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A Million Ways to Die in the West
Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/7/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/4/2014
I don't like the word "contrarian", but I often find myself being labeled with it. Is it true that in the past I've disliked things that many others have liked and vice-versa? Sure, but that doesn't make me a contrarian. I'm not going out of my way to make those statements -- I'm simply stating my opinion and I never pull any punches when it comes to writing reviews. Take 2012's Ted for example. The movie made $218 million dollars in the U.S. alone and received favorable reviews, and yet, it did nothing for me. Now, animation mogul Seth MacFarlane is back with his second feature film, A Million Ways to Die in the West. Despite my disappointment with Ted and my dis-interest in westerns, I'll be approaching this one with an open mind.
Albert (Seth MacFarlane) lives in a 19th Century town on the Western frontier and he hates it. Life as a sheep farmer isn't fulfilling, danger lies in every direction, and to make matters worse, his girlfriend, Louise (Amanda Seyfried), has just dumped him for Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), the town dandy. Albert confides in his best friend, Edward (Giovanni Ribisi), that he's simply ready to leave town. That all changes when Anna (Charlize Theron) arrives. She's not like any other woman that Albert has every met, not only because she's tough and a great shot, but because she shows interest in Albert. She agrees to help Albert make Louise jealous by posing as his girlfriend. What Albert doesn't know is that Anna is the wife of Clinch (Liam Neeson), the meanest outlaw in the territory.
Given that A Million Ways to Die in the West comes from the mind of Seth MacFarlane this may be an unnecessary statement, but this is a weird movie. The concept is pretty clear -- In nearly every way possible, this is supposed to look and feel and sound (just check out that sweeping score) like a real Western movie. The film was shot in Monument Valley where many famous Westerns were made and there is a true attention to detail in the sets and props. In essence, the story is the stuff of classic Westerns, as the town coward must find his courage and face an outlaw. And Kudos to MacFarlane for sticking with this concept. For a director who has made cartoons and one other feature film, the movie is filled with impressive landscape shots which show the vast beauty of the area.
The catch is that Albert (and to an extent, Anna) is almost like a time-traveler from the future who has been plopped down in this time and place. Therefore he comments on his archaic and dangerous everything is. He questions the dress, customs, and even the humor of the period. Albert attempts to be the voice of reason in a wild place, and thus he's treated with distrust by others. Only he can see how absurd everything is.
Does this sound like sort of a high-minded concept coming from the man who made a hit movie about a foul-mouthed teddy bear? It is, and that may explain why the box-office success of this movie (or lack thereof) paled in comparison to Ted. Some of the humor here approaches a nerdy Mystery Science Theater 3000 quality as Albert comments on the movie which he's in. He never breaks the fourth wall, but things get awfully meta as he asks why things are funny or why they must happen. I can see how those who perhaps aren't used to how MacFarlane's Family Guy loves to point out the foibles of pop culture may be thrown by this. However, A Million Ways to Die in the West has a blue streak as well, as the film is filled with wall-to-wall profanity and scatological jokes. This is truly an R-rated comedy as we are bombarded by sex jokes and animal genitalia.
The problem is that these two approaches don't always blend. The film seems to be bringing us the two sides of MacFarlane's comic mind and instead of working in unison, they are constantly at odds. It would be difficult for any filmmaker to follow a sex joke with an astute observation, and it often seems that MacFarlane is working too hard to keep everyone in the audience happy, thus the movie lacks flow at times. But, that's not to say that it isn't funny. The clever jokes here do work and when MacFarlane isn't bowing to the lowest common denominator, the film is hilarious. I felt that Ted often went for the cheap and obvious joke, where A Million Ways to Die in the West is much more absurd and will brings the laughs from an unexpected place.
Some have questioned MacFarlane's decision to make himself the leading man here, but I thought he did fine. He's not a natural actor, but that actually works for Albert, as he's supposed to be someone who doesn't fit in. The scenes between MacFarlane and Theron are really worth examining, as they feature either the best or worst acting which I've seen in a while. It's amazing how organic these scenes are and they feel as if someone turned the camera on a casual conversation. This helps to make Anna make more likable, as Theron can easily come across as cold at times. The rest of the cast are clearly up for MacFarlane's games and seem to be having a great time.
Seth MacFarlane has yet to truly find his voice as a feature filmmaker. One gets the sense that he's still just a kid in a candy store having the time of his life. A Million Ways to Die in the West looks fantastic and certainly lands some solid jokes, but it's also unbalanced and doesn't live up to the level of humor produced by some classic episodes of Family Guy. Perhaps the third time will be the charm for Seth.
A Million Ways to Die in the West needed more of the stuffed duck on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The landscape shots noted above show off gorgeous amounts of depth and the picture is very detailed as well. The colors look good, most notably the few glimpses of bright colors and the image is never overly dark or bright. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.2 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. From the opening, we are immersed in the music, which fills the speakers and enlivens the subwoofer. The surround effects are notable, as the fair scene and anything involving animals brings the rear speakers into the mix. The stereo effects display good separation.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long