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Of the many things Michael Cimino was criticized for in his 1980 film Heaven’s Gate, most critics rail against his budget, his ego, and his detailed, yet rambling plot line. The movie is rumored to have cost United Artists between 36 and 44 million dollars (they would never fess up to the exact amount) for the 220 hours of footage that Cimino shot. Most critics attack Cimino directly, but they don’t forget to push a little blame onto the production company for allowing a director free reign to do whatever he pleased in what was only his third movie. Cimino was allowed full artistic license and spent millions of dollars buying and landscaping acres in Montana, building towns, outfitting thousands of extras with completely period costumes, and, most absurdly, employing the use of an authentic train engine from across the country. Cimino tended to get wrapped up in such details, but, according to many critics, failed to focus on the plot or consider how viewers would be able to follow it. Despite some of his failures, Cimino’s film was beautifully shot and was nominated for an Oscar in cinematography. He was also praised for steering away from the typical western plot and hero. Rarely did the genre address any class and race issues. Removed from the financial fall of United Artists, Heaven’s Gate has slowly begun to gain in popularity and appreciation.

Atkinson, Michael. Film. Village Voice 28 Sept. 2004. http://www.villagevoice.com/2004-09-28/film/film/1
Atkinson gives Cimino credit for creating a movie in which "the lie of frontier idealism is debunked." Though Cimino is frequently blamed for the fall of United Artists, this reviewer is quick to point out the company's problems and allows it to take credit for its bad decisions. Atkinson compares Cimino to Von Stroheim -- "too successful for the wrong reasons at first and then so outrageously profligate that his public lynching was a ritual the Industry had to perform in order to reassert mindless Lucasian profit as its god."
Cameron, Shelley. "Last of the big time westerns." Reel Movie Critic. http://www.reelmoviecritic.com/rmc/H_2005/heavens_gate.htm
Although she studied film under Ebert at the University of Chicago, it appears that her teacher's movie tastes didn't rub off on her. Like many critics, she praises Zsigmond's sweeping scenes of the open plains, but she also appreciates Walken's portrayal of Champion and the message the movie tries to convey. At the same time, she doesn't turn a blind eye to the fact that the plot tends to meander and the movie ends anti-climactically because the epic battle scene arrives too soon in the scheme of the movie.
Canby Vincent. Rev. of Heaven's Gate, dir. by Michael Cimino. New York Times 19 Nov. 1980.
Canby's review is so harsh that some United Artists executives blame him for single-handedly destroying the movie's reputation. Canby is bored…really, really bored. He criticizes the movie for lack of plot and comments that the excess of eastern European extras roaming around the screen talking in their native languages is annoying and pointless. He hates the music; he hates the way it's filmed. "Heaven's Gate is something quite rare in movies these days—an unqualified disaster," pretty much sums up his overall feeling of the movie.
Ebert, Roger. Heaven's Gate. Chicago Sun Times 1 Jan. 1981. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19810101/REVIEWS/101010302/1023
"Heaven's Gate has, of course, become a notorious picture, a boondoggle that cost something like $36 million and was yanked out of its New York opening run after the critics ran gagging from the theater," says Ebert about the film. The compliments don't stop there. Ebert bashes the cinematography as being "so smoky, so dusty, so foggy, so unfocused and so brownish yellow that you want to try Windex on the screen." He complains about the length of the movie, the unfocused characters, and the mob mentality of the immigrants. Ebert says that "the ridiculous scenes are endless…and…it is the most scandalous cinematic waste I have ever seen."
Filipski, Kevin. "The Second Life of Heaven's Gate." New York Times 9 Apr 2000.
Long after the movie was pulled from the theater, the 3 hour 39 minute uncut version of Heaven's Gate reemerged on DVD. Filipski is willing to admit that the shots are beautiful but questions the purpose of continuing to revive a movie that was a flop the first time around.
Hall, Phil. "Heaven's Gate." Film Threat: Truth in Entertainmen 7 Oct. 2004. http://www.filmthreat.com/index.php?section=reviews&Id=6533
