If you thought the Western was dead, Yellowstone makes a good argument that the genre hasn't seen its last days. Granted, this is a modern-day setting, but the series has its roots in all those great stories about the Old West: land disputes, horse rustling, cowboys, and good ol' fashioned family drama – although the drama here is very much R-rated in content. Paramount's release is a good one, considering that so many TV shows are dumped onto Blu-ray (if they even make Blu-ray at all) in bare-bones packaging. While the extras here aren't extensive, there's enough to please fans, and the A/V quality of this release is solid as well. It all adds up to a season release that is Recommended.
Kevin Costner isn't the box office draw he once was, so it makes sense for him to turn to television at this point in his career. Doing a TV series isn't the "downgrade" it was once considered for an A-list movie actor, and if you're going to do TV, what better collaborator to team up with than Taylor Sheridan, the writer of such acclaimed films as Sicario and Hell or High Water, as well as both the writer and director of Wind River, who both writes and directs all of Yellowstone's nine first season episodes.
Costner stars as John Dutton, the patriarch of a wealthy family who owns a huge ranch in southwestern Montana (yes, it borders the famous National Park, hence the ranch's and the series' name). It's easy to think of him as the J.R. Ewing of this show, but his character isn't nearly as wheeling and dealing (or dishonest) as ol' J.R., although Costner is far from a white hat either – which is one of the nice things about the characters that Sheridan writes...there's always shades of gray. Dutton's primary nemesis in Season One is Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham), the Native American chief of the nearby Indian reservation who wants nothing more than to get his hands on a big swath of Dutton's land. Again, Sheridan deserves credit here, as the "politically correct" thing to do would be to make Rainwater's character a sympathetic hero, but he's clearly the villain of this piece...although, again, at times he shows that he's just as human as the rest of these characters.
With external forces trying to take his land, Dutton faces internal problems as well, primarily from his offspring. Daughter Beth (Kelly Reilly) is the most similar to her father – a ruthless businesswoman when the need arises, but she has her own inner demons – most of which stem from the death of her mother, John's wife, when she was a young girl.
Son Jamie (Wes Bentley) is both an attorney and an aspiring politician, but there is a huge strain between father and son, as John is disappointed in the man his son has become, while son resents his father because he feels he hasn't been able to make his own choices in life.
John's other son, Kayce (Luke Grimes), has had a falling out with his father due to the fact that he married a local Native American, Monica (Kelsey Asbille), and he and his wife refuse to live on the Dutton property. The couple has a young son that we learn John Dutton never wanted to be born, although now he strives to have a relationship with his grandson.
The man who is most like a son to John isn't a son at all, but rather the foreman of his ranch, Rip Wheeler (Cole Hauser). Dutton has the ranch run in almost a mafia-style way (including literally branding the workers so they know they're part of the "family")...and if you want out (as viewers will see in the episode "The Long Black Train"), there's really only one option. Rip also has had (and continues to have) a semi-relationship with Beth Dutton, which makes things more complicated.
Sheridan's series doesn't pull any punches, and is really the first fully R-rated series that we've seen on basic cable. Yes, other shows have pushed the boundaries here and there, but Yellowstone is just as gritty and raw as any HBO or Showtime drama – with frequent profanity, violence, and nudity. Yes, that may turn some potential viewers off, but it's nice to see that Paramount is allowing Sheridan to film his vision without any apparent censorship.
Season One is a good introduction to this world and these characters. I found myself wishing for just a little more Costner at times (he's in every episode, but not always part of the featured story), but that's only natural given he's by far the most "known" actor here. If there's a breakout star of Yellowstone, it's Kelly Reilly, whose Beth Dutton is both strong and vulnerable, and Reilly's performance is right up there with Costner's and Birmingham in terms of quality. I can't give the first season of Yellowstone a perfect score, but for a new series, it's off to a pretty strong start.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Yellowstone rides onto Blu-ray from Paramount with three 50GB discs housed inside a standard Elite keepcase, with the first two discs held on a plastic hub inside. There is a sole insert advertising Yellowstone's soundtrack (by Brian Tyler), and the reverse side of the keepcase's slick (seen from inside the box) lists the contents (episodes and bonus materials) of each of the three Blu-rays. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase slides overtop.
There are no front-loaded trailers on any of the discs, whose main menu is simply a still of the cast (the same one on the back of the slipcover and slick), with menu selections horizontally across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-rays in this release are all region-free.
At first glance, I thought the episodes were presented in the 2.35:1 format, but IMDB lists them as 2.00:1, which is close enough to 2.35:1 to provide the widescreen "epic" feel to the shows that a series such as this one needs. Creator/director Taylor Sheridan states in the bonus materials on this release that he considers Yellowstone to be a multi-part film, and one certainly gets that impression from the visuals.
Each episode of Yellowstone has been shot digitally on Arri Alexa cameras, and as television shows go, this one looks pretty good, with lots of color and detail and very little in the way of glitches (some blink-and-you'll-miss-it aliasing here and there, and some mild noise in the darker/night sequences, but nothing to be too concerned about). Like a lot of stuff shot on the Arri, daytime exterior sequences fare the best, while indoor and/or night sequences fare the worst. All in all though, Paramount has done a good job with the transfer and fans of the series should be quite happy with the quality of this release.
The only audio provided for these episodes of Yellowstone are 5.1 Dolby TrueHD tracks, which take full advantage of their lossless audio, with crisp, clean dialogue; frequent feelings of immersion; great use of the surrounds; and a distinct, noticeable dynamic range throughout.
This may just be a TV show, but the audio here rivals any 5.1 track I've heard for a motion picture – which almost certainly is the intent, here, as Yellowstone has been shot to look and sound more like a theatrical presentation than a television series.
Subtitles are available in English SDH only.
Yellowstone is good, old-fashioned TV drama, but told in a bold and gritty way – with all the language and violence one would see in an R-rated film. It's very much a modern-day Western, and not only is the first season very entertaining, but Paramount has provided a nice Blu-ray release with solid A/V and a decent dose of bonus materials. Recommended.