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Myth and legend stripped away, and the truth revealed.
Not exactly. Outlaws & Gunslingers is marginally better than Mill Creek's other Western historical DVD, The Great Indian Wars, but that still doesn't mean it's actually good. It still suffers from the same flaws as that disc: meandering structure, dull visuals, and uneven presentation. It's actually understandable and informative in parts, which is more than can be said for The Great Indian Wars. Too much of it, however, is too poorly assembled to really be of much value.
Outlaws & Gunslingers is split into five episodes, each one dealing with a different aspect of the Wild West after the Civil War. Here are the five episodes compiled on the disc:
• "Origins of the Gunslinger"
• "Jesse James and the Southern Guerillas"
• "Billy the Kid and the Lone Outlaws"
• "Wild Bill Hickok and the Lawmen"
• "Wyatt Earp and the OK Corral Gunfight"
In theory, this is not a bad way to organize these shows. Probably the most famous Wild West stories, each is examined in detail, preceded by an introduction. There are some remarkable revelations here and there. It's interesting to learn, for instance, that Wild Bill Hickok came from a family of staunch abolitionists who used to smuggle slaves to Free states, that many of the clashes between cowboys and lawmen often boiled down to leftover Civil War conflicts rather than criminal acts, and that many outlaws, such as Jesse James and Billy the Kid, were savvy about using newspaper reporters to burnish their reputations. The show on the OK Corral shootout does give a fairly detailed history of each of the participants that explains how they ended up at the exact place and time to participate in the gunfight.
This episode, however, highlights the flaws in this disc. For one thing, though it does a good job of describing the lead-up to the gunfight, it botches explaining how the fight actually took place. This is a constant failing of this disc. Each of the important characters profiled, such as Wild Bill Hickok, Billy the Kid, and Jesse James, gets a fairly detailed biography right up until the moment they finally become renowned. The documentary claims that Wild Bill Hickok is considered by many to be possibly the best gunfighter of the Wild West. Why? The DVD doesn't say. The documentary also asserts that Jesse James was maybe the most feared outlaw of his time. Why were so many so afraid of him? There's no reason given. On and on, in so many places with so many figures, you'll hear that these men were important, but no one ever actually explains what exactly they did that was so important. It's as if the DVD assumes you already know about the actual gunfights, robberies, and showdowns and just need to know everything that transpired prior to them. That's a hugely sloppy mistake which makes these shows seem lazy and incomplete.
If that wasn't bad enough, the presentation is even worse. The only visual accompaniment to most of these stories consists of either old black-and-white footage from minor B-movies or shots of talking heads. Neither technique is particularly evocative or useful. There are also a few bits and pieces of reenactments apparently recorded at theme parks, judging by the ridiculous overacting, tenth-rate special effects, and crummy video quality. Really, why did the producers even bother? Also, the editing is equally careless, since there are several segments that repeat from episode to episode, except cut in random spots. The overall effect is of a cheap money grab, which is a shame since these stories deserve much better.
Technical specs aren't much to write about. Full-screen transfer, stereo mix, both of which get the job done but aren't particularly earth-shattering. There are no extras.
Ultimately, if you're really interested in hearing about the Wild West, this is not the place to start. There are some interesting revelations here and there on this DVD, but you could probably find those in written biographies. This disc adds little that you couldn't get elsewhere and is so irritating to watch that you'll probably turn it off well before it's over. There are better sources elsewhere.
Guilty of sloppy storytelling mixed with shoddy presentation.
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Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
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