A harsh prequel to the Paramount+ popular series “Yellowstone” about the famed Dutton rancher dynasty in Montana arrives via a pair of Blu-ray discs offering the entire 10-episode, limited series run of 1883: A Yellowstone Origin Story (Paramount Home Entertainment, not rated, 2.00:1 aspect ratio, 558 minutes, $33.99).
Set in a post-Civil War America during the late 1880s, the series covers Tennessee’s original Dutton family — father James (Tim McGraw), mother Margaret (Faith Hill), 17-year-old daughter Elsa (Isabel May) and 5-year-old son John (Audie Rick) — joining a wagon train of German immigrants starting in Fort Worth, Texas, and moving across the wilds of America on a mission to settle lands in Oregon.
The dramatic, violent and harrowing Western gouges viewers with a violent realism of the times as nearly everyone from bandits, Native Americans and greedy settlers, and everything from drought, starvation and rattlesnakes, try to prevent the group from accomplishing its mission.
Luckily, a pair of crusty Pinkerton Agency war veterans — Shea Brennan (Sam Elliott) and Thomas (LaMonica Garrett) lead the wagon train aided by cattle herders Wade (James Landry Hebert) and Ennis (Eric Nelsen) and the able-bodied Mr. Dutton, also a Civil War veteran.
In this survival of the fittest journey, the Duttons will eventually find the land that will become the sprawling Yellowstone ranch.
Suffice it to report, after watching the horrors these folks had to endure, I am more than happy to never have been a part of this past.
As terrifying for those in love with the pureness of the Western genre, a slightly meandering, soap-operatic subplot finds the too-talkative and naïve Elsa discovering coming-of-age love on the prairie.
In scenes more painful to watch, though, most viewers will not appreciate getting their hearts ripped out in the emotionally devastating conclusion of the mini-series. There will not be a dry eye in the house.
Throughout, Mr. Elliott, Mr. Garrett and Mr. McGraw embody the grittiest cowboy mentality, and Ms. May carries the load as both narrator and a tough-as-nails budding cowgirl.
The ensemble cast also includes a couple of brief heavyweight surprises including Tom Hanks as Union Gen. George Meade and Billy Bob Thornton as ruthless Marshal Big Jim Courtright.
The high definition presentation highlights panoramic views of the Western landscapes and period locations, and costumes that are as excellently crafted as the performances.
Those enamored with the “Yellowstone” mythos should look forward to “1923” starring Helen Mirren and Harrison Ford coming next year to Paramount+.
Best extras: Each episode comes with a short, behind-the-scenes segment that is too promotional and totally useless in explaining the most head-shaking obstacles played out on the prairie.
However, a quartet of lengthy featurettes (almost two hours in total) dives deep into the series covering the narrative structure, recreating 1883 in Fort Worth, costuming, props, make-up, using antique wagons, historical accuracy, on-site Native American consultants, battling the elements and terrain, and even Mr. Hanks talking about his involvement in the series.
What’s sorely missing is a deeper historical documentary on the realities of settlers heading West during the early days of America and how accurately “1883” covers the events.
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