PictureLonesome Dove comes to BD with an image reformatted from its original TV airing from 4:3 to a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect that few could argue doesn't actually improve the framing to deliver compositions that are much better suited to presenting the depth and detail that a film set amongst vistas as gorgeous as these aches to provide. First shown theatrically to a gaggle of critics before it premiered on TV, it is clear that the show's makers possibly had an eye on a full widescreen image from the outset, maybe for an overseas cinematic run. Wincer, himself, has even alluded to this, although I can't say with evidence that this was the case. Thus, whilst some information has been lost in the reformatting, the image itself now looks profoundly better than I have ever seen it before. Gone is the somewhat cluttered and squashed appearance of the interiors and of the gatherings. Gone is the diluted appearance of the open plains that used to seem a tad truncated and lacking in visual depth. And gone is the ill-fitting composition that reduced the effect of the horse-chases, the stampede, the bandit stand-off, the numerous shots of characters talking together on horseback and Call's furious onslaught upon the army scout. Everything now seems as though it has genuine space in which to breathe and, essentially, the compositions of figures, objects, landscapes and action now look immaculate and very filmic. However, Lonesome Dove no longer looks like a TV show and there will, inevitably, be some purists out there who will not approve.
The 1080p treatment brings more detail to the table, too. Close-ups of tanned and weather-beaten faces, full-on be-whiskered glory, dusty apparel and weapon mechanisms offer a clarity that was never there before. The wagons, tools and towns stand up well to scrutiny and the vast stretching plains provide a more stable and consistent backdrop than seen previously. However, the distance shots can still lack sharpness, grain can suddenly festoon certain frames whilst completely draining from the next one - although grain, for the most part, is perfectly acceptable and nicely cinematic - and contrast can fluctuate from time to time. Detail upon wounds - some scalped victims and the al fresco surgery upon Robert Urich's infected finger in particular - is vastly improved and there is certainly a delight or two to be found when Diane Lane rises from out of the river, ensuring that the image is a lot more arresting than it once was. The picture does show signs of age, though nothing at all drastic. There are tiny marks here and there, some very slight wobble during some transitional shots and one instance when the frame actually jumps - when Glover's Deets returns from scouting the Indian camp in the third episode. Yet, whilst you will never be under the illusion that this is a new film, or TV show for that matter, Lonesome Dove still looks highly impressive for much of its considerable running time.
Colours are deliberately muted and downplayed, yet there are still some wonderful saturations to enjoy. The frequent sunsets are rich with vivid reds and oranges, the greens of the Montana hills suitably verdant and the blood - of which there is actually quite a bit - is nicely dark and realistic. The earthy hue of much of the presentation contrasts well with the cleanliness of Clara's homestead and the bright, sunny picnic is a visual highlight that also provides a degree of three-dimensionality as we sit looking up at Huston and Duval on the slope and the ridge convincingly etches across the background. Blacks are quite strong, too, and provide some innate stability to the night-time scenes and some decent shadow. Fast action is finely rendered, with only the most marginal signs of motion drag affecting a couple of instances. The transfer does have some edge enhancement applied to it - mainly on sleeves and shoulders and hats - but this is easily dismissed and ignored and, barring one or two brief elements of noise creeping in to some darker portions of the picture, Lonesome Dove looks appreciably better than ever before.
Fans simply can't afford to pass this up and newcomers will be surprised at how well-spruced a TV show from 1989, that favours dust and an often shabby aesthetic, can appear. A strong 7 out of 10.
SoundPresented here with a DD5.1 track, Lonesome Dove certainly sounds more active and alive than it has before, but there are a few irks that go with this extended surround package.
Dialogue, essential for such a rich and layered character piece is, for the majority of the running time, just fine. But there are moments when certain voices drop down low and become muffled in the mix, with Duval, in particular, falling victim to the sunken-speech effect. You won't actually miss anything that is said, but there are occasions when the drop-off is noticeable. The music from Basil Poledouris shines and comes across with warmth and the appropriate vigour when necessary, but doesn't sound anywhere near as full as such a soaring orchestral score should do. On balance, though, it definitely has more presence than many will remember.
But it is with the appliance of detail that the track becomes its most puzzling. Suddenly, even minute effects are hugely apparent, boosted-up and liberally dished about the frontal array with a little too much enthusiasm. Straight away, the sound of boots thumping around the suspended wooden floors of Lonesome Dove becomes OTT and this is something that you would probably get used to if the rest of the show carried on indoors, but since the overriding majority of it is set in the wide open countryside, any returns to interiors carry this joltingly enhanced effect. Likewise, the jingling of spurs can sometimes seem overly embellished. Other effects seem to leap out at you as though the sound engineers have given themselves the mission of making Lonesome Dove as audibly active as possible without giving too much concern to a natural sounding design. Now, this may not bother some people at all, the show certainly does come alive when all said and done, but the muddling-about for the sake of it can sometimes be a distraction. But, then again, with some tweaks of your system, you can probably dampen things down a bit.
