Judge Victor Valdivia is a hard-ridin', six-shootin' hombre...well, after a mani/pedi and iced mochaccino, that is.
The golden era of the American cowboy.
It's interesting to compare Cowboys & Outlaws with Outlaws and Gunslingers, the previous DVD issue that covered many of the same stories. Both are historical documentaries that use reenactments, interviews with historical talking heads, and archived photographs and documents. There are several stories covered on both DVDs, including Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, and Wild Bill Hickok. The key difference, however, is that Cowboys & Outlaws is easy to watch and understand and the previous DVD was not. Sure, you can quibble about the reenactments and the sometimes overdone graphics, but when it comes right down to it, when you want to watch a historical DVD, you want to actually understand what's going on and why. Cowboys & Outlaws fits that bill to a T.
Cowboys & Outlaws is a History series on stories of the Wild West. Here are the six episodes compiled on two discs:
• "The Real McCoy"
• "The Real Billy the Kid"
• "Range War"
• "Frontier Hitman"
Of course, since it's History, you can expect fancy computer graphics, which seem incongruous with the concept of Wild West stories. Maybe the flashy graphics aren't really necessary to explain the idea behind cowboy hats, bandannas, and lariats, but they're there if you need them. Also, there are the reenactments, and while they're generally decent, there are a few (particularly in the Wyatt Earp episode) where the acting is, well, a tad amateurish. So if you're expecting something a little less fancy and more like the old History Channel, you'll be somewhat disappointed.
Still, in every other respect, Cowboys & Outlaws is worth seeing. The stories seen here are told in great detail and are easy to follow, even if you've never heard much about them. Unlike the sloppy and meandering Outlaws and Gunslingers, this program tells the whole stories, including their most famous exploits. Some myths are smashed; Billy the Kid, for instance, was probably much more calculating and media-savvy than his reputation as a free-spirited hothead suggests. The episodes on the lesser-known stories, such as the ones on hitman Tom Horn and the Wyoming range war, are the most intriguing because they give a fascinating look at just how corrupt and anarchic the Wild West really was. Many of these stories have been made into films and TV movies, but getting the real story here shows just how romanticized even supposedly gritty movies like Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid are. If you've ever been curious about the real stories behind some famous Western movies and TV shows, this is actually a good place to start.
Presentation is typical History: 1.78:1 non-anamorphic transfer, Dolby Stereo mix, both satisfactory. There are no extras.
Ultimately, this is a pretty good package to learn about Wild West stories. Ignore the similarly titled, vastly inferior release Outlaws and Gunslingers, and try this one instead. It's not as thorough as it could have been—only six episodes? Really? Still, it does have enough historical content to be worth your while.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
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