Released 30 years ago Saturday, the miniseries “Lonesome Dove” has stood the test of time to become one of the best westerns ever made.
The four episodes, totalling six hours, tell the story of a group of old Texas Rangers who decide to make a cattle drive from the small town of Lonesome Dove to remote Montana to start a ranch. Along the way, they encounter fierce storms and cutthroat bandits and endure harsh realities.
The leader of the drive is Gus, played by Robert Duvall, who spends most of his time being carefree. When trouble sets in, Gus isn’t afraid to draw arms and start fighting bandits, including the villainous Blue Duck, played by Frederic Forrest. Duvall adds a breath of life to the series and also shows how simply enjoying the day is the best way to live.
Gus’ polar opposite and best friend is Captain Call, played by Tommy Lee Jones, who is all work and no play. He prefers to keep his emotions to a minimum, especially when it concerns Newt, played by Ricky Schroeder, a young ranch hand who is Call’s son out of wedlock but has no idea of his heritage. Call refuses to name the boy as his own because Newt is a reminder of Call failing Newt’s mother. Despite this, Call still cares for Newt and nearly beats a man to death for trying to steal Newt’s horse. Call’s character is one of sincerity and flaws. He’s not the charmer that Gus is, but he comes through when he’s needed.
Both Duvall and Jones stand out among the cast, which is an impressive feat considering their co-stars are Angelica Huston, Diane Lane, Chris Cooper, Robert Urich, Frederic Forrest and Danny Glover. Despite having a large cast, the miniseries wisely spends a lot of time developing its characters, so when some of them are killed, the audience experiences sorrow.
The pacing of the show is magnificent because of the perfect balance of action and dialogue. Being a western, there are several shootouts but not so many the characters are lost in the gunsmoke. When the characters talk to each other, the conversations are wonderful to hear because of how grounded they are. Every part of the series is engrossing to the point that one could watch all six hours in one sitting and never get bored.
“Lonesome Dove” is perfectly shot perfectly on film and with a color scheme that feels like a combination of John Ford and Sergio Leone’s classic westerns, such as “The Searchers” and “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” The score is what gives the miniseries its identity. Composer Basil Poledouris, who scored “Conan The Barbarian” and “The Hunt for Red October,” creates a masterpiece that could give classical composers a run for their money.
Like the work of Beethoven, each episode of “Lonesome Dove” gets better and better. The fourth and final episode, “Return,” is the perfect ending. It’s in this episode Call becomes one of the best characters put to film as he comes to terms with his past and proves to be a man of substantial character. As the final scene passes on the screen, viewers feel fulfilled.
“Lonesome Dove” is simply a masterpiece of the western genre. The depiction of the harsh nature of the West makes for a realistic yet romantic miniseries, which took television audiences by storm with an average audience of 26 million homes, seven Emmy wins and two Golden Globe wins. “Lonesome Dove” transcends all expectations and delivers four visually stunning episodes.