Release Date(s)2019 (October 8, 2019)
Studio(s)HBO Films/Red Board Productions/The Mighty Mint (HBO)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B-
Ten years have passed since magnate George Hearst (Gerald McRaney) left Deadwood in a spasm of bullets and bloodshed. The camp is now a proper town, under the protection of U.S. Marshal Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant), and Dakota territory has just been granted dual statehood. Hearst, now the junior senator from California, has returned to mark the happy occasion. So too have Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert) and Alma Ellsworth (Molly Parker). But while Bullock and Sol Star (John Hawkes) have started families and expanded their business interests to include a hotel, and Charlie Utter (Dayton Callie) has bought himself a lovely piece of land, over at the Gem Saloon, time and whiskey have taken their toll on Al Swearengen (Ian McShane). And Hearst it seems has another purpose for returning to Deadwood; he wants Charlie’s land to complete a telephone line he’s invested in… and he means to have it, one way or another.
As a fan of HBO’s original Deadwood TV series (reviewed here on Blu-ray), and having recently revisited all three of its seasons, I find myself in awe of creator David Milch’s ability to render flawed-but-noble and deeply human characters. He may have the best instincts for this of any scribe in the television medium. What makes Deadwood: The Movie so refreshing is that it resurrects the full richness of its world in just two hours while delivering a satisfying coda for its characters. And it does so by stubbornly refusing to let them take a back seat to plot. Especially in the wake of Game of Thrones, another fine sociological ensemble series that—regrettably—left so much of its essence behind as it raced for a spectacle-driven ending, Deadwood: The Movie stays true to itself to the final bittersweet moments.
Deadwood’s ensemble cast shines here—and thankfully nearly all of them have returned—though special mention must be given to Olyphant, McShane, and Weigert, who seem more comfortable in their roles than ever before. Callie and Franklyn Ajaye (Samuel Fields) are stand-outs too. Deadwood’s broadcast run ended so abruptly that most fans had given up on ever seeing its storylines concluded. Complicating matters was word that Milch is suffering from the onset of dementia, a cruel fate for so brilliant a mind. But a conclusion HBO has given us at last and all involved have made the most of it. Milch has delivered a moving and frankly honest envoi—no less for himself than for his characters—and it’s a gift for which I couldn’t be more grateful.
Deadwood: The Movie was shot digitally at the 2.00:1 ratio using Arri Alexa Mini cameras. HBO’s Blu-ray offers a lovely image, especially compared to the regular HBO broadcast or HBO Go streaming versions. Colors are richer, contrasts are a bit more expansive, with pleasingly dark shadows. The higher data rate lends the image a noticeably greater dimensionality and improved fine detail. Sound is available in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The mix features a medium-wide forward stage with lightly atmospheric surrounds. The tonal quality is full and natural, with decent bass and good clarity. The mix is seldom asked to flex its muscles, but the occasional crack of gunfire does offer nice heft. And Milch’s esoteric dialogue comes across cleanly, even if it does occasionally benefit from a quick look at the subtitles. Additional audio is available in French 5.1 DTS and Spanish 2.0 DTS, while subs include English SDH, French, Spanish, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish.
The only special feature here (apart from the usual Digital code in the packaging) is:
- The Unspoken Subject: David Milch and Deadwood (HD – 13:59)
But short though it is, this featurette is very good indeed. Essentially, it’s a tribute to creator David Milch. We see new interviews with director Daniel Minahan and all of the key cast members talking about what it was like to work with Milch on the original series and his impact on their careers. As they do so, we see Milch in his prime on set during the series’ production. Then we see Milch today, somewhat lessened physically, but no less full of creativity and spirit. Rather than working and reworking scenes on set, as he once did, he’s poured his heart and perspective on the page this time. And before each scene of this film was shot, Milch was given a chance to read something he’d written about its subtext and meaning. You see the cast and crew surrounding him with love each time, savoring every moment while they can. The Unspoken Subject is unexpectedly poignant and rewarding; hats off to producer Michael Schwarz for his work on it. One could certainly wish there was more content on this Blu-ray, but this piece is a gem.
Deadwood: The Movie is not a perfect film, nor does it quite work as a stand-alone experience. It’s a little on the nose occasionally and you can’t help thinking of what might have been, had HBO allowed the original series to continue for a few more seasons. The film is, however, damn near perfect in accomplishing what it must. It extends the series’ story and ends it too, granting us a bit more time with these rich characters—enough to mark the years and the wear, and yet to see them undiminished. And don’t our spirits raise. Recommended.
- Bill Hunt