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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Little House on the Prairie - The Pilot
Little House on the Prairie - The Pilot
Tango // Unrated // July 8, 2003 // Region 0
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted July 26, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

Laura Ingalls Wilder's series of Little House on the Prairie books, recounting her family's journeys in search of a better life on the frontier lands of the western U.S., have been beloved family classics for decades, and for good reason: the stories evoke the pioneer life in vivid detail for children and adults alike. In 1974, the Little House stories came to the television screen in the pilot episode of what would become an extremely popular and long-running show.

As the double-length pilot episode starts, the Ingalls family is setting off from their old home in the Big Woods of Wisconsin to head out to Kansas in search of a better life. The story follows the family during their challenging journey and their attempt to settle down and establish themselves as farmers in the newly opened territory. It's an interesting story, and while the beginning is a little oddly paced, the story soon settles down into an engaging and entertaining adventure featuring likable and realistic characters.

Little House on the Prairie: The Pilot is different from the subsequent series in a number of ways. For one thing, it follows the narrative of one of Wilder's books (Little House on the Prairie, which also gives its name to the series overall) very faithfully, while the later television series is clearly just "inspired by" the books, taking the general situation and characters and a few story ideas but not following any of the later books in detail. The pilot episode also focuses more closely on Laura's perspective and experiences, while the television show would end up shifting away from her to spend more time on the other characters as well.

More interestingly, the pilot episode is much more faithful to the original books in its tone and characters than the later television series would be. The characters presented here are very accurately drawn from the books, and as such they behave like people of their time really did. For instance, Pa's relationship to Laura, while clearly a very loving one, is also more strict than it would later be in the series; when he gives the children an order, he expects it to be obeyed. Likewise, Ma's intense dislike of Indians is clearly presented here, as it is in the books, while the later television series opts for a more politically correct, tolerant attitude. In short, the pilot episode is a fairly accurate depiction of Laura Ingalls Wilder's family and childhood experiences on the prairie, while the television series that followed it could be described more as "liberal 1970s family transplanted into a pioneer setting." That's not to say that the full-fledged series was completely inaccurate or unfaithful to the books, because it does handle the material reasonably well; it's just that the pilot episode does it better.

There's still plenty of ways in which the pilot episode accurately represents what the full-fledged series would be like. We get to know all the characters: Laura, Ma and Pa Ingalls, Mary, and little Carrie. We also get a generous helping of sappy sentimentality in the Christmas portion of the story, complete with lingering full-face reaction shots of all the family being joyous and happy.

The pilot episode stands alone quite well as a television movie as well as the starting point for the subsequent series; it's certainly worth watching even if you don't intend to follow up on the rest of the series.

The DVD

Video

The image quality of the Little House pilot falls below average. The image, which is presented in its original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1, offers a reasonably bright and clean picture in well-lit scenes, with colors looking bright and natural, but as soon as the light level drops the image quality deteriorates. Scenes in moderate light, such as those that take place indoors, have a brownish tint and look grainy; any scenes in poorly lit areas or at night are almost devoid of detail, with the contrast being far too heavy and making the entire scene look black.

Audio

The sound quality really is unacceptable here, substantially distracting from the enjoyment of watching the program. The sound overall is very muffled, so that much of the dialogue is difficult to understand. On top of that, the volume is very badly balanced between dialogue and music; if you adjust the volume so that the dialogue is properly audible, the music blasts uncomfortably loudly.

Extras

The only special feature here is a set of cast biographies.

Final thoughts

The 95-minute pilot episode of Little House on the Prairie stands alone quite well as an entertaining and very accurate rendering of Laura Ingalls Wilder's classic children's book, as well as the starting point for the popular television show. If I were just considering the content, I'd certainly give this a "recommended," but considering the sub-par video quality and dreadful sound, I'll have to down-grade it to a "rent it."

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