DVD / Book Review
Historical Fiction / Western / Action / Adventure
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Having watched this incredible mini-series on TNT Network, I ran right out and purchased the book. I had to wait until November for the miniseries to come out on DVD, but as soon as it hit the store shelves, it was in my hands. The following is a review of both the DVD set and the novel. Enjoy!
Produced By: DreamWorks Television
Executive Producer: Steven Spielberg
The Lakota are curious about the newcomers to their land. One Lakota medicine man, Growling Bear, has received a vision foretelling the doom of the Lakota nation at the hands of the white strangers, or wasichu as they are called in the Lakota language. He sees the buffalo all but wiped out by the wasichu and the Lakota captives of the white man, starving and downtrodden. His people refuse to believe in his vision. How can the peoples of the Lakota tribe be wiped out so easily when they are favored by Tatanka? The buffalo had always been plentiful and the Lakota had done nothing to incur Tatankaís wrath. Most Lakota dismissed Growling Bearís vision as the ramblings of an old and tired soul preparing to join Tatanka, but Loved by the Buffalo is not so sure that Growling Bearís vision should be ignored.
As a member of the Wheeler family, Jacob is expected to follow in his fatherís and grandfatherís footsteps and become a wheelwright. Every last male member of his family is a part of the Wheeler wheel-making business. But Jacob wants more. He dreams of the untamed, vastly unexplored west. Jacob wants adventure. He knows he is not meant to be a part of the family business. Jacob Wheeler believes he has a higher calling. When Jedediah Smith puts out the call for all available mountain men for an expedition west, Jacob Wheeler believes the time has come to leave Spotsylvania forever.
This is the premise behind the sweeping epic presented by Dreamworks Television and Executive Producer Steven Spielberg entitled Into the West. Spanning six two-hour episodes, Into the West is an epic miniseries of historical proportions. Itís a story within a story, telling the tale of the Lakota nation and its clash with settlers as a whole, and the tale of two individuals, one Lakota and one Virginian who unite and create a family. Through the family created by Jacob Wheeler and Thunder Heart Woman, we learn of the history of the west and how the Lakota people were forced to deal with the expansion of America into their sacred lands.
The television series is relatively unique in that it doesnít try to glamorize the tale of the west. Good times were had by the settlers and Native Americans both and these are accurately portrayed. But many settlers of the west faced extremely hard times and this is also accurately portrayed. The Native Americans suffered many hardships at the hands of the United States government and none of the conniving or backstabbing is swept under the rug. The Native Americans also were betrayed by their own people, lured by promises from the wasichu. This is something often overlooked by the movie industry, but Into the West strives to show it all. What also makes this version of American history more believable is the fact that the producers and writers refused to blanche at killing off major and oft times beloved characters to ensure an accurate portrayal of the times and hardships shared by all.
The most important thing about this miniseries is that Into the West is not another typical western movie. Executive Producer Steven Spielberg wanted to create a miniseries that could be used as an educational tool for future generations. He wanted it to be as accurate a portrayal of the people of the times. To that end, great research was done and tremendous care taken to keep the movieís accuracy intact. From choosing the cast of characters in this miniseries to the sweeping sets, to the action and sense of adventure, great lengths were taken to ensure that the movie was entertaining as well as accurate. The ensemble cast of actors portray both fictional and actual members of the history of the United States. Their portrayals of these characters, supported by the storylines provided by the screenplay writers, make them so interesting that viewers actually care about what happens to them. Not one minute of the miniseries can be missed for fear of losing an important part of the tale.
The DVD version of Into the West is an excellent investment for any history buff. Packaged to look like a novel, Into the West is comprised of 4 DVDs, 3 containing the 6 episodes of the series and one solely devoted to extras. Although I was disappointed by the fact that the extras did not include deleted scenes, I can honestly say that it wasnít that big of a disappointment. The extras that were provided more than made up for what was missing. The documentaries provided drew my undivided attention as I learned to what great lengths the production crews, actors, props people, etc. went to in creating Into the West. Attention was paid to even the smallest of details. Each episode covered one of the great events in history, such as the Pony Express, the creation of the railroad, the era of the wagon train, the tragedy at Wounded Knee. To ensure believability, props masters created whole towns, an actual locomotive complete with rails, and more. Costume design was very important in that every outfit the crew wore had to be researched to ensure that it accurately portrayed the design of clothing worn in any particular era. All of the Native American people portrayed in the miniseries were taught the languages of the people they portrayed. Many of the actors chosen, although Native American, did not know the language of their ancestors and learning was a difficult process. It is yet another hope that this film will help serve as a archive of the languages that are becoming a thing of the past among their native peoples.
Being a history buff, I can honestly say that Into the West is the most accurate and interesting portrayal of the West I have ever seen. Those two factors are very important when creating an epic miniseries of such proportions. If a movie is an accurate, but dry interpretation of events, it will likely be overlooked by anyone but historians. However, in creating this miniseries around a fictional family, the creators of Into the West are able to interject action, adventure, love stories, strife and more, making this movie appealing to people who would ordinarily be turned off by your average history lesson. Into the West should be something that graces the shelves of every home. Not only because of its beautifully sweeping scenes, incredible acting, action and adventure, but for the historical lesson it imparts. It is important that we know our roots as Americans - that, in the hectic movement of the fast-paced world we live in, we never lose sight of where we came from. It is important that our children learn about the beginnings of this country in a way that is both interesting and informative.
In making a miniseries so enjoyable, yet so informative and accurate, Steven Spielberg has succeeded in his goal of creating an educational epic that will be looked to in the future as a remarkable teaching tool. Be sure to pick up your copy of the Into the West DVD set today!
By Max McCoy
Published By: Onyx
Into the West, by Max McCoy, is based on the TNT / Dreamworks Television miniseries of the same title. The story begins at the onset of western expansion within the Americas. Adventurous men and women travel west searching for a new way of life, much to the chagrin of the natives of the land who want only to live their lives as they have lived them for generations. Feeling encroached upon, and often times betrayed, the Native Americans are at odds as to how to handle this new influx of strangers. Into the West is an epic adventure about two families, both from different cultures, yet united by love and honor. Their journeys and trials take the reader through such historic events as the Alamo, the Gold Rush, the Civil War, Little Big Horn, Wounded Knee, and more.
What is particularly enjoyable about the novelization of Into the West by Max McCoy is that he successfully fills in gaps to character stories Ė things that were not covered in the television mini-series. The novelization shows us what happened to Jacobís brother Nathan when the Alamo fell and what befell Jacobís cousin Naomi once she settled into life as wife to a Comanche chief. We also learn more of the tale of son Abraham High Wolf. McCoy is able to delve into the mind of Loved by the Buffalo during his numerous travels and this gives the reader a greater insight into the character than was capable in the television series.
Readers may have only one complaint with this novelization. Though the beginning of the novel is filled with extra information and insight into the characters, the end of the novel seems a bit rushed. Scenes that were in the movie are completely missing from the novelization. However, the reader must take into perspective that the novelist was probably given an earlier script to work with rather than the final version.
Taken as its own entity though, the novel version of Into the West is an excellent read. The story is written well and the characters are so intriguing as to make the novel hard to put down. Despite what the reader may know of American history, the reader will be reluctant to stop reading until he finds out what happens next. When the book is finally completed the reader will feel like he or she has learned something from the experience. He or she may also be compelled to learn more and this is perhaps the most important gift of Into the West. For as the old adage says, we must learn from our history, for if not we are doomed to repeat it.