A couple weeks back while working my way through the landmark Seventies miniseries James A. Michener's Centennial, I lamented the sad fact that the broadcast television networks rarely make multi-part films or limited run series of any substance anymore. While the reasons are many -- cable networks have taken over duties when it comes to prestige, multi-part projects; broadcast networks have cashed in on quick, cheap and very profitable reality television -- the absence is nevertheless keenly felt when sitting down to re-visit such neo-classics as Lonesome Dove.
Based upon Texas author Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize-winning tome, Lonesome Dove is, at its core, the tale of two lifelong friends, Woodrow F. Call (Tommy Lee Jones) and Gus McCrae (Robert Duvall), former Texas Rangers who spend their days running a cattle ranch in the town of Lonesome Dove. Both men seem more or less content with the laid-back lifestyle until their mutual pal Jake Spoon (Robert Urich), on the run for having murdered a government official, inspires the men to launch a cattle drive north toward Montana, some 2,500 miles away.
It's at once as simple and as complicated as that -- Woodrow and Gus set off on an epic adventure that revives romances, places lives in jeopardy and provides these two friends with one last great adventure in the twilight of their years.
By turns poignant, harrowing and breathtaking, Lonesome Dove never fails to captivate during its more than 380 minutes. Add to this elemental, engaging narrative a top-shelf cast -- aside from the typically stellar Jones, Duvall and Urich, Danny Glover, Diane Lane, Anjelica Huston, Chris Cooper, Barry Corbin, William Sanderson, Rick Schroder, Frederic Forrest, D.B. Sweeney and Glenne Headly all turn in top-notch work as part of the expansive ensemble. Couple that with Wincer's steady direction and Douglas Milsome's exquisite cinematography and it's not difficult to see how so many generations of film fans have fallen in love again and again with Lonesome Dove. (While it's certainly magnificent, I dunno about "greatest Western ever," Houston Chronicle.)
This miniseries famously began life -- as is pointed out frequently in the supplements -- as a film screenplay, penned by McMurtry for Peter Bogdanovich to direct in the Sixties with John Wayne, Henry Fonda and James Stewart starring. (In case you're wondering, various sites report that Jones took the Wayne role, Duvall took the Stewart part and Urich took Fonda's part.) That version never materialized and the material sat abandoned until McMurtry revived it for his 1985 novel. In a way, it became a miniseries at the right time.
As Wincer writes in the brief letter included as an insert, the Western was more or less dead at the time of Lonesome Dove's creation, but cannily, it anticipated the genre's return to prominence, what with Kevin Costner's 1990 Oscar-winning opus Dances with Wolves and Clint Eastwood's own awards magnet, 1992's Unforgiven.
If you've never experienced the film, you should -- Lonesome Dove has the breadth and heft of richly drawn literature, an involving, intimate epic that will linger long after the final frames fade. Previously released in 2002 on a fairly slender double-disc edition, this new, two-disc set features an anamorphic image for the first time, as well as a 5.1 soundtrack and a wealth of bonus features expanding upon what was previously offered. More details on the supplements below.
In a welcome update from the initial DVD release, the four-part Lonesome Dove is, at last, presented in a fine-looking 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. According to IMDb, the miniseries was originally composed for a widescreen presentation but (and since I missed the original broadcast on CBS, please correct me if I'm wrong) was aired in a 1.33:1 format, a presentation which survived to the 2002 DVD. Restored to its widescreen glory (the package claims the image is "digitally re-mastered"), Douglas Milsome's evocative cinematography is allowed to breathe; the black levels are solid, colors are vivid and detail is excellent. An overall solid visual representation.
As with the 2002 DVD release, the aural end of things has likewise been spruced up, with this latest, two-disc incarnation now offering a "digitally re-mastered" Dolby Digital 5.1 track, undoubtedly an improvement over the Dolby 2.0 stereo track found on the first disc. While the dialogue sometimes feels a bit low in the mix, Lonesome Dove manages to convey a sonic spaciousness matched in the visuals. The soundstage never dissolves into mush. Optional French and Spanish Dolby 2.0 stereo tracks are also included.
Fans of the miniseries will delight in knowing that this two-disc set greatly expands upon the supplements offered on the first release. Spread across two discs, the bonus features do a solid job of digging a bit deeper into this sprawling world. An insert which features a letter from director Simon Wincer on one side and a reproduction of the miniseries' original poster on the other is included. On the first disc, the 15 minute, four second featurette "On Location with Director Simon Wincer" (presented in fullscreen) follows the director as he shows off the various locations used in the film. The three minute, 36 second featurette "Blueprints of a Masterpiece: Original Sketches and Concept Drawings" (presented in fullscreen) is a gallery of behind-the-scenes images, set to the film's score. The 13 minute, 37 second featurette "Remembering Lonesome Dove: Vintage Interviews with the Cast" (presented in fullscreen) includes thoughts from Tommy Lee Jones, Danny Glover, D.B. Sweeney, Diane Lane and Anjelica Huston. The three minute, 13 second "Lonesome Dove Montage" (presented in fullscreen) is simply clips from the miniseries accompanied by the show's score. The six minute, 50 second "Interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning Author Larry McMurtry" (presented in fullscreen) -- which seems to replace the 13-part "conversation" featurette from the first Lonesome Dove DVD -- finds the writer talking about the project's origins as well as his thoughts on the finished product.
The second disc's lone supplement is the 49:26 mini-doc "Lonesome Dove: The Making of an Epic" (presented in fullscreen) that seems to be a vintage production made for TV around the time of the show's release. (In fact, this program has similar footage to the interviews found on the first disc.) It appears, out of all the supplements between the two releases (according to my research), only the 13-part McMurtry interview, a conversation with executive producer Suzanne De Passe about the making of the film and trailers for the Lonesome Dove DVD/VHS releases are absent. Completists may want to hang onto the original DVD release simply for that reason.
If you've never experienced the film, you should -- Lonesome Dove has the breadth and heft of richly drawn literature, an involving, intimate epic that will linger long after the final frames fade. For fans of the film, this new set spruces up picture and sound, as well as offering worthwhile supplements that expand upon what was previously offered. Highly recommended.