Paramount’s “Yellowstone” captures the new West
“YELLOWSTONE: SEASON 1”
Blu-ray and DVD; 2018; not rated but plenty of scenes of violence, sex, disturbing images profanity and tobacco use; Streaming via Paramount Network
Best extra: “Taylor Sheridan & Kevin Costner on ‘Yellowstone’”
FOR THOSE of us crammed into the cities of the East Coast, the West and its vast amount of undeveloped land is a romanticized mystery. It’s not easy to fathom the size of Yellowstone National Park at nearly 3,500 square miles. So it is difficult to imagine one person or family owning a quarter-of-a-million-acre ranch, in the family for six generations.
Welcome to “Yellowstone” Season 1. The Paramount Network original series pits a ranch owner (Kevin Costner) whose massive land holdings next to Yellowstone National Park against the leader (Gil Birmingham) of a Native American reservation. And, a developer (Danny Huston) of a proposed residential development and the park itself. Add in a family of emotionally stunted sibling, crooked politicians and a vista to die for and you have a serial that just might succeed for a few seasons on the boob tube.
According to Nielsen, “Yellowstone” progressively gained a larger audience each subsequent week it aired back in the summer. A second season is on the way.
Created by Taylor Sheridan (“Hell or High Water,” “Sicario”) and John Linson (“Sons of Anarchy”), “Yellowstone” follows patriarch John Dutton (Costner) as he battles and schemes to keep his behemoth ranch (conveniently called ‘Yellowstone’) from being swindled by the aforementioned factions.
There’s no middle ground on this ranch, no compromising and no apologizing. That would be downright un-Western.
What’s great about this show, which Sheridan called a “Greek tragedy in Big Sky Country,” is the way it balances “how the West was one” with “how the West is being lost.” Paramount, according to Sheridan in the bonus feature, “Taylor Sheridan and Kevin Costner on ‘Yellowstone,’” wanted a drama that reinvented the Western genre to show the death of the American West over the course of 20 years.
That edict became a commitment to the characters and their journeys, and how their journeys spell out that demise, Sheridan explained.
Bottom line, even with the locations in Montana and Utah filmed in all their natural glory, “Yellowstone” is about human relationships and our relationship with the land. Be prepared to be moved, ticked off, and challenged by the battles.
Costner is impeccable as the head of the Dutton family. Each of his children, four to start with, has a personality shaped by their father’s obsessive commitment to ranching, and the mother’s penchant for tough love. That theme plays out over and over.
Pitted against Costner is Birmingham, as reservation Chief Thomas Rainwater, and Huston as developer Dan Jenkins. Sheridan explains in one of the bonus features how important it was for Costner to have two believable, intelligent foes working against him.
All but one of the bonus features are cookie-cutter network fare. But you’ll learn a lot. We are introduced to most of the main characters, including John Dutton, Rainwater, Kayce Dutton (Luke Grimes, “50 Shades” franchise), Beth Dutton (Kelly Reilly, HBO’s “True Detective”), Jamie Dutton (Wes Bentley, “American Horror Story” franchise) and Rip Wheeler (Cole Hauser, “2 Fast 2 Furious). Each actor explains a bit about what motivates his or her character and why each is a challenge to play.
Bonus features also include a look at the series’ music by Brian Tyler (“Iron Man 3,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” and “Crazy Rich Asians). While the symphony-led scores do not rival TV shows like “Dallas,” Tyler’s creations become another way to define each of the characters and their conflicts.
Other subjects include taking the actors to cowboy camp, production design and the search for the perfect ranch in Montana on which to set the series. There is a look at how and on which camera to shoot scenes, and special effects (you can’t really kill a grizzly on top of a mountain). And even how to put the actors within feet of blowing up a double-wide that is serving as a meth lab.
Finally, listening to Sheridan and Costner talk about the importance of recreating that Western drama, unlike the days of “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza” and even “Dallas.” Sheridan purposefully shot the show like it was a movie, not a nine-episode TV series. And, he used some of his heroes from back in the heyday of Westerns, Sam Peckinpah (“The Wild Bunch” and “The Getaway”) and John Ford (“The Grapes of Wrath” and “Fort Apache“) to portray Montana with a wide lens and incredible natural lighting.
With some views, you may wish you have a larger HDTV as Dutton’s helicopter swoops in from high above to terra firma.
During a discussion with the Cinematographer Ben Richardson, Sheridan suggested shooting one scene in “Yellowstone” Episode 6, “The Remembering,” as a music video to “Claudia’s Theme,” from Clint Eastwood’s 1992 classic, “Unforgiven.” Sheridan said there was no way they’d be able to use the song. Eastwood had never granted rights before.
But, after seeing it completed, Sheridan sent the 90-minute clip to the Oscar-winning actor and director. Eastwood gave the nod.
Sheridan credits “Unforgiven” as the movie that “made me decide that’s what I want to do for a living.”
So for those who invest the nearly 10 hours to watch this first season, be assured you won’t be disappointed. Season 2 promises to weave more storylines about whether the Dutton family and the Yellowstone ranch can survive, or not.
- Toni Guagenti
Behind the scenes video