Into the West (2005)

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Released 14-Feb-2007

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Western Featurette-The Making of "Into the West"
Featurette-The Communication Gap
Featurette-The Cast of "Into the West"
TV Spots
Music Video
Gallery-Photo
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2005
Running Time 524:01 (Case: 523)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Multi Disc Set (4)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Robert Dornhelm
Sergio Mimica-Gezzan
Jeremy Podeswa
Timothy Van Patten
Studio
Distributor
Dreamworks
Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring Matthew Settle
Josh Brolin
Tonantzin Carmelo
Gary Busey
Michael Spears
Zahn McClarnon
Skeet Ulrich
Case Custom Packaging
RPI ? Music Geoff Zanelli


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles Danish
German
English
French
Dutch
Norwegian
Finnish
Swedish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Following the commercial success of World War 2 mini-series Band of Brothers and sci-fi mini-series Taken, Exec Producer Steven Spielberg turned his eye to the Wild West for their next mini-series Into The West. Though a little shorter and more modestly budgeted than Dreamworks Television's previous mini-series, Into The West continues the legacy of quality set by its predecessors.

    As a welcome change of pace to most westerns, historical and cultural accuracy are given top priority, particularly on the Native American side of the story. The actors speak the traditional Lakota dialect, which the all had to learn phonetically from a Native American cultural consultant. Into The West also places a lot of emphasis in traditional ceremonies and daily practice that you would not usually see in westerns, even many of those westerns that show particular respect to Native American culture. The cultural aspect to Into The West also manages to play out more naturally than in fare such as Dances With Wolves (which itself did a great job of depicting native culture, and was a more entertaining movie). The cultural aspect occasionally seems a little laborious.

    Over the course of six 90 minute episodes, Into The West follows the course of two disparate families in the West over the course of the 19th century (well, 60-odd years of it). The Wheeler family begin their life out West when two young brothers run away from the family wheel-making business seeking adventure and a new family is formed among the pioneers of the West. Coming from the other side of the story, Native American shaman Loved By the Buffalo, his brothers Running Fox and Dogstar and their families see a great change in their way of life as the white man spreads across their lands.

    Much like Band of Brothers and Taken, Into The West is largely led by a lesser known central cast and features countless brief appearances from recognisable faces (Josh Brolin, Gary Busey, Sean Astin, Beau Bridges, Lance Henriksen, and Tom Berenger among them). The acting is, pretty much without exception, first rate.

    Each episode is directed by somebody different (including Australian veteran western director Simon Wincer), which makes the flow of each episode a little inconsistent with the last. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as it keeps the storytelling reasonably fresh, but some episodes work noticeably better than others. Furthermore, the epic storyline proves to be a little bit too epic at times and some aspects of the ongoing story aren't given as much screen-time as they deserve. Despite these flaws, the positives significantly outweigh the negatives in this equation.

    The episodes play out as follows:

  1. Wheel to the Stars: Set from 1824 to 1838. A young Native American known as White Feather is set on the path to becoming a Medicine Man and renamed Loved By the Buffalo after surviving a stampede during a buffalo jump hunt (literally, leading buffalo to jump off a cliff). Loved By the Buffalo's ascension comes as an old Medicine Man dreams of dark times as he lays near his death bed. Loved By the Buffalo's sister, Thunder Heart Woman, is married off to a white trapper and his brothers, Running Fox and Dog Star, begin families. Meanwhile, two of the Wheeler brothers, Jacob and Nathan, head out west from Virginia in search of Jedediah Smith. Smith is leading trapping parties and exploring the unknown west. Only Jacob manages to join Smith and travels for some time with his party. After a time, Jacob rescues Thunder Heart Woman, whose husband was killed not long after their marriage, and lives for a time with her people, the Lakota Tribe. Much of this first episode is spent setting up relationships that drive the rest of the series.
  2. Manifest Destiny: Set from 1841 to 1845. Jacob Wheeler and Thunder Heart Woman end their stay with the Lakota tribe, but leave some division among the tribe as to the value of white man's technology. Jacob and Thunder Heart Woman return to Virginia, but soon head back west when they realise they are not truly welcome. They are joined by a number of the younger Wheelers, Jacob's brother Jethro and three young female cousins, who seek the kind of adventure they dream Jacob having had. The Wheelers join a wagon train, but are faced with hardships including disease and unfriendly natives. These hardships break up the family and see Jacob join in the Mexican-American War. Meanwhile, the Lakota Tribe has been divided by the disagreement over white technology and face problems stemming from the introduction of alcohol to the tribe
  3. Dreams & Schemes: Set from 1848 to 1861. Jethro and family are struck with gold-fever when they hear of the Californian gold rush. Margaret Light Shines Wheeler searches the lands for her estranged father Jacob and discovers all kinds of ill-treatment to Natives across the land. Running Fox and Dog Star join other chiefs in signing the Treaty of Fort Laramie, a tenuous treaty that unites the Native tribes. As the years pass, Jacob's children follow different paths, one joins the Pony Express, while another joins the army as a scout and translator.
  4. Hell on Wheels: Set from 1864 to 1868. The railroad is coming to unite the eastern and western states. Chinese workers are brought in to supplement local labour on the tracks and they meet mixed fortunes. Unsurprisingly, the railroad is yet another step in raising tensions between the Native population and settlers. This leads to a handful of army attacks that lead to the Rise of Red Cloud and Crazy Horse, who would go on to raise a Native army unlike any seen before. The railroad itself attracts the population of settlers to move towards towns on the railroad. This centralisation forms boomtowns, much larger than any seen before in the west.
  5. Casualties of War: Set from 1874 to 1883. Gold is discovered in the Black Hills, on Lakota land, and access to the west is easier than ever before thanks to the near-complete railroad. Mining the land would threaten the Lakota Tribe's way of life and a disagreement soon erupts between Chief Sitting Bull and the government over the ensuing gold rush. Violence ensues at the hand of General Custer, leading to an infamous stand off at Little Big Horn. Once the violence has died down, Robert and Clara Wheeler go to teach at an experimental school that aims to civilise Native American children (ringing in the US equivalent of Australia's stolen generation).
  6. Ghost Dance: Set from 1886 to 1892. Loved By the Buffalo meets a mysterious Indian named Wovoka and believes he is a prophet. Wovoka introduces the Ghost Dance, which spreads quickly in popularity across the Lakota lands and serves to unite the people. Alas, this unification is misunderstood as the starting of an uprising. Soon after, Sitting Bull is "accidentally" killed by Indian Police, sparking further fears of rebellion. These tensions lead to the Wounded Knee Massacre. As Loved By the Buffalo prepares funeral rites for many of the deceased, he is reunited with Jacob Wheeler and the pair vow to pass on the history and teachings of the Lakota people.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and is 16x9 enhanced.

