Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid: Special Edition

January 28, 2012 11 Min Read

Review by: Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

After the success of The Getaway, Sam Peckinpah brought to the big screen a story that took him years to make but took him even less to struggle with. It’s a Western story that’s been brought to the screen many times before but one that would have a more casual pace and a tone that differs from not only the versions that have been made from the past but also from the usual Peckinpah film as well. It’s a few musicians, some Peckinpah regulars, a who’s who of Western character actors and the tale of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

It’s a few years before the twentieth century and it’s a normal day of target practice for outlaw William H. Bonney aka Billy The Kid (Kris Kristofferson) but a shotgun blast to the target is a startling but welcome addition to his and his gang’s day. That blast came from fellow outlaw Pat Garrett (James Coburn) a friend of Bonney’s who shares a drink and discusses his moving up in the world and getting closer to abiding by the law. Billy presumes he’d never get killed by Pat because of their friendship, but it doesn’t take long until the law catches up with Billy and thus begins the tale of how two men on both sides still have a bit of an outlaw in them both.

Sam Peckinpah’s credits always had a unique visual way of bringing in the mood of the picture and had an even more effective way of going away from the order of “star status”. Therefore, some actors that are shown at the beginning of the order (with the exception of Coburn and Kristofferson) have shorter screen time than some of the character actors in the movie. This is only one element to this stunning picture that takes its time to get to it’s path but also develops them both in the smallest and quietest of scenes showing the slow pace of a manhunt for one.

There are obstacles in the form of other characters that do play with the expectation of the simple story but those obstacles add slightly to the film and stay to the side giving more way for the struggle of both men of the title. Peckinpah also retains his gritty action along with the slight sense of chaos that’s evident in the majority of his films even if it’s for the shortest scene.

Both Coburn and Kristofferson’s performances are reserved and hit at the right time when the menacing side of their characters need to show way as well as their inner side. The audience might say that both of them are one in the same and proven so throughout the piece. What’s also most intriguing is the appearance of singer Bob Dylan in the role of Alias, a careful observer who’s a witness to both sides of the story. His role might not be clear to audiences but hearing his score for the film might make more sense than just an interacting witness to both of these men and the pursuit.

In this edition, there are two versions of this film , there’s the 2005 Special Edition on disc 1 (which is barely less than 2 hours) and the 1988 Turner Preview Edition on disc 2(which is barely over 2 hours). Both lead to the same conclusion but differ visually. There are scenes in both that are added and taken away but both sum up struggle with the inner outlaw in two friends and the greed that the long arm of the law blinding the friendship. Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid is a patient but stunning character study that is unlike any film about the West any viewer will ever come across and displays just like Sylvester Stallone noted in Demolition Man, that even the Wild West wasn’t so wild.

Video: How does it look?

Both versions are shown in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation and while the Preview Edition retains its slightly rough state and it’s cigarette burns in the corner of the screen and some print debris, the Special Edition is a better looking tightly paced transfer that removes all that lingers on the Preview Edition. The colors are much more clearer on the SE as well as the palette brightening at the right times as well as keeping a good contrast in the dark scenes as well. Both however retain the glorious site of the skies which are evident in almost all of Peckinpah films and they both are pleasant to watch. A very nice job for both despite some Preview flaws. (The score on the review reflects the average of both cuts).

Audio: How does it sound?

The Dolby Digital Mono track is retained on both version but the Preview version on all channels is more evidentally flawed with a choppy looping effect to characters off camera that’s more evident than on the SE of the film. Both remain on the same wavelength of decent despite the limitations of sound equipment of the time but the SE goes slightly better thanks to a few additions to the track. The Bob Dylan score and the dialogue come out all channels with great clarity and both make for good tracks with the SEs being slightly superior. This disc also has a French Mono track on the Special Edition along with English, French and Spanish Subtitles on both versions.

Supplements: What are the extras?

As if both versions aren’t extras themselves, (and this viewer recommends viewing the Preview version first), there are a few others divided amongst both discs along the way. First, there’s a Peckinpah Trailer Gallery on disc 1 covering all titles from the Peckinpah Westerns Collection along with The Getaway and the James Dean Collection trailer as well (no individual trailers for any of the Dean films).

Along with that on both discs are 2 different commentary tracks with 2 new audio episodes of Peckinpah’s Past from Peckinpah’s Present using all four of the speakers from all things Sam Peckinpah and they are… David Weddle, Garner Simmons, Paul Seydor and moderator Nick Redman. To sum it up, both versions cover all the bases and compliment each other as well as educating this viewer with the difference between the literal meaning of a director’s cut and a fine cut of a film. It also delves into the preference of all four speakers of both versions of the film.

Traveling over to disc 2, there are 3 featurettes and it starts off with Deconstructing Pat and Billy, (15 minutes) which goes into the studio struggle with Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid told by commentator Paul Seydor and Peckinpah assistant Katy Haber documenting the filming and a slight peek at the special edition along with slight mentions of comments made on the two versions of the film which even though repetitive are welcome into the flow of the piece.

Next there is One Foot Into the Groove: Remembering Sam Peckinpah and Other Things with Nick Redman interviewing star Kris Kristofferson and fellow band member Donnie Fritts who had a small part in this and a few other Peckinpah features together. They both discuss their start in songwriting and music and their memories of Sam which is spoken at great length in the form of some great stories and a fun listen to them both.

I was slightly disappointed by the viewing of a guitar through some of the piece and having it put for just display purposes and not for playing. This lasted only a few seconds when I viewed the third and last featurette entitled One For The Money and Sam’s Song in which Kris sang both songs that he wrote for Sam and performed when Peckinpah passed on. What this viewer would’ve given to be in that same room with these two musicians harmonizing with the great lyrics and the melody as it was a pleasure to listen to and see.

Some of the best titles take it’s time and in the end it pays to wait and no statement can be truer than that for the new release of Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid and while it’s 2 discs are full of info and extras and two cuts of the film, it’s one of many solid titles in this new Peckinpah Collection that adds more onto the greatness of Peckinpah on DVD.

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