HISTORY® brings to life the thrilling, gut-wrenching and inspiring true story of how the state of Texas fought for their independence from the commanding rule of the Mexican General Santa Anna (Martinez), ultimately forming one of America's oldest and most legendary law enforcement agencies - The Texas Rangers. From rough-hewn Rangers with guns on their hips to the legendary "Yellow Rose of Texas" (Addai-Robinson), whose brains were matched only by her beauty, this is a story of the human spirit rising in the face of insurmountable odds and claiming a piece of history for themselves.
"I did not propose to understand him. But if there's a way to defeat Santa Anna the only man capable of doing so is Sam Houston."
Big epic-scale TV mini-series were at one time must see events that millions of people would tune into. Popular from the 1970s through the 1980s, they were a unique way to tell a long story over multiple nights in a way that a single film could not. Coupled with a strong cast of popular actors, large budgets, and top-tier production values, mini-series like 'Roots', 'North & South,' The Blue and the Gray,' and 'Shogun' offered viewers the opportunity to see major pieces of literature adapted to the screen right from the comfort of their homes. As the years went on and every network started competing for viewers attention, the TV mini-series became something of a lost art, one that would infrequently be employed to tell a grand tale. Cable networks in recent years have picked up the torch and have carried the mini-series to new and greater heights. The History Channel, in particular, has been churning out quality content, most recently with 2012's Emmy and Golden Globe-winning 'Hatfields & McCoys.' Hoping to repeat history with 'Texas Rising' The History Channel instead produces a seven-hour series that while often entertaining is uneven and historically questionable.
At the turn of 1836, General Antonio López de Santa Anna (Oliver Martinez) and his thousands-strong army of Mexican soldiers were successfully pushing back a Texan and Tejano uprising that sought to establish the free and independent Republic of Texas. Under the leadership of General Sam Houston (Bill Paxton), the Texan army was in shambles. In-fighting amongst conscript militia soldiers as well as his insubordinate officers, Col. Fannin (Rob Morrow), Col. Sherman (Johnathon Schaech), and Capt. Mosley Baker (Crispin Glover) prodded the patients of the tactically-minded Houston. Where some men were calling for an all out attack, Houston knew his meager forces were no match for the battle-hardened armies of Santa Anna. If Houston was going to win and ensure a victory for the Texas Republic, the battle would need to be fought on the ground and at a time of his choosing. After the loss of The Alamo, the cries for battle became louder and louder.
As Santa Anna pushes Houston and his men into retreat, the rag-tag group of former outlaws known as The Texas Rangers under the command of 'Deaf' Smith (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) along with Billy Anderson (Brendan Fraser) and Henry Karnes (Christopher McDonald) work to aid the Texan army in any way that they can. Acting as scouts, couriers, and being ready and able to take part in skirmishes and battles, The Texas Rangers help maintain the peace while push the cause for a free Texas. While Houston and the Texas Rangers may be having difficulties with Santa Anna, Alamo survivor Lorca (Ray Liotta) is fighting a one-man guerrilla war against the Mexican forces. By choosing small vulnerable targets, Lorca brutally kills every man and displays the bodies for Santa Anna's troops to find instilling fear into the hearts and minds of the Mexican army.
General Houston is desperate for valuable information as to the movements of Santa Anna's army and Emily West (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) is up for the dangerous task of infiltrating Santa Anna's army. As a former lover of Houston, Emily is ready and willing to do anything to ensure Sam's survival, including becoming Santa Anna's mistress. With the aid of another spy named Manuel Flores (Gerardo Taracena), Emily is able to help Sam Houston dictate the terms of the deciding battle at San Jacinto. Even with a tactical victory ensuring the survival of the Texas Republic, Sam Houston and The Texas Rangers will have to deal with corrupt regional bureaucrats, a lethal band of Comanche warriors, murderous bandits as well as the watchful eyes of President Andrew Jackson (Kris Kristofferson) and the rest of Washington D.C. who have their sights on the Pacific Ocean.
'Texas Rising' would possibly have been better and more accurately titled "The Legend of Texas." While most of the characters and events existed in history, their depictions and often times the sequence of events have been wildly distorted in this mini-series. Granted, each ninety-minute episode opens with a notice that dramatic license was taken, the show leaves a lot to be desired historically speaking, as well as dramatically. While the main players of Bill Paxton as Sam Houston, Oliver Martinez as Santa Anna, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as 'Deaf' Smith, and Ray Liotta as the psychotic scripture-reciting Lorca are, generally speaking, very well rounded individual characters and offer quite a bit of dramatic weight to their given roles, the rest of the cast is sadly short-changed.
While many of the characters have real-life counterparts, and some were obviously made up to serve a dramatic need, most of these individuals have little to do other than to look dirty, talk gruffly, and shoot a flintlock pistol when the time calls for it. For the characters that really existed, they seem to be included not because the story dictates their necessity but because they were real people that took part in these events. Unfortunately, that makes them little more than scenery. Then you have characters like Capt. Mosley played by Crispin Glover. Sure the man was historically speaking no friend to Sam Houston, but in this series he's played and treated more as caricature of a Lex Luthor-style villain than a genuine character who had a different political belief, no matter how right or wrong that may have been. Whether this was how he was written or how Glover approached the character is unknown to me, just the same, it's almost comical how much he resembles a mustache twirling, conniving, super-villain.
