Judge Gordon Sullivan wants to see Lucio Fulci make a Western.
The Early Adventures of Lonesome Dove
Alaska may be the biggest state by land area, but it's hard to imagine thousands of Canadians amassing at its border to take the land back by force. Texas, our second largest state, isn't in quite the same situation. There's a reason it's the second largest state, and part of that reason is that the Texas border was hotly contested with Mexico. Between the altercations with the Mexicans and problems with hostile Native Americans, Texas' borders were bloody before it was a state. These skirmishes (that included the Mexican-American War) are the perfect backdrop for Western lore. Cormac McCarthy chose them as the setting for his famous Blood Meridian, and when it came time to give Gus and Call a backstory after the success of Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry chose the infamous Santa Fe Expedition to illuminate his heroes' pasts. Dead Man's Walk does a credible job bringing the Rangers' early history to light, but is nowhere near as satisfying as the original miniseries.
Facts of the Case
Augustus "Gus" McCrae (David Arquette, Scream) and Woodrow F. Call (Johnny Lee Miller, Eli Stone) are both young, untested Texas Rangers. While out on their first ride out, the duo—and the rest of their group, including Major Chevallie (Brian Dennehy, Cocoon)—are attacked by Buffalo Hump (Eric Schweig, Tom and Huck). Somewhat narrowly escaping, the group heads back to the nearest town, and Gus and Call initially swear off heading back into the wilderness. Of course, as soon as they say that, Colonel Caleb Cobb (F. Murray Abraham, Amadeus) shows up recruiting for an expedition to the annexed part of New Mexico for Texas. Even though it will take them back through Buffalo Hump's territory, the two sign up. It's not long before they'll learn exactly what the Dead Man's Walk really is.
Lonesome Dove was a towering achievement in miniseries television. It started with solid writing that was brought to light by a stable of incredible actors ably directed in some fantastic Western landscapes. Dead Man's Walk has a strange relationship with its predecessor, and it's hard to praise it without sounding negative. The writing is certainly there, since Dead Man's Walk takes another McMurtry novel as its source, but because of that it's almost like watching a corpse come to life. Gus and Call still sound like Gus and Call, but instead of Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones we've got Johnny Lee Miller and David Arquette. The pair do okay with their roles, but there's simply no way they can hold a candle to the performances of their elders. Without Lonesome Dove as a reference, Arquette and Miller would be standouts; with Duvall and Jones in mind, it's hard to get over the differences and appreciate this new story.
Luckily, there's a whole host of new characters to become familiar with, and Dead Man's Walk packs just about every major role with a solid character actor—F. Murray Abraham, Keith Carradine, Harry Dean Stanton, Edward James Olmos, the list goes on. They're hardly fresh faces, but their collective experience brings a certain grit to Dead Man's Walk that Lonesome Dove lacked.
Like its predecessor, Dead Man's Walk does not lack for beautiful Western vistas. Shot on location in Texas, the look of the film is pretty spectacular. Although using widescreen instead of full frame might have helped create a more epic feel, the vistas don't need much help to look amazing. From scrub to bluff to the occasional river, the characters encounter numerous bits of nature on their journey, and those with an appreciation for Texas countryside will enjoy watching Dead Man's Walk.
Dead Man's Walk has been released twice on DVD before, once as a standalone disc and a second time as part of a Lonesome Dove collection. I don't own either of those sets for comparison, but there's nothing in the packaging to indicate that this disc has been remastered or is in any way different from those releases. That said, this release is okay from a technical standpoint. The 1.33:1 transfer is in the original aspects ratio, and looks slightly better than broadcast quality. Colors are warm with pretty accurate skin tones, and I didn't notice any significant compression issues. There is, however, print damage in evidence. Speckling and small tears crop up pretty regularly, although in some ways they enhance the show's feel rather than interrupting it. The stereo sound mix does a fine job with dialogue and the score, keeping everything balanced. Still, some kind of subtitles would be nice.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
One of Lonesome Dove's strengths is the fact that it is effortlessly epic. The drive north, with all its dangers, is the stuff of legend, but Dead Man's Walk can't quite capture that feel. Instead, it's more like a series of episodes, and there's little of the grand scope of the first miniseries.
I know it took a try or two to get Lonesome Dove released in a special edition, but those hoping that Dead Man's Walk would be more than barebones are sure to be disappointed. There's nothing extra at all here, which is a shame considering all the actors involved. I would have settled for a contemporary EPK-style peek at the production, but a retrospective documentary or some input from McMurtry would have been even better.
On its own, Dead Man's Walk is a decent Western miniseries that has the budget, locations, and acting talent to make it interesting, but as a successor to the iconic Lonesome Dove, it just doesn't work. Fans of the show will be happy that the film is back in print and those $50-plus price tags for the OOP releases won't be the only option in town. These are barebones discs, but considering the low MSRP, it's hard to knock it too much, though it does mean there's no reason whatsoever for an upgrade.
These discs aren't great, but they won't have to do the Dead Man's Walk. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
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