Written by John Wider
Directed by Mike Robe
I was never a big fan of the western genre, to begin with, but I did love the 1989 mini-series Lonesome Dove. When a sequel was announced, I was somewhat excited. I couldn’t see how it could be as good as the original mini-series, what with all of the characters who were killed off. I had even more trepidation when I learned that Pulitzer-prize-winning novelist Larry McMurtry wouldn’t be involved in this production. He did eventually write his own sequel to the novel, but apparently, this was not fast enough for those at the network.
The network wanted to capitalize on the success of the original mini-series. Some of the same actors are back, such as Chris Cooper as July Johnson, Rick Schroeder as Newt, and Timothy Scott as Pea Eye. The big names were gone. Besides the ones who were killed off in Lonesome Dove, other actors declined to return. Jon Voight has taken over the role of Captain Woodrow Call. Barbara Hershey takes over the role of Clara. Dish and Lorena are gone, except for a letter in which she states they have split up.
On his way back from burying his best friend, Gus, Call has decided to drive a herd of wild horses up to Montana. He enlists the help of Gideon Walker (portrayed by William L. Petersen), an old acquaintance of the two former Texas Rangers. His crew consists of many Mexicans, including a young woman who claims to be Gus’ daughter (portrayed by Nia Peeples). On his way to Montana, Gideon calls on Clara. After a calamity in which she almost loses everything, she folds her herd of horses into the Mustangs being driven to Montana, and goes along.
Meanwhile, back in Montana, Newt is trying to run the ranch with the authority Call delegated to him, but is having some difficulty. The majority of it comes from ranch hand Jasper (portrayed by Barry Tubb). When the two set out to meet up with Call, Jasper convinces Newt to detour to a local town to live it up and the two wind up in jail for murder. The two are rescued by the head of the local cattleman’s association, Dunnigan (portrayed by Oliver Reed). Not only does Newt feel accepted by Dunnigan as a son, something Call would never acknowledge, but he also finds romance with the man’s young bride, Ferris (portrayed by Reese Witherspoon).
When everyone finally arrives in Montana, they face a power struggle between the ranchers. The association is trying to drive out the independent ranchers. The battle pits Call and Newt at odds.
Return to Lonesome Dove doesn’t have quite the subtle charm of the original. James Wilder did a decent job with the script and story, but in many ways, it’s a “typical western” such as when Newt and Jasper go into town and get in trouble over a comment made about Texas and end up shooting two people. This is more what I’ve seen in so many westerns before. For someone who is truly a fan of the genre, I can imagine that they would enjoy this series. I did not find it nearly as enjoyable as the original. I also felt like too much was happening, with all the side stories going on. While that worked all right in Lonesome Dove, for some reason the stories didn’t flow as well here.
Part of the problem is the writers try too hard to replace some of the characters killed off in Lonesome Dove. Of course, you replace Danny Glover’s character with another black man, Isom Pickett, portrayed by Louis Gossett Jr. The villainous Native American, Blue Duck is replaced by “Cherokee Jack” portrayed by Dennis Haysbert. I also didn’t like the recast of Barbara Hershey as Clara. Anjelica Huston had much more of a strength and sturdiness to her. Hershey got on my nerves after a while.
Jon Voight does step into Tommy Lee Jones’ shoes fairly well. That is the one bright spot. Although I liked Jones’ tough and stoic characterization, Voight gives Call more drive, which sort of explains the motivation which forced him to move the herds from Texas to Montana in the first place. Petersen is decent as Gideon, but again it felt like the character was formulated specifically to replace the now-dead character of Gus, instead of being a different person in his own right.
Christ Cooper stands out as well. He’s given some meat in this production, and the fact that I can cite him as noteworthy is one of the reasons he’s become a favorite actor of mine. Likewise, Gossett does a good job with the material he’s given, it’s just that the material is so weak and predictable.
If you are looking for another Lonesome Dove, you won’t find it here. If you are just a fan of the western genre, this may appeal to you. I don’t think I would ever watch it again, while I have watched the original mini-series several times and never grown tired of it.
” The Making of Return to Lonesome Dove