Appaloosa: Time Constraints and Film

One of the great things about watching DVDs is the chance to see the film-making process in action, to hear the directors and stars, to go over again what they cut out and why. In several cases, the best perhaps being Blade Runner, additional scenes, deleted scenes, make the film stronger when included. Generally, the deletions occur because of time constraints, though directors often say they cut the scene because it hurt the flow. My guess is that in many cases they really don’t want to admit that they had to conform to theater guidelines and general population tastes, to our short-attention-span culture. In the case of Appaloosa, the theatrical release was nearly two hours, so they must have felt more scenes would have pushed the limits.

But the film itself would have been better with additional material.

It’s a story that harkens back to John Wayne’s Rio movies, and to Lonesome Dove, though it has its own flavor, mood and emotional core. Two friends, Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) ride into a town under the thrall of a murderous rancher, Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons), and attempt to clean things up. Deleted scenes set the motivation to a greater degree. The opening scene (deleted) shows a town meeting with newcomers, an electrical engineer and his wife who are subsequently murdered by two of Bragg’s men. The wife is raped (off-screen). The town’s sheriff rides up to the ranch to arrest the two men. Bragg kills the sheriff and his two deputies. In the theatrical release, the film excludes the scene prior to the confrontation at the ranch. This takes away from a greater sense of outrage at the lawlessness in play, and to the town-under-siege scenario.

Some critics have complained that Cole and Hitch talk too much. I didn’t see the film that way at all. I thought they were laconic, direct, and chose their words carefully. A few deleted scenes actually helped fill in the blanks of their relationship and might have helped the film overall.

The least successful part of the film was the casting of Renee Zelweger as Allie French, a woman who tries to latch on to the most powerful man in the room, any room. She and Cole strike up a shaky relationship, but Zelweger just doesn’t seem to have the Femme Fatale qualities needed to do her role justice. In this case, additional scenes would not have helped. Deleted scenes with French, Cole and Hitch do not improve the film. Diane Lane was purportedly the first choice for the role, and she might have done more with it. It would have added another interesting connection to the Lonesome Dove series as well.

The DVD extras also describe how careful Harris and his staff were regarding authenticity. This shows. It’s something that recent westerns do much better than those made 40, 50, 60 years ago. Oddly enough, the further away we get from the actual time period, the more authentic movies seem to be. Getting the clothing just right, the town, the saddles, the guns. And the hats. Older westerns use hats they just didn’t wear in the 1870s and 1880s. More research is done for contemporary film than in the past. Producers hire more “experts” for historical purposes. Experts on weaponry, fashion, art. Audiences reap the rewards.

Here’s a trailer the film:

Appaloosa: Time Constraints and Film
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