Written by: Robert E. Thompson, Bill Barrett, Gene L. Coon, William Raynor, Myles Wilder, Laurence Mascott, John Twist, R. Hamer Norris, Leonard Heideman, and Donald S. Sanford
Directed by: Lewis Allen, Richard Bartlett, Arthur Lubin, Felix Feist, Charles F. Haas, Lewis Allen, James P. Yarbrough, and Christian Nyby
Starring: Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker, Michael Landon, and Victor Sen Yung.
Released by: Brentwood Home Video
Rating: NR, safe for all ages, with some violence
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.
My Advice: Buy it if you love Westerns
Originally conceived as a way to sell color TVs by dazzling consumers with the Western landscapes, Bonanza became a beloved part of many a Baby Boomer and Gen X childhood. Now, this set of two double-sided discs presents us with eight of the best episodes from this long-running show. Return to the Ponderosa with Hoss, Little Joe, and the rest, and return to those long, simple days of childhood.
[ad#longpost]The set includes eight episodes from the oft-overlooked first two seasons, and are as follows: “Escape to the Ponderosa,” “The Ape,” “The Bloodline,” “Death at Dawn,” “Blood on the Land,” “Badge without Honor,” “Day of Reckoning,” and “Desert Justice.” From escaped convicts to the fallout of the Civil War, Bonanza tackled some fascinating, energetic, and just plain fun storylines.
The acting is really quite decent. Michael Landon, here a young heartthrob, plays the hot-headed, rash youngest son quite well. Pernell Roberts is at times a bit too much the perfect son, but that has more to do with the writing than the acting; these days, a character like this would be at the center of an “is he gay?” scandal–one more testament to our collective lost innocence. Dan Blocker is flat marvelous as the big “Hoss,” and is there anything bad you can say about Lorne Greene? Look for cameos by young versions of Leonard Nimoy, Ricardo Montalban, Lee Van Cleef, and Cal Boulder.
The format of the set is quite nice, with double-sided discs preventing the whole from becoming too cumbersome (are you listening, Anchor Bay?). It would have been even nicer had these discs been part of a complete season-by-season set, but perhaps rights are hard to come by.
The audio and video quality are both very respectable given that the age of the original film stock is probably older than most of you readers are. Also, TV recording technology has come a long way; you have to expect a bit of fading and overly bright scenes. That said, however, the show is still very watchable, even gorgeous in places, as the camera-folk show off the Western landscapes. The sound is surprisingly clear, and is a nice balance between dialogue, music, and special effects.
There are no features on this set, but given the number of episodes and the low price of the set, then asking for features is hardly reasonable–still, we’ll do it anyway. A few cheap features might have included something like a map of the Ponderosa or a text background discussion. Also easy to supply would have been some text biographies and filmographies of the cast, crew and guest stars.
Overall, if you love Westerns, and you know you do, then this is a great investment. For a phenomenal price, less than $10, you can get your hands on eight of the best episodes from this venerable, beloved series. If you yearn for a day when every other TV show didn’t star skeletal woman who were more concerned about their sex life than anything else (like, oh, say, the health of their “loved” ones, the war in Iraq, or…anything really), then Bonanza might just be the, well, bonanza you were looking for.