Appaloosa (2008, New Line)
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Even with a DVD release, New Line Cinema pays as little respect to Ed Harris’ brilliant sophomore directorial piece Appaloosa as they did upon its theatrical bow.

When Appaloosa was about to hit theaters, there was so little promotion for it, many people didn’t even know it was about to come out. Then when it did debut, its theatrical performance was so poor thanks to mishandled marketing and competition from much higher profile movies such as Eagle Eye, Miracle at St. Anna and the surprise hit Fireproof, it never had a real chance to make back its modest $20 million budget.

It’s a shame, because Appaloosa–based on the Robert Parker novel about two earnest and fearless lawmen-for-hire (Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen) who vow to bring to justice an equally evil and fearless murdering rancher (Jeremy Irons)–is a bitingly honest portrayal of men who believe in doing what is right while punishing those who prey upon the fearful, and the difficulties that ensue in achieving their goal when a woman (Renee Zellweger) comes between them.

The DVD has just come out, and the slipshod packaging of the product is so unremarkable that if you hadn’t heard of Appaloosa before and happened to see it on the shelf at your local video store, you’d think this was some slapped-together straight-to-DVD quickie that the cast members would hope you wouldn’t recognize their names on.

The write-up on the back of the DVD cover, which is supposed to entice a potential buyer into picking it up, is written with all the excitement and literary flair one would find in the write-up on the back of a Hellraiser: Part 59 box cover. Many DVDs these days either come out as 2 disc special editions, or with a separate disc allowing owners to make digital copies of the film. Hell, even that Jessica Alba floating turd The Eye got special treatment! Not so with Appaloosa, which comes as a single disc and–as if to openly display New Line’s disdain for the film’s lack of box office success–with both wide and full-screen options on the selfsame disc; a virtual blood oath that no other versions will ever be forthcoming.

A DVD like Appaloosa‘s should be bristling with extras to compensate for the crappy packaging. However, we are presented with only five, in addition to the commentary by director/writer/producer Harris and screenwriter/co-producer Robert Knott (making his debut in both areas on this film). The commentary, by the way, is as low-key as they come…for once, not the fault of New Line. Harris is just such a low-tone guy that you almost have to sit forward to hear him speak, and Knott doesn’t chime in with his own opinions until nearly the halfway point of the film. It’s a modestly informative commentary, but unless you are really, really, really a fan of just Ed Harris’ voice, you’d be advised to skip it.

You’ll definitely learn more from the other extras. Bringing the Characters of Appaloosa to Life reveals how Ed Harris became aware of the novel and quickly chose to work on the project, along with how the central characters of Virgil Cole (Harris) and Everett Hitch (Mortensen) relate to one another. Harris also brings to light the fact that the entire crew worked for next to nothing to bring the film to life. Historic Accuracy of Appaloosa goes into the striking attention to detail on every level–costumes, sets, props–which help add to the realism of the film. The Town of Appaloosa delves into the fictional history of the town, which aided the production designers in creating this veracious locale. Dean Semler’s Return to the Western goes into the deep passion this legendary cinematographer (Dances with Wolves, Apocalypto) has for shooting his movies.

Sadly, the six deleted scenes are also nothing to rave about. Harris explains why he shot them, and his reasoning makes sense…but if these scenes were included, it’s obvious they would have slowed the movie’s pace down significantly, and it wouldn’t be the small treasure that it is now.

All these quibbles aside though, the real reason to own Appaloosa on DVD is obviously for the movie itself…and it is a triumph of solid direction, strong performances, crisp, witty and insightful dialogue and overall a wonderfully composed picture. As I said earlier, it deserved a better fate at the box office than it received; now that it’s out on DVD, pick up a copy and see for yourself. It definitely deserves your attention and is worthy of being added to your collection.

There is a moment during the film’s deleted scenes where Ed Harris comments about one moment, stating that if there’s ever a director’s cut, the scene will be included. Indeed, there have been rumors on some sites about such a possibility down the line. Based on New Line’s handling of this release however, I believe these rumors to be nothing more than pipe dreams, which is truly a shame. Because while the movie’s tagline states “Feelings get you killed”…they also make for one hell of a great viewing experience.