Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven's Gate (2004)





Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Movie Info

In 1979, Michael Cimino went from being a director with one obscure Clint Eastwood action film and a handful of television commercials to his credit to one of the hottest talents in Hollywood, all on the strength of one film, The Deer Hunter. A multiple Oscar winner, a box-office success, and a controversial critical favorite, The Deer Hunter made Cimino a director to watch, and United Artists, a studio in need of both critical prestige and a box-office blockbuster following the departure of their longtime management team, signed up Cimino for his next project, a historical Western drama called The Johnson County War. However, by the time the film reached theaters in 1981, Cimino had exceeded his shooting schedule by nearly a year, the budget had swelled to a then-scandalous 40 million dollars, and the movie had a new title, Heaven's Gate. Originally premiered in a version running nearly four hours, Heaven's Gate was savaged by American critics, and had developed a reputation as a nearly total disaster before it went into wide release in a 160-minute edit. As one might expect, the film was a box-office flop, and the bad publicity and financial debacle led Transamerica, United Artists' parent company, to sell the studio later that year, essentially putting them out of business. Steven Bach, one of the United Artists executives who oversaw the project, wrote a book about the making of the movie, and Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven's Gate is a documentary adaptation that looks at where Cimino's ambitions and United Artists' management style went wrong, as well as asking if the meticulously crafted film is the unmitigated disaster it's chalked up to be. Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven's Gate was screened at the 2004 Toronto Film Festival, where it was shown in tandem with a restored print of the 220-minute cut of Heaven's Gate.
Documentary , Drama , Musical & Performing Arts , Television
Directed By:
Viewfinder Productions


Critic Reviews for Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven's Gate

All Critics (2) | Top Critics (1)

No excerpt available.

Full Review… | October 19, 2004
New York Times
Top Critic

More compelling than Cimino's long-winded epic.

October 12, 2004
New York Post
Top Critic

This is a competent, if un-slick, look at the fabled production woes brought about by the creative genius/psychopathic and obsessed director Cimino.

Full Review… | June 21, 2007
Film Scouts

Audience Reviews for Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven's Gate


really fascinating and interesting doc about heavens gate, i love docs about movies getting made, and this one is one of the best, on par with hearts of darkness, maybe the making of heavens gate wasnt as crazy as apocalypse now, but if ur a movie fan, youll def enjoy this doc

Daniel Sloyan
Daniel Sloyan

Final Cut: The Making of Heaven's Gate and the Unmaking of a Studio (Michael Epstein, 2004) What is the difference between one of the greatest movies of all time and one of the greatest debacles of all time? When one of the interviewees in Final Cut discusses the options United Artists talked over when trying to figure out how to handle Michael Cimino after Heaven's Gate had already gone off the charts, he says that the option UA decided on was the Apocalypse Now option; Coppola, like Cimino, was out of control during the filming of Apocalypse Now, whose budget and filming schedule had at one point been a beautiful dream, but that had gone off the rails early on. Coppola was allowed to do his thing, and Apocalypse Now was wisely hailed as one of the greatest motion pictures of all time. Then came Heaven's Gate, two years later. To call it a disaster would be the understatement of understatements; it did the worst a picture can do, it destroyed a company. And yet, with the benefit of hindsight (and an ill-thought recut of Apocalypse Now that, for all intents and purposes, destroys the power and majesty of the original), Heaven's Gate, or at least the longest version of it currently available, is, if anything, an even better movie than Apocalypse Now. Unfortunately, if you're looking for an answer to why critical and public reception to amazing-but-vastly-overbudget movie B was so diametrically opposed to that of amazing-but-vastly-overbudget movie A, you're going to be disappointed. But the shadow of Apocalypse Now certainly hangs over Michael Epstein's absorbing documentary about Heaven's Gate and the fall of United Artists. It's somewhat ironic, though probably appropriate, that Heaven's Gate, the story of the Johnson County War-not exactly one of the proudest moments in American history-is still considered an unmitigated disaster by most Americans, but as Willem Dafoe mentions towards the end, is seen as one of the great American movies outside the U.S. (it ranks on the Guardian's thousand best movies list, and also makes the grade at the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? website, which polls reviewers around the globe, but is noticeably absent from the lists of any American critic whose thousand-best lists I've collected). Epstein's film traces the making of Heaven's Gate, stopping along the way to offer opinions on why it was that the critics tore it apart upon its release, very few of which have anything to do with the quality of the movie itself. As overseas audiences (and a handful of Americans) have realized, this is because the movie itself, divorced from the politics and obsessive secrecy surrounding its filming, is as much a masterpiece as Cimino's universally-lauded The Deer Hunter (in fact, one of the film's hypotheses is that the critics felt that they had over-praised The Deer Hunter and toned reviews of Heaven's Gate down even farther to compensate). What this documentary concludes is that politics killed Heaven's Gate, and that the tragedy of Heaven's Gate killed the age of the director; one has to wonder, drawing those two threads to their logical conclusions, whether MGM-who ended up buying out UA (and, as Willem Dafoe also mentions in the ending voiceover, the "destruction" of UA actually involved its stock falling half a point, which the company had recovered in very little time)-had a hand in any of the politics. Probably biased, but fascinating. Well worth your time whether you're a fan of Heaven's Gate or not. (As for me, I'm one of those who would give my right arm to see the actual five-and-a-half-hour cut that probably no longer exists.) *** 1/2

Robert Beveridge
Robert Beveridge

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