"Lonesome Dove" DVD Review
October 22, 2008 by Zach Demeter
Although it’d been put on DVD before, Lonesome Dove never received the treatment it quite deserved. Now the series arrives with digitally remastered sound, as well as an all-new widescreen transfer created just for the “Collector’s Edition” release. With the long-loved mini-series now available on Blu-ray and DVD, a whole new generation of movie goers and film collectors will be able to experience what is often considered to the best western ever made.
With an all-star cast helmed by Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones, Lonesome Dove brought back what was, at the time of the original mini-series airing, a dead genre. With every conceivable western story effectively having been done on the silver screen, Lonesome Dove defied not only the viewing publics ideas of what a western could be, but also the network that hosted the mini-series (CBS). Although a simple story in nature, the mini-series, based off of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name, takes stars Duvall and Jones as Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call, a pair of longtime friends and former Texas Rangers who go on one last adventure together.
While I was only two when the mini-series first aired, I’d heard of it amidst reading about other western films over the years. While I’m not a die-hard western lover, I do enjoy them and recent efforts including 3:10 to Yuma have proven to be some of my favorite films as of late. I dug into the Comanche Moon mini-series that arrived on DVD earlier this year, but, while I enjoyed it, it was nothing I was blown away by. Although I enjoyed it, I wasn’t sure if it was just because I hadn’t seen many westerns or not, but by the time I was actually able to sit down with the original Lonesome Dove mini-series, I realized that the westerns I’d seen before weren’t anywhere near as good as this.
Since I didn’t grow up with westerns or even this mini-series, I never made an effort o see it simply based on the fact it was a made-for-TV mini-series. That carries certain connotations and they’re almost always negative. Rarely does anyone ever come off of a two-hour TV original movie and actually say “well I’m glad I sat in front of the two hours for that” and even rarer do they actually say that about a mini-series that runs three times that length. The task of watching this series was daunting to me based solely on the fact it was over six hours long and something I’d never seen before. By the time I actually did sit down with it, I became so engrossed in the story that the hours flew by.
The real draw of the film is the characters. While the TV format is often the one with the lower budget, its benefit is, without a doubt, the characterization that it is allowed to have. Often films resort to fleshing out only a few of its characters due to its short run time, but with Lonesome Dove, time can be afforded to be spent on even the lesser characters who would otherwise only show up as a blip on the radar. Their contribution may not be all that major in the big picture, but the fact we’re able to even explore their story is a pleasure.
Since the series is based on a cattle drive filled with men from various walks of life, we’re given plenty of time to get to know each and every one of them. No one is left out and each one is given a full back story and plenty of dialogue between them all paints a stronger picture of who they are as individuals. While we can enjoy the supporting cast without hindrance, the stars of the film are the real reason to spend your time with the mini-series. Duvall and Jones are absolutely fantastic in their roles as polar opposite ex-Texas Rangers. Their friendship throughout the six hours is what keeps your interest going and by the end of the first installment of the series, it became clear to me why so many had adorned it with the “Best Western” moniker.
With plenty of beautiful scenery to make up the visuals of the mini-series, there is no shortage of things to feast your eyes on. On top of the scenery is action that is spread throughout the mini-series and its remarkable to me just how extremely good this series remains to be after nearly ten years since it aired. The budget couldn’t have been that big for a mini-series, but the writing and script is so top notch that it’s hard to believe that it was made so long ago.
While I don’t know if it’ll be my “favorite” western of all time, it is certainly deserving of the awards that were bestowed upon it. It is a truly remarkable mini-series and after spending so much time with the cast of the series, it felt like saying goodbye to an old friend after it was all over. I have honestly nothing bad to say about the series, as it afforded its time perfectly, never feeling too long in spots or fast in others. It’s a perfect balance of writing, actors and visuals that make for an incredible movie going experience. Highly Recommended.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a copy of the Blu-ray edition of the series to review, although if I had I’m sure I’d be even more impressed by the visuals of the series. Even in standard definition, however, the mini-series looks fantastic. Before I get into the video and audio portion, however, let’s talk about the presentation. The packaging is a standard two-disc amaray case with an embossed slipcover mirroring the art beneath it. Inside are the two discs and an insert containing the original poster for the mini-series as well as a letter from director Simon Wincer talking about how he came to work on the project. Menus for the set are nicely done and easy to navigate.
Since I hadn’t seen the original, I had no idea what to expect from a cropped transfer such as the one presented here. I had expected something to look like it was tossed off to the side or someones head missing, but oddly enough I didn’t notice a single instance where something seemed “out of place.” I was honestly looking too, as I don’t think a 4x3 show can transition to 16x9 quite as well as this one did, unless it was made for it. Perhaps it was, I don’t know; but there isn’t a single frame that looks out of place. In fact, when watching the extras on the set, the full screen ratio almost seems less engrossing, with lots of empty area. Simply put, the ratio change is for the better and I can’t imagine watching the series in fullscreen—the change was definitely for the better. The included 5.1 mix is also quite engaging, although it seems to have gotten a bit overzealous in surround work, as I don’t think I’ve even heard modern mixes flip around speakers quite so much, but it’s still a fantastic mix all around.
The extras for the set are a mix of the old and new and we start off with "On Location with Director Simon Wincer" (15:04) has Wincer taking us through the locations for the film while “Blueprints of a Masterpiece: Original Sketches and Concept Drawings” (3:36) shows off a slideshow of images from the series production set to the mini-series score. Up next is "Remembering Lonesome Dove: Vintage Interviews with the Cast" (13:38) and includes a series of interviews with the mini-series cast that was recorded during the original production.
"Lonesome Dove Montage" (3:13) is a clip show and “Interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning Author Larry McMurtry” (6:49) talks about the authors feelings towards the mini-series and how it came to be. Our final extra arrives on the second disc of the set and is the “Lonesome Dove: Making of an Epic” (49:27) that is touted on the back of the set as the big extra to check out. Oddly enough it seems to be a vintage piece, made up of old footage that looks to be shot around the same time as the cast interviews. The only disappointing thing about all of this, of course, is that while it is new footage to viewers who owned the previous DVD releases, it isn’t newly recorded. There is no retrospective feature with the director or cast, so there’s nothing really to give us any perspective on it all, which is a disappointment.
In any case, this set is definitely worth picking up. Even though I’m not reviewing the Blu-ray edition, since they’re both comparably priced with only a $10 difference between the two, I’d spring for the Blu-ray edition if possible. It promises an even better video transfer, although the audio mix looks to be the same. With either release, however, you can’t go wrong—it’s a fantastic series that still manages to blow away the viewer to this day. Highly Recommended.
Lonesome Dove: Collector’s Edition is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.