blessing. I think Western’s of the 70’s did enough “off the rooftop” dives to last us a lifetime of movie watching. Don’t let the epic story steer you wrong, this is a boy’s movie from start to finish, fightin’ and shootin’ and ridin’. That’s boy stuff, right?

Overall I would say this movie was a surprise, a pleasant surprise. Beautifully made, well written dialogue, excellent performances, good story, what more can we ask for in modern day Western, or any movie for that matter?

Value: 9/10
Yippee..celebrate with  me, I have found a DVD that is worth the price!! For less than $18 you get a classic movie, and a lot of very valuable extras that make up a great DVD experience. The DVD is a bit Costner heavy, but considering he did fight tooth and nail to get it made, not to mention he was a driving creative force in the production, I guess it’s only fair that he makes his presence felt.

Overall Score 8/10