    The image appears to be a little grainy, but reasonably sharp. Dark scenes in particular display a noticeable level of grain, but do have a reasonable level of detail amidst the grain.

    The colours capture a fittingly pale and dusty look throughout the episodes.

    A modest degree of macro blocking can be seen throughout each episode, but not enough to be a distraction at any point. A number of film artefacts are visible during the course of each episode. Though none are particularly large, this is somewhat of a surprise for such a recent television series.

    English subtitles are white with a black border. Based upon the section I sampled, they appear accurate and well timed.

    The three discs containing the actual mini-series are RSDL discs, however the layer break is placed between episodes.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    An English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448 Kbps) audio track and a German Dolby Digital 5.1 (384 Kbps) audio track are present.

    The dialogue is clearly audible throughout the episodes and appears to be well synchronised throughout. The score is fairly typical of pioneer-era westerns, but incorporates plenty of Native American chanting and drumming where appropriate. The mix is quite clear.

    The surround channels are used quite subtly for effects and music, providing quite an engrossing experience. There is modest subwoofer usage where appropriate, though it is most just for the thud of drums and explosions.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The extras are presented on a dedicated, single layer disc. They are generally targeted at an educational audience, rather than purely for entertainment, and illustrate the producers desire for Into The West to be adopted by schools.

The Making of "Into the West" Featurette (38:37)

    A rather in-depth 'Making Of' Featurette. There's perhaps a bit much Steven Spielberg worship early on, but once it moves past the hero-worship there are some good parts on the history behind the show, the themes within the show, production design and costuming. Definitely worth a look.

The Communication Gap Featurette (12:51)

    A featurette on the native language used in the series, the troubles it caused settlers back in the day and the pains that the cast and crew went to in order to accurately represent the Lakota dialect in the series. Again, interesting stuff.

The Cast of "Into the West" Featurette (24:29)

    A featurette that allows the every man and their dog cast to explain how great their characters are and how/why they portrayed them as they did. ho-hum.

World on Fire Music Video(2:37)

    A Sarah McLachlan/Robbie Robertson collaboration on the theme song to the series, backed by a suitably western-pioneer themed video

Promotional Material (2:06)

    TV ads for the show.

Photo Gallery

    A standard photo gallery featurette, though the images are small and need to be navigated with the remote.

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 edition is identical to the Region 4 edition, save for PAL/NTSC differences. Let's call this one a draw.

Summary

    Into The West charts the lives of a family of pioneers and a disparate family of Native Americans in the Wild West, over the course of the 19th century. Another fine mini-series from Steven Spielberg, and highly recommended to anybody with an interest in the Wild West.

    The extras are quite good, in both quantity and quality. The video transfer is relatively average, not bad but not particularly good either. The audio is quite good.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Adam Gould (Totally Biolicious!)
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDSony Playstation 3, using S-Video output
Display Samsung 116cm LA46M81BD. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderPioneer VSX-D512. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationPioneer VSX2016AVS
Speakers150W DTX front speakers, and a 100W centre and 2 surrounds, 12 inch PSB Image 6i powered sub

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