Not much is dying here other than this movie by the second half
There are 32 ways to die in the west according to A Million Ways to Die in the West’s dialog. Wolves, ice blocks, gunfights, sickness, bull stampedes, doctors… count ’em. It’s 32… ish.
Thirty two is 0.00319% of a million. They have a ways to go. That percentage also seems to best represent the editing effort put into Seth MacFarlane’s first live action starring gig, a stirringly funny hour long film which tacks on an entire second hour of drowsy humor and sloppy character.
Million Ways to Die is cognizant of its existence. Through pokey sheep farmer Albert (MacFarlane), we see the west as it was – naive, violent, awkward, and inherently dangerous. MacFarlane’s snappy approach instills a sense of logic rarely present in the genre, playing it smart despite wallowing in the torrent of sharp fart, sex, and penis gags. Lots of them.
MacFarlane isn’t peaked in terms of performance. He almost seems awkwardly uncomfortable when the lens is pointing his way, but no one else could do it like him either. There is a clear appreciation and deep knowledge base for the history of the Hollywood Western flickering across the screen, but not the sense to bring it to a close without catching each climactic finish the genre is known for.
The piece carries at least three different stopping points – since this is truly a film of numbers – plugged up by pace rotting dialog which is only on a high when spewing comedy. A lot of this movie doesn’t. Partly written by MacFarlane, the style is in place where gags are set-up with stale notes and then drug out to infinity.
All of the socially erect and self-depreciating humor is funny. Yet, so many of these gags lack a home in the story, or come out as improperly random, seizing the film’s second hour. There is enough intelligence (fart jokes take skill) to carry a short or TV special – assuming this brutally R-rated humor would work on cable. But, A Million Ways to Die doesn’t want to end. It’s proud, too proud, and benches itself as it rots away into comedic nothingness.
By the time it’s shutting down, MacFarlane and company are relying on Hollywood connections to pull through. Cameos are strutted along the screen as a desperate stimulant between moments of realization that a cliched narrative is actually essential. Million Ways to Die deals in all of them too, from the distressed damsels to bar brawls and noontime showdowns. What is does with them is interesting and hilarious, if so crookedly fit together as to feel out of place. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Movie]
Sony’s digital cameras capture a Universal feature without particularly stunning results when in reference to close-ups. Most feel foggy and hazed sans clean definition. Fine detail is as rare as one dollar bills to the wild west.
There are no signs of tampering. The spectacular views of Monument Valley are staggering in their natural beauty and resolution. So are shots of the town set. Natural rock/wood textures respectively are generous and the disc’s highlight.
Stressing systems with uber bright, sunlit contrast, Million Ways to Die is certainly bright. It’s the type of disc pushing limits with the camera work peering right into the sun, and additional post production work further adding a heavy bleaching effect to the sepia tinted color scheme. On the flipside, there are satisfying blacks which don’t reach too deep, but still produce the necessary depth as required by those nighttime fireside chats.
Universal’s AVC encoding work keeps the space clean even as some noise pops up in spots. Few instances could be considered egregious. Mostly, the work is clean and helped along by some of the more intense levels of brightness in recent memory. It’s striking. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]
Say what you wish for the content of the movie, but the clear winner is Joel McNeely’s score. It’s beautifully orchestrated and pours from this DTS-HD mix without fault. Instruments whip through the soundstage and spread wide through the fronts. Clarity is immense.
Million Ways to Die has a few other moments too, including a hilariously brutal bar brawl and horse chase sequence with hooves panning across the speakers. A steam engine will carry over into the LFE too. Much of the film is sonically flat though except for outdoor gunfire with has a nice carry into each channel as they ring into the air. Dialog is centered without motion and chances for ambiance are few. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]
A crowded commentary packs in Seth MacFarlane with co-star Charlize Theron, and frequent collaborators/co-writers Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild. You can also choose an unrated cut, but that will add 20 minutes to an already overlong feature
Seven deleted scenes include alternate takes, with a pair of alt opening/endings featured separately. A gag reel is expectantly priceless while two featurettes bomb a bit. Once Upon a Time in a Different West is a standard making of work, and The Good, the Bad, and the Increasingly Decreasing Population details the actors.
A Fistful of Dirt in Your Mouth is the best of this trio as it relays information about the frequently film-visited Monument Valley location, and also the final piece on the disc. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Extras]
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.