Judge Daryl Loomis rides off into the sunset, knowing he only made the situation worse.
Witness the drama, the romance, and the adventure of the old west…all over again.
The western on television and film was virtually dead as a genre in 1989, but Lonesome Dove, the mini-series adapted from Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, became a massive hit and one of the most beloved mini-series to ever air. The producers couldn't leave it at that. With a replacement cast and a few surprises, McMurtry's characters burst back onto the small screen with Return to Lonesome Dove. It's a rehash through and through, but it still provides a few hours of old-fashioned horsey entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Captain Woodrow Call (Jon Voight, Varsity Blues) has returned to Lonesome Dove, TX, to bury ol' Gus, his friend and the hero of the original. Before returning to Montana, he gets a group of good hands to help him drive a team of horses back to his ranch. Great hardships and triumphs await them on this long, arduous journey, and each person learns a little something about themselves and about the great untamed wilderness known as the American West.
Lonesome Dove was a true epic. It gets pretty soapy at times, but its massive scope, high production values, and premier cast made the adaptation of McMurtry's novel a legitimate television event. Some people may have wanted to see the continuing stories of their beloved characters, but the only reason for Return to Lonesome Dove was hungry bank accounts. Though the events of the film begin almost directly following the end of the original, it feels much more like a cheap knock-off than a legitimate sequel.
In lieu of the skilled pen of Larry McMurtry, we have the lesser talents of longtime television scriptwriter John Wilder; the difference is clear, both in the derivative storytelling and canned dialog. There are open threads and unresolved relationships at the end of Lonesome Dove, so a sequel isn't that far-fetched. It would help, however, if Wilder hadn't written the same essential story as his predecessor. Sure, the reason for heading up to Montana is equine instead of bovine, so I guess that's something. It's pretty convenient for Captain Call that there just happens to be a team of horses that needs driving. The contrived opening allows Call to get the old gang back together and, like a lot of second-rate sequels, many similar plot threads and conflicts from the first series rise again.
In traditional epic fashion, Return to Lonesome Dove features three distinct stories that begin to merge as the series moves along. The first story begins in the town of Lonesome Dove as Captain Call assembles his team. His new friends include former Texas Ranger, now dressmaker, Gideon Walker (William Petersen, Kiss the Sky), and friend and colleague Isom Pickett (Louis Gossett, Jr., Iron Eagle). Their first stop across the frontier will be at the ranch of Clara Allen (Barbara Hershey, Boxcar Bertha), who was the love of Gus's life but is on shaky ground with Call. Her life on the ranch takes up the second story, in which she copes with her lover's death while caring for her two daughters and the sick son of July Johnson (Chris Cooper, American Beauty), a former sheriff turned ranch hand. Finally, the third story follows Newt Dobbs (Rick Schroder, The Champ), Call's son if the captain would admit it. Still in Montana, he is to meet the group at Clara's ranch, but is jailed after shooting a jerk in a bar. He's bailed out by a cattle rancher (Oliver Reed, Blood Island) and his wife (Reese Witherspoon, Freeway), who Newt begins to fall in love with while working on the ranch to repay his debt.
These stories converge in rather predictable fashion and the good guys are separated from the bad without much mystery. There are a few emotionally resonant stories, but the effect stems more from a few well-done performances than from skilled writing. Hershey and Petersen are the best of the bunch and, though their budding relationship is as telegraphed as anything in the series, they have good chemistry and make it work. Reed hams it up in his Scottish rancher role and is fun to watch. Mostly, though, the acting is wooden, with Voight as the worst offender. He has a two-note take on Captain Call: gruff and quiet. He sounds absolutely bored in the role and is absolutely unconvincing from beginning to end.
What keeps Return to Lonesome Dove from sinking entirely under its six-hour weight is the scenery. The cinematography from Kees Van Oostrum is often cookie-cutter, and the editing even more so, but they capture the majesty of the American West very nicely. Shot in Texas and Montana, the location footage is all massive peaks, rushing rivers, and endless plains. It is impressive and pristinely beautiful.
Vivendi Visual Entertainment's bare-bones release of Return to Lonesome Dove is standard-issue all the way. The four ninety-minute episodes are split evenly over the two discs in a blocky, washed out, full-frame transfer with average stereo sound. There are no extras.
There's very little that is original about the story, but Return to Lonesome Dove features a few good performances and is relatively entertaining. It's a completely unnecessary addition to Larry McMurtry's original, but it's not exactly guilty, either.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
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