DVD Review: James A. Michener’s Texas

James A. Michener wrote huge novels. They were so thick that people had to rent a U-Haul to drive the tomes to the coast for their beach reading. It only seemed natural that he would pick the founding of Texas as topic since it was such a huge subject populated by huge people who could easily fit inside the huge pages. These large sweeping novels were also perfect for the networks during the glory years of miniseries. The massive narratives couldn’t be boiled down to a 90 minute movie. His Centennial was major TV event when the 12 episodes ran in 1978. But by 1994, the networks were shying away from miniseries programming. James A. Michener’s Texas would buck with tradition.

The adaptation of Texas had to be a little shorter in running time. The networks weren’t willing to disrupt their regular programming with specials. The huge sweeping story about the state’s founding would have to squeeze into three hours. What made it even more innovative was that you could rent the VHS tape from Blockbuster weeks before it aired on ABC. This was done to recoup the $12 million budget. ABC wasn’t interested in paying that much money for a production. It was a strange strategy, but paid off in the end for the producers.

The miniseries mixes the larger than life figures with fictional characters. Stephen F. Austin (Dallas‘s Patrick Duffy) is the man hired by the Mexican government to find Americans eager to come South of the border to work the land. Jim Bowie (David Keith) is the wildman who wants control land so fertile. Sam Houston (Titus‘ Stacy Keach) is a heartbroken broken man who needs a new start. Eventually Davy Crockett (Dukes of Hazzard‘s John Schneider) arrives when the fight picks up. There are even Mexican characters played by María Conchita Alonso and Benjamin Bratt. The big conflict in the miniseries is that Americans who came to Mexico to work the Texas land weren’t happy living under Mexican rule. They rose up to claim Texas for themselves in a major fight.

The miniseries is rather cheesy in the dialogue department. There is plenty of good action and fight scenes to make up for the clunky words exchanged. The Alamo action is worth remembering. What’s interesting is how the miniseries reminds us that those who went to Texas took an oath of fidelity to Mexico. It is a little history lesson even with the fictional character contributing to the story. James A. Michener’s Texas is a story as big as the state that came out of the battle.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The miniseries looks like it was shot on film and edited in standard definition video. It’s a bit fuzzy on the majestic Texas vistas. The audio is Dolby Digital stereo. The mix is fine for TV. The miniseries is subtitled in English.

Trailer (2:13) promises what you read in the book will be on the screen. It also reminds you that you can rent the video first. It looks like they cut it on a Video Toaster.

Extended Promo (8:49) must have been what they played around the clock at Blockbuster to get you to rent the VHS tapes.

The Making Of James A. Michener’s Texas (7:12) is a vintage featurette with the actors talking about what the miniseries means to them.

James A. Michener’s Texas gives a portrait of how the Lone Star state was born. The huge cast with Charlton Heston’s narration makes this a network event even if it went straight to video first.

CBS DVD presents James A. Michener’s Texas. Starring: Patrick Duffy, Stacy Keach, Chelsea Field, Rick Schroder, Grant Show, David Keith, John Schneider, María Conchita Alonso and Benjamin Bratt. Running Time: 180 minutes. Released: May 7, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.

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