Occasionally here at DVD Talk offices, I will throw myself what I like to call a 'surprise screener.' It is a title that I'll review, but try to exclude any information whatsoever on. So when had Jesse James' Hidden Treasure come my way, I thought it was the desperate measures taken by the possible Nazi admiring husband of a certain recent Oscar winner for Best Actress. Then common sense returned to mind, and I realized that there's more than one Jesse James both in the world and throughout history.
And it's the history of the iconic figure from the 19th century old west that is the focus of this History Channel presentation. In addition, the title doth make for interesting viewing; the feature asserts that for all the money that James and his gang took, it appeared (superficially, at least) that he wasn't overly lavish with those around him, so the question becomes 'Where did all the money go?'
The historians, surveyors and others who have an interest in this search make the trek out to the middle of Kansas to try and find the money which James could have buried in the heartland. Through this 90 minute feature, they also intersperse clips which are dramatic re-enactments of James' accomplishments and notable events in his life, and point to letters and symbols etched into rocks which serve as clues as to where James buried the loot.
That in and of itself would make for interesting viewing, but then the piece wanders into some bizarre territory. Among the assertions made are that James was part of a pro-Confederate group called the Knights of the Golden Circle, who were formed as a way to perpetuate the slave trade even after Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and after the Civil War had ended. In robbing for them, it helped elevate his own mythology and increased the visibility of the KGC. They even attempt to validate James' membership in the group by pictures of him and his brother Frank, positing their fingers to signal KGC members. But that's not all, as the rumors of James perhaps faking his own death are given more time to shine here, with computer generated aging techniques, facial similarities and even supposed family members vouching that James was not killed in 1882 by Robert Ford, as history has it.
Does it all make for interesting viewing? Sure, but at 90 minutes one has to think about why the need for re-enactments were necessary, and the historians/treasure hunters don't seem to be as passionate about their expedition as you would anticipate. Finding more than 20 silver and gold dollars may be a cause for celebration, but to paraphrase the narration, with winter coming on they have to cease their trek. God help us if people died in the Kansas weather looking for found treasure a la Fargo.
While Jesse James' Hidden Treasure has an interesting hypothesis here and there, it's ultimately more drama than actual, you know, history. At times I was pining to see what the racist tattoo artist/biker may have been doing while this was going on; goodness knows he'd find a rooting interest in the KCB.
Looks like a 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen presentation, and for being a sub satisfactory presentation in 2010, I guess it looks fine.
The two-channel Dolby stereo sound is perfectly acceptable listening and likely reproduced from the broadcast as well. No action is picked up in the rear channels; everything is in front, and it's free of distortion, mosquito noise or other detrimental effects.
Nary a thing.
Jesse James' Hidden Treasure is an interesting television special, but with underwhelming content and technical presentations, it's probably better to leave it on television with most of the other dramatic history pieces the History Channel may be pimping these days.