One of the joys of reviewing DVDs for a living/hobby/obsession is the occasional discovery of something really outstanding. It doesn't happen often enough, and most of the time, a reviewer sees nothing but mindnumbing, skull soaking sameness. It's a miserable mantra - nothing is great. Nothing is awful. It like a flatlining EKG - no emotion...no excitement...no life whatsoever. So when we witness something new and novel, there is a tendency to go overboard, to praise the perception right out of the evaluation. This newly discovered gem may not be the second coming of cinema, but we react so simply because we've been lulled into a sense of substandard complacency, and latch onto anything that seems real, inventive, or original. It is safe to say, however, that The Legend of God's Gun is not just one of these kneejerk joy-fests. Instead, pals and filmmaking partners Mike Bruce and Kirkpatrick Thomas have managed a miracle. They've made a celebration of the spaghetti western that both deconstructs and immortalizes what made this movie format shine. And they do so in a way that creates an astounding entertainment experience.
When his woman is killed by dire desperados, a gunslinger turned Preacher disappears into myth. Meanwhile, a Bounty Hunter is chasing scorpion poison drinking bad man El Sobero. During a desert shoot-out, he manages to capture one of the bastard's accomplices. Without a horse, our ersatz lawman must drag the body all the way back to the small town of Playa Diablo to collect the $1000 reward. In the tiny burg, the Sheriff suspects his wife is having an affair with his Deputy. Before he can confront the couple, he's in a showdown with El Sobero. After the bullets have settled, our hombre decides to destroy the village. Little does he know that the church he is burning down belongs to the man who's Missus he raped and killed long ago. With his trusty Bible in hand, and a very itchy trigger finger, we are about to witness the final standoff between good and evil. On the one side is a scruffy, sinister outlaw. On the other is a man of the cloth, and The Legend of God's Gun.
Like El Topo on even more peyote, or a spaghetti western as directed by Kenneth Anger channeling Federico Fellini, The Legend of God's Gun is an absolute masterpiece of style over surreal and slightly stereotyped substance. A homemade horse opera, shot of video and put through a millions different digital and post-production elements to create a cacophony of illustrative explosions, the result is a mindf*ck as episode of the hallucinogenic death metal version of Sugarfoot. With as much in common with the works of Jodoworski and Leone as those of Dennis Hooper (especially The Last Movie) and Sam Raimi (the quirky The Quick and the Dead), the end product is something so invigorating, so jam--packed with implausible pleasures that we really don't mind the inconsistent acting or lack of linear storytelling. Sure, some could argue that this is all arch artifice subbing for art, people role playing the Fistful films for the sake of some specious post-modern homage. But because of the loving care director Mike Bruce takes with the overall look of the action, and the numerous knowing beats provided by screenwriter Kirkpatrick Thomas, we get something more than just a glorified geekville serenade. Instead, this is inventive eye candy poised as categorical creativity, a fascinating cinematic case study given a whole new technological shimmer thanks to the 'anything goes' availability of amazing aesthetic tools.
If you want an illustration of how much tweaking this title has taken, quickly fast forward to the credits. After some cool actor title cards and a music video, we witness a selection of outtakes and gaffs. Captured in their original camcorder conceit, these sequences look amateurish at best. The substandard acting and less than successful framing feel just like a hundred other homemade movies. But the minute Bruce puts the footage through his PC, manipulating the compositions and adding ancillary pizzazz, the movie magic arrives. Colors are washed out and bleached, the basic backdrop rendered hot, arid, and sinister. Instead of performers plodding around a set, we see sinister shadows and iconic silhouettes. There is a stellar use of artifact elements like split screen, the fish eye lens, psychedelic kaleidoscope effects, radiant glare, and freeze framing, creating an old school sense of time and temperament. And since the story is told in snippets, providing ample room for spectacle and bullet sprays, an overall conceit is created. It's clear that Bruce is a fan of the '60s revisionist variation on the oater, but he's also a clear cut fan of comics, the music of Ennio Morricone, experimental artists like David Lynch and Luis Bunuel, and Hong Kong action films. He also has an exceptional ability to combine disparate objects and ideas and force them to gel in a genuinely brilliant manner. Thanks to his outright innovation and the riffs from all the references floating around The Legend of God's Gun makes for a heady cinematic stew.
For some, the only flaw will be the rather thin story. Kirkpatrick Thomas' take on this kind of narrative is Leone-lite. He's got the stare downs and the stand-offs right, but he doesn't have a feel for deeper meaning. A film like Once Upon a Time in the West is overloaded with existential internalizing and mannered metaphysicality, making the movie more about the people than the barren locales they live in. Bruce tries for some of said tension, but he's incapable of holding his camera that long. In addition, the plot is pretty obvious. When we are introduced to the gunslinger, he's jettisoned too quickly to not be represented somewhere else in the events. Similarly, the Bounty Hunter is continually relied upon to provide exposition and humor, and yet he seems more slight than substantive. Luckily, the film's fascinating look and incredible invention more than make up for a lack of compelling context. This is a tumbleweed 300 for the gonzo grindhouse set, a movie made specifically for those who enjoy seeing as much as sensing the scope of their epic entertainment. Guaranteed to burn a blissful place in the back of your retinas while recalling every retro reevaluation of the Wild West paradigm, The Legend of God's Gun is a classic waiting to be discovered. It may appear like nothing more than fans foaming over their favorite style of cinema, but sometimes, greatness can be achieved with such minor intentions. That's definitely the case here.
In a word - STUNNING. This is an amazing looking movie, given some imaginative wear and tear thanks to purposeful grain, fake smudges, consistent dirt and age spots, and several emulsion 'scars' running down the length of the frame. The colors - or occasional lack thereof - literally explode off the screen, and the amount of detail and contrast clarity is startling. This is a near flawless recreation of a worn out drive-in print. Sadly, the DVD image (self distributed by Razor Tree Films) is NON-ANAMORPHIC. The transfer does employ a 1.85:1 letterboxed dynamic, but the lack of a 16x9 option is aggravating to say the least. Something this visually sumptuous needs all of its composition space to make its case.
Again, what we have here is absolutely remarkable. Spindrift, a band led by actor/writer Thomas, recreates the Mediterranean musical vibe of this genre effortlessly, and their score is just sensational. The Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 mix does a marvelous job of capturing its copycat cadences, setting the atmosphere for the action with perfect pioneer pitching. The dialogue is easily discernible, though it frequently feels dubbed or delivered via ADR. It doesn't really matter, though. Such a situation helps maintain the aura of authenticity for this kind of film.
Sadly, the only added content offered on this direct purchase DVD is a trailer, and an insert containing an overview of the production. It's very basic and anecdotal, and gives us none of the technical explanations we long for. Hopefully, a big distributor picks up The Legend of God's Gun and gives it the full blown special edition treatment. The movie definitely deserves it, and it would be great to hear Bruce and the gang speak for themselves.
There is only one facet keeping this amazing movie from earning the highest accolade DVD Talk can deliver (the Collector's Series tag) and that's the bare bones digital packaging. With more bells and whistles, and a mandatory collection of context, we'd end up with one of the best discs of the entire year. Still, because the film itself is so strong and deserving of attention, it easily earns a Highly Recommended rating. You will not see anything so optically engaging and creatively crafty in the next four months as you will experience in The Legend of God's Gun. It's an amazing masterwork masquerading as a bunch of buddies making a movie. Sure, the story may appear addled, and we don't really know what to make of the characters, but when one's brain is overloaded with this much visual vibrancy, it doesn't really matter. Such home theater happiness doesn't come around that often. One should just simmer down and drink...it...in!