Added to the character woes is the tonal inconsistency that doggedly plagues the whole of 'Texas Rising.' Written by Darrel Fetty, Leslie Greif and George Nihil, and directed by Roland Joffé, the balance between action packed drama with elements of political intrigue is often upended by frequent inappropriately timed dalliances with comedy. Just when the story is in motion, right when things are about to get interesting, exactly at the point that something exciting is about to happen, the episode stalls for a commercial break or makes a sad segue to a silly comedic romantic subplot. For the moments where we get to meet 'Deaf' Smith's family, these moments are a welcome respite and offer up a nice counterbalance. It's when we follow achingly irritating moments of Kit Acklin (Trevor Donovan) pining for an Rebecca (Molly McMichael), or the meandering waffle of two fictitious characters that don't even survive through the second episode as they pursue the doctor's daughter, the show stops dead in its tracks. Not only do these moments offer little barring on the rest of the story, they fail to expand the characters in a meaningful way. We don't need these scenes to like or dislike these men, so what are they there for other than to pad out an already overly-long series?
On top of the tonal woes, 'Texas Rising' is also hit hard by a need for accuracy as well as a desire to expand the series beyond the five episodes. While Houston and Santa Anna were fighting each other, Texas was also being inundated by Homesteaders looking to claim a piece of land for themselves. These people would risk everything for come to an untamed land that is at war, and the results didn't always work in their favor as the Comanche warrior Buffalo Hump (Horacio Garcia Rojas) and his braves were on the warpath burning settlements and murdering whites for encroaching on their lands. As the final shot of the series points out, this material is all setup for a sequel series called 'The Comanche Wars.' In the context of this mini-series event, this material is wholly unnecessary. As an audience, we're not given any reason to like, let alone care for any of these characters and in the end they hold no barring on the outcome of the battle between Santa Anna and Houston. It's just filler. Had this material been excised along with some of the irritating comedic moments, this show could have easily been three hours shorter and vastly improved.
Taking my story structure and history complaints aside, 'Texas Rising' does prove to be some decent entertainment. The first episode can be a bit of a dead dog as nothing much happens, but the show gains a lot of steam coming into episode two and chugs along at a decent clip from then on out. The final episode is a bit annoying because of the obvious setup for the sequel series that may or may not be made, but it does manage to bring many of the story threads to a fitting conclusion. If one were to take this as a grand John Ford-era style Western adventure, 'Texas Rising' works fairly well. However, considering its History Channel roots and that it was produced by the same people that brought 'Hatfields & McCoys' successfully to TV screens, 'Texas Rising' is a bit of a disappointment. Parts I loved, parts I hated. There were times I was sitting on the edge of my seat, and others where I was rolling my eyes so hard I almost passed out. I could Monday-morning-quarterback this thing to death without even approaching the historical inaccuracies, but seeing as how this series was produced with the intention to entertain, I'll admit that I was entertained. I for one wanted something more fulfilling for the time I put into watching it but it is worth a look and there is something to appreciate with the size and scale of the production, but 'Texas Rising' very clearly could have been something better than the sum of its parts.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Texas Rising' rides onto Blu-ray from Lionsgate Home Entertainment and The History Channel pressed onto two BD50 discs. Housed in an eco-friendly two disc case with slip cover, the discs open to an animated main menu offering the standard interface options; all extra features are found on disc 2. Also included with this set is an Ultraviolet Digital HD code.
'Texas Rising' is probably best described as a "sepia-toned beauty." The 2.40:1 1080p transfer is an absolute delight on Blu-ray owing a lot to series' Cinematographer Arthur Reinhart. Detail levels are immaculate offering an impressive range from close-up shots of Lorca's ragged appearance to the expansive vistas of the Texas frontier. Colors are obviously muted and pushed into favoring golds, tans, and browns leaving primaries to be a bit washed out. Red blood, for example, looks more deep crimson than red and bright green can appear more of an olive tone. While this coloring can make it difficult to judge flesh tones, it doesn't really have an impact on the rest of the transfer since this effect was by intent and lends itself to the series. Black levels are spot on without any sort of major crush issues to report leaving a wonderful image that offers an expansive amount of depth to enjoy. This was clearly an expensive production and it shows in every frame of this fantastic transfer.
A good epic requires a strong audio track and the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix for each episode of this series really impresses. Dialogue is crisp and clear and is never a strain to hear - even in the heart of the San Jacinto battle. Imaging all around is very impressive as even the quietest of moments are afforded some pleasing and resonate ambient and background effects to keep the surround channels working at all times. To that end, levels are well equalized as you should never have to adjust your volume from one scene to the next. For the most part, the mix keeps to the midranges and lets the score by John Debney and Bruce Broughton push the low notes. The film's battle sequences and gunfights are the breadwinners for this series allowing for a fantastic auditory impact. Something about hearing my subwoofer give a little jump after a cannon burst put a big smile on my face.
Capturing The Revolution: Filming Texas Rising: (HD 14:34) Very EPK cast and crew set interviews. I saw a lot of this before movies I was seeing in theaters ahead of this series' release. It's cool to see the Durango locations and how they utilized the scenery as a part of the show. It also edges idea forward that the creative minds involved were more interested in making a classic-style Western, rather than something more historically accurate.
Sam Houston: A Man of the Revolution: (HD 13:58) This is a very Bill Paxton fronted aspect since he plays the lead, and it was nice to see his thoughts on playing a real-life person as well as one of his distant ancestors. It also delves into Sam Houston's personal history.
General Santa Anna: Leading Mexico: (HD 12:20) A little bit more of a balanced look at Santa Anna than is typically portrayed from the American point of view. Gives a lot more character nuance and is very interesting.
'Texas Rising' is probably best described as a "Western Fantasy" than as a historically accurate drama. While entertaining, the series is overly long, a bit inconsistent, and unfocused at times. It's a fun watch for the most part, but keep your expectations in check. Lionsgate and The History Channel have done a great job bringing this series to Blu-ray, offering a first-rate A/V presentation with a few brief but informative extra features. At seven hours, it may be more than what most people want to see given the story at hand, but I will say that this Blu-ray release is certainly worth a look. and fans shouldn't hesitate in picking this one up.