Hall has a genuine appreciation for this movie. At the time of his review, Heaven's Gate was being retouched and shown again in theaters. He gives an honest critique about the unnecessary first scene at "Harvard," but other than that he finds a lot of great things about the film. He counteracts criticism that the movie was "anti-American," saying that in fact, "it is as close to the real America as any Western ever came." He praises the acting of each of the leading characters and finds the final battle scene to be one of the most compelling and realistic final shootouts that he has seen.
"Heaven's Gate." Time Out Film Guide. http://www.timeout.com/film/reviews/71871/Heavens_Gate.html
Written by London critics, the Time Out guide celebrates Heaven's Gate as "a majestic and lovingly detailed Western which simultaneously celebrates and undermines the myth of the American frontier." The prologue and epilogue scenes that trouble so many American critics were among this critic's favorite parts of the movie.
Heilman, Jeremy. "Heaven's Gate. MovieMartyr.com 25 Mar. 2002. http://www.moviemartyr.com/1980/heavensgate.htm
"Heaven's Gate is actually a powerful and surprisingly focused work," says Heilman. He, of course, acknowledges the general complaints…it's too long, it was much too expensive, etc…but he appreciates Cimino's attention to detail. Heilman praises the movie's ability to give you a thorough picture of each side of the war and then make it difficult to decide who is right and who is wrong. You can't find fault only with the villains. He also appreciates the way the movie is filmed in an almost sepia tone to elicit sadness from its audience. "Because of its ambition, the film is sometimes sloppy, but that sloppiness is forgivable because it's the exalted, compelling kind. "
Kroll, Jack. "Heaven Can Wait." Film Comment 17 Jan/Feb 1981: 58-59.
Unlike many of his peers, Kroll sees both sides of Cimino's creation. He acknowledges the incredibly large budget, the obsessive attention to detail, and Cimino's insistence on allowing the viewer to follow his train of thought. At the same time, he praises the excitement of the opening, the paradox between the wealth of the wealthy and the need of the poor, and Cimino's desire to make each immigrant stand out in some way. In the end, Kroll too was unhappy. He doesn't fully understand the relationships, and he thinks Cimino is too obsessed with the wrong details.
Lubow, Arthur. "Crimson Reds." Rev. of Heaven's Gate, dir. by Michael Cimino. Threepenny Review 10 (Summer 1982): 19-20.
Lubow compares Heaven's Gate to one of its peers, Reds. He remarks that both films were "intellectually shaped by the student protests against the Vietnam war," in a post-sixties time period. The role of a Harvard-educated young man, the central love story, and political importance were the main items that Lubow compared between the two films.
McCabe, Bruce. Rev. of Heaven's Gate, dir. Michael Cimino. Boston Globe 3 May 1981.
McCabe's biggest complaint is merely that Cimino didn't understand his own movie. He can't develop a flow to the movie, he doesn't have a feel for his characters, and he doesn't grasp the event on which the movie is loosely based.
Queenan, Joe. "From Hell." The Guardian. 12 Mar 2008. http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2008/mar/21/1
Out of a plethora of movies that irritate him, even films that he finds it painful to watch again, Queenan selects Heaven's Gate as the "worst movie of all time." He describes the reaction of the public and studio workers when the movie was first released. "Heaven's Gate was so bad that people literally had to be bribed to go meet the survivors," he says of the studio's inability to find anyone who would even pick up the stars and director from the airport after their return flight for fear of being attacked.
Wells, J. "Heaven's Gate." Films in Review 30 Jan 1981: 55-56.
"It [Heaven's Gate] should be preserved in cold storage as an eternal reminder of what can happen when a witless wonder is handed a blank check by studio executives too in awe of ‘genius' to assert common sense." This quote pretty well sums up Wells' opinion of the film. He comments that many directors are having similar spending issues to Cimino and hopes that Heaven's Gate will serve as a wake-up call to directors and studios alike. He then goes on to praise himself for his contempt of Deer Hunter and signs off telling Cimino that he should have just stuck to action films.

See Also

Denby, David. "Movies: can 'Heaven's Gate' be born again?" New York Magazine 13 Dec. 1980: 82-85.

Sarris, Andrew. "Films in focus: Cimino: from colossal to titanic." Village Voice 25 Nov 1980: 45.

Westerbeck, C.L., Jr. "Screen: giving it the gate: Cimino's 'Heaven' bites the dust." Commonweal 19 Dec. 1980: 724-25.