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