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Case Number 17873: Small Claims Court

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The Great Indian Wars: 1540-1890

Mill Creek Entertainment // 2005 // 220 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // December 10th, 2009

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All Rise...

The Judge Victor Valdivia Wars were a tragic period in history when he fought anyone who looked at him funny.

The Charge

A crucial turning point in American history.

The Case

The Great Indian Wars takes one of the most important and provocative subjects in American history and renders it into a tedious mess. This is one of the few DVDs devoted exclusively to the overall story of Native Americans, so it's a shame that it's so badly presented. Badly written, poorly visualized, and sometimes downright incomprehensible, this DVD is mind-numbing and confusing even if you already know some of this story. Novices will fare even worse.

The Great Indian Wars is split up into five chapters devoted to different aspects of Indian culture and history as well as important battles involving Indians during the 350-year period between the arrival of the Spanish in the southwestern United States and the decision to herd all Indians into reservations, where they remain to this day. Here are the episodes collected on this disc:

• "The Indians"
An overall look at the major tribes and the regions they inhabited.

• "The Cavalry"
How the U.S. Army developed the military and civil tactics necessary to deal with Indians.

• "The Indian Warrior"
How Indian warriors were trained and sent into battle, as well as some of the major battles they fought.

• "Battle for the Northern Plains"
The bloodiest and most important battles in the northern Plains region.

• "Battle for the Southern Plains"
The bloodiest and most important battles in the southern Plains region.

If you're noticing that the chapters are divided into oddly chosen topics, then you've spotted part of the problem. Because these shows are not organized chronologically, they meander painfully, wandering from topic to topic with no plot or point. There's no relation between one chapter and another; the first episode, for instance, is devoted to explaining the minutiae of various Indian tribes in excruciating detail, yet none of this information is ever referred to in any other episode. Frequently, the aftermath of a certain battle is discussed in one chapter, yet the actual battle itself is not discussed until a subsequent episode. Names and dates are piled on and recited without context or explanation. Far too often, you'll feel as if you're watching a poorly written class lecture that you're going to be tested on promptly. As a comprehensive history, The Great Indian Wars fails even to give more than a vague idea of what exactly happened.

If the writing is sloppy and disjointed, the actual technical presentation is even worse. The visuals frequently consist of old black-and-white footage from B-movie westerns showing actors playing Indians. There are gaping editing errors, where sudden flashes of something that has nothing to do with the subject at hand appear onscreen. Interviewees sometimes appear without being identified, and their contributions are often dull and unimaginative. The maps that are used to identify battles are never clearly defined; frequently they don't actually identify the movement within a battle but before it. Special mention must go to Alphonse Keasley's soporific narration, which is so soft and monotonous that you'll find it a better cure for insomnia than any over-the-counter sleep aid.

The section on the battle at Little Bighorn epitomizes the flaws present in this DVD. This is arguably the most famous battle in the United States that wasn't fought during the Civil War, and yet you won't know or understand exactly what happened from this disc. There are extensive biographies of George Armstrong Custer, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse, yet the actual description of the battle is covered in just a few sentences. There is no explanation of how exactly the battle started or why Custer and his men lost. The only visual accompaniment consists of a historian reciting facts dryly, or pictures of Custer and Sitting Bull. Neither the historian nor the narration convey any excitement or sense of drama whatsoever, nor do they provide any interesting insights that aren't available in even the most cursory encyclopedia entry on the battle. What exactly was the battle about? What effect did it have on the overall story of the Indian wars? Even after watching this DVD, you won't have a clue.

Technically, the DVD is standard documentary fare. Full-screen transfer that's decent but hardly sparkling and a stereo audio mix that's not overly loud, a real deficiency given Keasley's whispering voice. The extras are all text-based, which would ordinarily seem cheap; however, given how confusing and tedious the main feature is, they actually are a huge help. Reading the timeline, bios, and accounts of battles is far more understandable and informative than the documentary itself is.

Ultimately, The Great Indian Wars will contribute little to anyone's understanding of this extraordinary period in American history. It's so poorly organized and assembled that it fails as both a historical account and as a compelling documentary. You'd be better advised to spend your money on a good written account of this period instead.

The Verdict

Guilty of making an immensely gripping topic as dreadful as a high school book report.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 30

Perp Profile

Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 220 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Bad
• Documentary
• Historical
• War

Distinguishing Marks

• Timelines
• Battle Accounts
• Bios

Accomplices

• None








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