Too Much Dove, Not Enough Lonesome
As a western fan the original "Lonesome Dove" TV Movie/ mini-series was as close to perfection as it gets; it had drama, action, characters, good performances, depth, stunning cinematography and a storyline which kept you in its grip for its entire 384 minutes. Basically "Lonesome Dove" was so right it was a tough act to follow yet 4 years later we got "Return to Lonesome Dove" the continuation of the story but where as "Lonesome Dove" was written by Larry McMurtry this sequel was written by John Wilder. Now "Return to Lonesome Dove" is still an entertaining western and ticks a lot of boxes with new actors taking on some of the original characters and doing a good job whilst again the cinematography is very good. But "Return to Lonesome Dove" comes up short in one area and it is a critical one as the storyline this time around is more soap-opera than western and that sadly lets this sequel down.
Now like with "Lonesome Dover" "Return to Lonesome Dove" is a big production coming in at the 340 minute mark and as such we have another sprawling storyline which is impossible to trim down to a short synopsis. But what we have is Captain Woodrow F. Call (Jon Voight) planning to drive a herd of wild mustangs North to his Montana ranch with the help of some friends including Gideon Walker (William Petersen) and horse wrangler Isom Pickett (Louis Gossett Jr.). Woodrow's plans is to buy some good stock off of Clara Allen (Barbara Hershey) to inter breed with the mustangs but Woodrow has troubles on his journeys involving an outlaw named Cherokee Jack Jackson (Dennis Haysbert) as well as possible trouble from a young woman known as Augostina Vega (Nia Peeples). There is also trouble at his ranch in Montana when Newt Dobbs (Rick Schroder) and Jasper Fant (Barry Tubb) end up killing two men and are only saved from the noose by wealthy rancher Gregor Dunnigan (Oliver Reed) whose young wife Ferris (Reese Witherspoon) was saved by Newt.
All of this barely covers the first 90 minutes and there is various troubles along the way which effect each of these characters, from romance to murder to a wild fire burning down a ranch as well as issues between ranchers which as I said makes it a sprawling storyline. But as I mentioned right at the start "Return to Lonesome Dove" has a storyline which feels more soap-opera than western with all the various conflicts, romances and scheming. In some ways it still works and will certainly hold some appeal to those who have enjoyed the more recent trend in easy to watch daytime TV westerns but it lacks the power of the original "Lonesome Dove" and judged purely on the storyline is inferior.
It is a shame because "Return to Lonesome Dove" still has the look and whilst not always capturing the epic beauty of the Wild West still features some impressive shots of the vast open spaces. It also has the action which to sound like a broken record is impressive but yet doesn't quite have the thrill and excitement which was served up the first time around. And there are many more elements to "Return to Lonesome Dove" which are good and are in truth better than what you get in most TV productions yet don't quite match up to what was delivered first time around.
Then there is the acting and whilst we have some returning faces such as Ricky Schroder as Newt, Chris Cooper as July Johnson and Timothy Scott as Pea Eye Parker we also had some new faces. Jon Voight took on the not easy task of playing Woodrow a character so perfectly played by Tommy Lee Jones yet does a good job of making the character real and similar but unfortunately not the same. The same with Barbara Hershey who as Clara brings something different than what Anjelica Huston brought the first time around and whilst works it is too different to be a believable continuation of the character. But all of these actors and others including Oliver Reed, Louis Gossett Jr. and a young Reese Witherspoon do a good job and deliver superior characterisation than you normally expect from a made for TV western.
What this all boils down to is that "Return to Lonesome Dove" is very good and delivers pretty much the same level of production which the original "Lonesome Dove" delivered even with different actors taking over pivotal characters. But what lets it down is the storyline which sadly edges more towards soap-opera than western.