I will flatly admit that the western is one of my least favorite genres. In fact, I’m almost certain it would rank dead last if I had to rank them all. While I haven’t watched a lot of them, the only western film I can remember liking is City Slickers, which barely counts as it is set in modern times (and its half comedy as well). However, Lonesome Dove is regarded as one of the best TV miniseries of all-time so I still needed to check it out even with my general distaste for the western genre. Remember, I’m the type of person who is always willing to try anything to see if they enjoy it, even if it is part of a genre I don’t normally enjoy. After watching this six-hour epic, I can absolutely see why it is so beloved. It’s extremely well-made, beautifully shot, and has a lot of heart to it. The only problem is that it does tend to drag at times and it certainly isn’t the most exciting miniseries out there. Quality wise though, Lonesome Dove is almost masterpiece level and I’d give it at least a 4/5 in this area. So why I am giving Lonesome Dove a mediocre 3/5? For those of you like me that value entertainment above all else, I would only give this miniseries a 2 or 2.5/5 in that area. I watch television and movies to be entertained first and foremost. What’s the point of brilliant filmmaking, cinematography, or great acting if you aren’t entertained? I will still give credit where credit’s due (almost every other part of Lonesome Dove is well above average to great and there are a lot of viewers who will absolutely love this miniseries) but if I get bored watching something, I’m going to give it an average rating instead of a great one.
Lonesome Dove is the tale of two former Texas Rangers, Gus McCrae (Robert Duvall) and Captain Woodrow Call (Tommy Lee Jones), who decide to leave their small southern Texan town to drive some cattle up north to Montana and build the territory’s first ranch. They were inspired by their former colleague Jake Spoon (Robert Urich), who visited it but is now on the run for “accidentally” shooting the dentist/mayor of Fort Smith, Arkansas. Also joining them on the trip is black scout Joshua Deets (Danny Glover), former prostitute Lorie (Diane Lane) who both Gus and Jake love, young Newt Dobbs (who may be Call’s son), and many other citizens of Lonesome Dove. Being the 1870’s, this trip is a dangerous one with hardships like horse thieves, a bandit who has a grudge with Gus, Indians, hazardous river crossings, and more. While Lonesome Dove is mostly about the journey to Montana, it is also about love (there are several romantic sub-plots that run throughout the four episodes) and camaraderie in the Wild West. The miniseries is based on the novel of the same name, was originally meant to be a screenplay for a film starring John Wayne and James Stewart, and is six hours long (four 90-minute episodes).
As I wrote earlier, Lonesome Dove is extremely well-made, acted, and shot and I only really have one issue with it. Unfortunately that is the most important element of any TV show or movie for me, the entertainment factor. While I can appreciate well-made content, I’m the type that will always pick the more entertaining option over the most artistic. It’s part of the reason I love B-movies and campy shows and films so much, entertainment is just always going to be more important to me. Lonesome Dove isn’t completely inept in this area but I would likely give it a 2.5/5 for the entertainment factor. There are some funny moments here and there (mainly from Gus, the side characters, and the pigs), but this is mostly a completely serious western drama that is rather slow-moving throughout. The first episode is the worst offender in this area as the pace does pick up a bit from there, though not quite as much I would have liked. For those of you who look for content that is well-made rather than entertaining (especially those of you who love westerns), this miniseries is worth a much higher grade than I gave it. For viewers like me though, a 3/5 is much more fitting.
In everything else though, Lonesome Dove succeeds. Miniseries tend to attract a lot of talent but few can compare to the amazing cast of Lonesome Dove. Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones are great as the two leads, especially Duvall whose character is layered and unusually philosophical for a western. He was the absolute perfect choice for Gus. Where Lonesome Dove really shines though is in the supporting roster which includes an amazing Emmy-nominated performance by Diane Lane (especially in the second episode). All of the minor characters are played extremely well and the supporting cast also includes now well-known names like Chris Cooper, Steve Buscemi, Anjelica Huston, and even Margo Martindale as “Buffalo Heifer” in one blink and you’ll miss it scene. There isn’t a bad performance in the bunch.
One of the best parts of Lonesome Dove is the cinematography. There are some truly amazing shots in this miniseries, from gorgeous sunsets and other beautiful western scenery to one of the most beautifully shot death scenes I’ve ever seen. Due to the amazing cinematography, I would highly recommend you watch this miniseries on Blu-ray as it will be a visual treat for you. Lonesome Dove has been released on the format twice before, including a Mill Creek release back in 2015. While I don’t have either of those releases to compare to this one (I do own the DVD which obviously looks quite horrible compared to this), it is very likely that the transfer is the exact same one from the previous two releases. Despite being a pretty old miniseries at this point (it celebrated its thirtieth anniversary this year), Lonesome Dove looks good if not even gorgeous on Blu-ray. There are some grainy scenes here or there (some of the night scenes are the worst offenders) and some of the dated special effects really stand out in high-definition (especially the storm), but most scenes look pretty clean and it is absolutely worth an upgrade from the DVD version.
This release of Lonesome Dove is packaged in a very nice SteelBook case with some beautiful cover art featuring Gus and Call on their horses. It also brings back some extras from the original 2008 Blu-ray release that weren’t carried over to the first Mill Creek release (that release only included the lengthy 49-minute “Lonesome Dove: The Making of an Epic”). That long featurette returns as do “Blueprints of a Masterpiece” (3:37), “On Location with Director Simon Wincer” (15:06), “Remembering Lonesome Dove” (13:38), “Interview with Larry McMurtry” (6:51), and a “Lonesome Dove Montage” (3:13). Unfortunately all extras are presented in standard-definition. Finally, this version of Lonesome Dove on Blu-ray also comes with a digital code for Mill Creek’s new streaming site movieSPREE. In my opinion, those who already own the 2008 Blu-ray release probably don’t need to upgrade unless they are a SteelBook collector. However, those who only own the DVD or the first Mill Creek Entertainment Blu-ray release will probably want to upgrade unless they don’t care about the extras.
I know a lot of you are going to think I’m crazy for giving Lonesome Dove just a 3/5, especially after I just wrote several paragraphs writing about the amazing acting and cinematography. Keep in mind that I rate heavily based on entertainment factor and that is the one part that Lonesome Dove is a bit lacking in. Even though I am only giving this miniseries a mediocre 3/5, there are a lot of people I would recommend it to. Western fans will absolutely love Lonesome Dove, it is basically a six-hour movie that is likely one of the best entries in the genre. While I doubt there are many western fans who haven’t already checked it out, if you haven’t you absolutely need to give it a watch. I would also highly recommend Lonesome Dove to those who value a well-made piece of content over an entertaining one. There’s no denying that Lonesome Dove is an extremely well-made miniseries that likely would have won the Emmy for outstanding miniseries if War and Remembrance didn’t air the same year. It just isn’t for everyone, especially those like me who value entertainment over everything else.
Lonesome Dove: SteelBook Edition was released on Blu-ray on July 9, 2019.
Buy Lonesome Dove: SteelBook Edition on Amazon: Blu-ray
We would like to thank Mill Creek Entertainment for the review copy of Lonesome Dove: SteelBook Edition used for this review. Other than receiving the review copy we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation. Receiving the review copy had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.