The 80s saw the revival of many a bygone genre within the big-budget mainstream, with the Western especially producing a lot of hit-and-miss productions. One western in particular was done with considerably more zeal than others, and while it didn’t exactly set the box office on fire, Silverado has been embraced by western fans young and old alike – although it remains criminally overlooked here in the UK amongst the big 80s action-adventures to this day. An unashamedly overblown homage to the Classical Westerns of Ford and Hawks, Silverado’s clever plot device was that it didn’t have a classical plotline – it had four of them!
The story revolves around four men whose fates intertwine on the road to a small town named Silverado. Jake and Emmett are two brothers reunited when Emmett completes a five year sentence for killing a wealthy ranch owner in self defence back in their hometown of Silverado, where they are returning to say goodbye to their sister before heading on to California. When they get into town it causes friction with the ranch owner’s son: Ethan, who has inherited his father’s land and still harbours a grudge. Paden is an affable outlaw who is rescued by Emmett after being mugged and abandoned in the desert; he follows the brothers into town and runs into a dangerous former friend and comrade: Cobb, who is now the Sherriff of Silverado and in Ethan’s pocket. Mal is a disillusioned black man returning home to his father’s ranch just outside of Silverado who runs into and befriends Paden and the brothers on the road home, only to discover Ethan has been aggressively trying to harass his father off the family ranch. Four friends, four talented gunfighters, same destination, same foes - it can only end one way.
A capsule-length review probably cannot do justice to all the nods and cues to the great Westerns that are crammed into the not-insubstantial 132-minute runtime of Silverado. It’s just packed to the brim with rousing action sequences and classic shootouts that make two-hours-plus feel like under one hour. I’d rate it as one of the best action adventures of the decade, and an epic assault on the senses. John Bailey’s cinematography effectively captures the grandeur of the New Mexico locations, while Bruce Broughton’s score is a fantastic, soul-stirring tribute to the likes of Burnstein, Newman, and Moross.
Silverado’s stylistic excess is framed by a pretty brave script from Lawrence and Mark Kasdan that isn’t afraid to embrace the usual old clichés of the genre. It was written at a time in Kasdan’s career when he was churning out classic scripts like a man possessed: The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Return of the Jedi, and I feel Silverado is worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as all of them. He does a great job of characterising four really enjoyable and likeable protagonists whilst jumping in and out of each lead’s story arc and developing them entertainingly towards a big shootout at the end. He also populated the film with a big ensemble cast full of great actors and made a star out of Kevin Costner in the role of carefree man-child Jake. It’s an infectiously playful performance and the character really is the polar-opposite to the roles he would go on to play in his subsequent films, which hints at there being more facets to Costner as a character actor than we have yet to see.
Watching a film like Silverado always inspires a little heartache in me as I come to the realisation that they don’t make them like this anymore; they hadn’t made them like this for years before Silverado came out. I wonder how long we’ll have to wait for the next one.
The Disc: Sony have brought Silverado to High Definition with an extremely vibrant transfer that looks good enough to almost fool you that the film was shot yesterday. The most prominent aspect of this transfer is the intensity of the colour scheme, colours are deeply saturated in order to evoke the look of a classic western, so skies are lusciously blue and the New Mexico locations look pretty stunning with the golden blanket of sand blowing all over the place. Skin tones can appear red or golden depending on how each scene is lit, but I have to say the colours look gorgeous. Contrast and Brightness levels are excellently weighted, black levels are very solid and only dip on a few occasions – sometimes looking a little reddish, and shadow detail also remains very good throughout.
Grain and detail are also a hit, in general grain is kept to a light or moderate layer of pretty sharply defined grain (and some noise with a little colour in it) that has a bit of a Goldilocks feel where the amount is just right: there’s enough to lend the film a textured, film-like feel, but not so much grain that it will get in the way of detail. Detail is understandably lacking compared to today’s standards or most people’s idea of High Definition, but the image does look pretty damn sharp for a mid-80s film, and there doesn’t appear to be any serious noise reduction in play. Unfortunately what is noticeably in play is the sheer amount of edge enhancement in the image; pretty thick or sharp (or both) halos are omnipresent. Another, less prominent distraction is compression noise in the shape of blocking and banding, which aren’t tremendously noticeable in motion. The final shot of the film is also noticeably poorer it terms of quality of the print, and the image is grainer and softer.
Audio comes only in the form of Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks in the original English, French, or German. Silverado was a stereo film so purists will scoff at the lack of a 2.0 option, but the 5.1 remix sounds reasonably restrained and close to a 2.0 mix. Audio dynamics are very good and Broughton’s score sounds fantastic, with each instrument delicately defined, and yet you can always make out even the faintest of sound effects and dialogue. Bass levels are deep enough to drive the score and fool you that the film isn’t as old as it is, but naturally it’s not quite as well defined as a contemporary film - gunshots do sound nice and authentic though. The French and German tracks offer two completely differing audio presentations, although neither have been remastered like the English track so they don’t compete with that in terms of quality and clarity. In general the French track sounds older than the German and more hollow, but the German track is harsher on the ears. There are only three extra features on the disc, but they’re of decent length and informative enough to be well worth your time; the highlight being an excellent commentary track recorded with three experts on western films.