Bass levels are good, in fact, downright thunderous a times. The horse stampede down over the Mexican border is quite an assault. Starting off quite unsettlingly as the horses are first heard, but not seen, just over a ridge, but steaming right towards us, then with full-on bombast as they career all around us. Directionality may not be all that polished, but if you were caught in the middle of this, I doubt you'd be paying much attention to clean steerage and transparent front-to-backend sweeps. The constant weight of the travelling herd is also well integrated into the track and the pounding of horses' hoofs is often felt as well as heard. Gunshots, too, have a nice percussive gut-punch to them. Some degree of distance is achieved with the scene when Gus - ever the action-man - is engaged with the bandits who have him pinned-down. Whilst they believe his Winchester can't reach them across the flat plains, Gus is just finding his range with test-shots that fling up clods of earth in front of them. With the effect of slight wind, a distant whump! from Gus' barrel and whistling bullet's trajectory towards us, the scene is pretty well thought-out, acoustically. We are also treated to some decent stereo effects of arrows whistling left to right during a much later skirmish when, once again, our redoubtable hero has gotten himself hemmed-in with no means of escape.
The rears are employed sporadically throughout, though most effectively for the conveyance of the elements, with the electrical storm early on, the lashing rain and the howling wind bestowed some interesting activity. There are also twig-snaps, echoes and ricochets spun out round the back that are pleasing to experience, even if they don't sound particularly convincing in that clean and realistic manner with which movies present themselves.
Overall, the 5.1 audio for Lonesome Dove, despite a few inconsistencies and a little over-ambition, does a decent job of bringing the saga into dust-kicking, hard-riding, rootin'-tootin' life with a swagger that many will appreciate.
ExtrasThere's quite a pleasing round-up of extras offered on this double-disc Collector's Edition, which can all be found on Disc 2.
The Making Of An Epic runs for 49 mins and does a pretty detailed and comprehensive examination of what went into the production of such a loved book and how the filmmakers opted to go for absolute realism in every facet of getting it translated to the screen. We meet most of the cast and hear from them during on-set interviews that reveal much from the likes of Jones, Glover and Duval about their characters, but a bit less so from Lane, Huston, Sweeney and Schroder, who tend to state the obvious and waffle. But we also have input from the costume people, the production designers, the horse wrangler and the stunt-coordinator, as well as the director Simon Wincer. Culled from the time of the show's release, this was obviously still being made some time afterwards as certain contributors mention how often they, and the people that they know, have watched it. The piece is largely augmented with clips from the show, some of them quite lengthy, but this is still a more than decent behind-the-scenes look at a big TV production from almost twenty years ago.
Sadly, the next section, Interviews on the Set, is merely made up of the snippets you have just seen in the making of. Thus, we get to hear the same anecdotes and thoughts from Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Duval, Angelica Huston and Danny Glover just lumped together in one slavish praise-fest. Painted questions are depicted stylishly on wood and then answered by the participants, but this is just like a highlights compilation from the previous feature.
Then we get something that is much more worthwhile in a new (well, newer) interview with Simon Wincer. Sitting presumably in his own glorious garden and bothered quite annoyingly by a pesky fly, Wincer takes his time to tell us about how he came onboard the production, how the screen-tests went - even mentioning some of the notable actors who failed the auditions - and how they sought to adhere to the original book as closely as possible. He mentions the pressure of working for 88 days of shooting - typical for a movie but arduous for TV - and how the network were jittery about the pace of the first episode. Paying respect to his cast, he even tells of how both Jones and Duval were privileged to see the first cut of the full show and how both of them pinpointed a tiny, but effective instance when they each knew a better take would benefit the show enormously. This is good stuff, folks and well worth viewing. Wincer is older now and wiser, but he knows damn well that he created a classic with Lonesome Dove, claiming that his “outsider” status probably helped as he wasn't as prone to simply follow the template for the genre that had obviously grown stale over the years.
Blueprints of a Masterpiece is a three-minute montage of scenes and artwork from the show set to an overture of Basil Poledouris' fantastic, and award-winning score.
And finally, we have a fifteen minute interview with the Pulitzer Prize-winning author who started it all, Larry McMurtry. Saddled with poor audio quality, this feature is hampered further by the strangely prosaic and rambling nature of the man, who takes his time getting his points across to some rather simple questions. Once again, questions appear on the screen, although we can hear the reactions from the interviewer during the feature, itself. Sadly, I felt this was a slightly botched opportunity.
More retrospective views from the stars these days would have been appreciated, now that the dust has settled, as it were, but this is still an adequate assortment of bonus features. But hadn't there been a rumour about a full-length commentary from Wincer? Maybe it got lost along the trail.
VerdictLeisurely and as meandering as the epic journey itself, Lonesome Dove succeeds because it has the time to invest in the characters, rather than the spectacle - of which there is still plenty. When the action comes, it is hard-hitting and shocking, but this is a film that revolves around its stellar performances, and in so doing is easily able to brush the odd contrivance and vaguely unsatisfying side-plots under the carpet. The tone is irresistible and the prevailing mood of personality and experience being the only things in life that are guaranteed makes for timeless storytelling that can't fail to resonate deep within you.
The transfer for this TV movie is good without being grand. Unlike the much more recently made Broken Trail, which looks and sounds terrific, Lonesome Dove is soft, a touch muted and slightly betrayed by age, but hugely improved with its new widescreen composition. The surround sound gets a point for existing in the first place, but, in reality, there are some muddled sequences and the audio, overall, can seem wrongly prioritised. However, the extras are certainly welcome and revealing, even if the disc's producers do that scam of repeating elements you've already seen in a supposedly different feature.
Grand, stirring stuff. Without the depth and texture of Lonesome Dove and the unparalleled way in which the viewing public took it to their hearts, it is debateable just how much appeal the likes of Deadwood or, indeed, a fair number of immersive dramas from other genres across the full spectrum of television would have today, or how much prestige would be afforded them. Definitely a classic of its kind and something that, if you're anything like me, you just won't want to end.
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