Spielberg's miniserie "Into the West" stands as one of the most boring and ridiculous miniserie ever filmed on the American West.
TEDIUM AND CLICHÉS
by Glenn Garvin, June 10, 2005, Miami Herald
Thoughts of a normal viewer:
"No kidding, could this be the real credits ?!?"
"Is that Woodstock ?!?"
Thanksgiving may still be six months off, but Steven Spielberg and TNT are serving up a big early turkey. And if you decide to taste Into The West, be sure to save room for a giant heaping helping of
white guilt for dessert.
Not that you're likely to want more. Into The West lasts 12 hours (the miniseries airs Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights at 8 for two weekends in a row) and covers 65 years of American history. As Winston Churchill might have put it -- no, he's not part of the show; Into The West only seems like it lasts until World War II -- never have so many labored so mightily to bring forth so little.
A scatterbrained amalgam of sketchy writing, choppy editing and politically correct clichés, Into The West sets new standards for TV superficiality and bloat. It's hard to imagine that a single work can cover everything from the Gold Rush to the Civil War, the Pony Express to the transcontinental railroad, and still manage to be so utterly uninteresting.
Clearly influenced by the sprawling 1963 Cinerama movie How The West Was Won, Into The West retells 19th-century American history through the eyes of multiple generations of two families: one of Virginia wheelwrights, the other of Sioux Indians. The principal spokesmen are restless young Jacob Wheeler, who deserts the family business for the frontier, and Loved by Buffalo, a Sioux medicine man tormented by cataclysmic visions of the tribe's future.
As a sort of moving diorama (See a buffalo stampede! Watch a flood sweep away a wagon train!), Into The West is a mild curiosity -- particularly its odd sexual preoccupations. ''When alien peoples meet,'' declares one character early on, ''first they fight, then they fornicate.'' (Oddly, I don't recall those scenes from E.T.) Virtually every romance and carnal encounter in the six hours of the miniseries that were provided for review is interracial.
Whatever the merits of Into The West as a frontier dating guide, when it comes to drama and history, it has none.
The jumpy and episodic screenplay seems to have been stapled together from three-by-five notecards, substituting mere chronology for dramatic structure or character development. Its abrupt leaps in time and space as it shifts back and forth between various branches of the two families grow all the more disconcerting as the characters age and are played by new actors who look and sound little like the cast members they replaced.
Even more irritating is Into The West's politically correct approach to history. Spielberg idiotically tries to cast this as an American Schindler's List; white explorers and settlers rampage around the continent like unaccented Nazis (the gallant Wheeler family standing in for Oskar Schindler) while the Indians are their perpetually innocent victims. If the Indians massacre a wagon train, it's only to prevent the spread of disease; if the Indians abduct and rape a woman, she falls in love with them. Indian mysticism is portrayed as profoundly spiritual; white Christianity as fundamentalist fanaticism.
There was plenty to criticize in the way Old Hollywood did Westerns, portraying Indians as one-dimensional savages. But simply reversing the formula is not the answer: The mirror image of bigotry is still bigotry.