Hear the term “auteur” and one generally thinks of a filmmaker like Alfred Hitchcock or Jean-Luc Godard who imprints his unmistakably personal stamp on all his films so that they couldn’t be confused with anyone else’s. But the television series Little House on the Prairie has its own auteur at its core: producer-director-writer-star Michael Landon whose personal labor of love this series unquestionably was for almost a decade. Filled with heartfelt messages of family love and loyalty overcoming the man-made and natural strife that is a part of daily living, Little House on the Prairie unashamedly wears its heart on its sleeve evoking an unusually high quota of tears and smiles as it tells its simple stories of life on the prairie more than a century ago.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 2.0 DD, French 2.0 DD
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 21 Hr. 8 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, UltraVioletkeep case with leaves
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 03/25/2014
From the ninety-seven minute pilot episode through its subsequent twenty-four episodes, Little House on the Prairie tells the story of the Ingalls family: father Charles (Michael Landon), mother Caroline (Karen Grassle), and daughters Laura (Melissa Gilbert), Mary (Melissa Sue Anderson), and Carrie (twins Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush). Leaving Wisconsin for the wide open spaces of Kansas, hard-working Charles stakes out a claim and builds a cramped cabin for his family that falls victim to local Indians, prairie fires, swollen rivers, and wolves all leading to their being evicted from the land by the government and settling in the small settlement of Walnut Grove, Minnesota where the series proper takes place. There we meet the kindly village doctor (Kevin Hagen), the local parson (Dabbs Greer), the pretty schoolmarm (Charlotte Stewart), friendly mill owner (Karl Swenson), affable best friend for Charles Mr. Edwards (Victor French who also directs a few episodes), and the agreeable owner of the general store (Richard Bull) with his haughty, insufferable wife (Katherine MacGregor) and their two less-than-amenable children (Alison Arngrim, Jonathan Gilbert).
The Production Rating: 4/5
The stories offer simple day-to-day looks at the harsh but often satisfying life on the prairie of the 1870s punctuated by clean living and deeply-held religious faith. From plots involving a bell for the church, the first puppy love crush in young Laura’s life, Mrs. Ingall’s stint as a substitute teacher, an elderly neighbor wishing to see her kin before her death, and matchmaking the area’s few single adults, the stories offer undemanding conflicts that are always solved before the end of the episode. A few stories have more serious overtones. The season’s Christmas episode borrows heavily from O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” and a two-part episode (written and directed by series star/producer Michael Landon) dealing with the birth and death of a new Ingalls child with subsequent sibling rivalry and guilt leading to a pilgrimage looking for God’s help in coping with the loss is probably the show’s most overtly devout episode (featuring guest star Ernest Borgnine as, perhaps, God in earthly garb). Stories about a typhus epidemic, surviving in a particularly life-threatening blizzard, and an abused child of an alcoholic father offer more serious drama to the otherwise sunnier tales of the territory’s small problems.
The ensemble works well together with Michael Landon and the very young Melissa Gilbert (who sometimes narrates episodes) serving as the focal points of the series. While there may be an overuse of the cutesy kids (long held close-ups of the youngest daughter as she eats or smiles at the camera and says a few words are obvious bids for preciousness and quickly wear out their welcome), the intentions to provide wholesome family entertainment are noble and basically succeed. CBS’ The Waltons had already become a top ten hit and had begun to amass numerous awards by the time Little House on the Prairie arrived on NBC’s schedule, but while its debut didn’t win it any industry plaudits, the television audience responded well enough to land it in 13th place among the network shows during its first season on the air.
Here are the twenty-five episodes for season one contained on five Blu-ray discs:
1 – Pilot
2 – A Harvest of Friends
3 – Country Girls
4 – The Hundred Mile Walk
5 – Mr. Edwards’ Homecoming
6 – The Love of Johnny Johnson
7 – If I Should Wake Before I Die
8 – Town Party – Country Party
9 – Ma’s Holiday
10 – School Mom
11 – The Raccoon
12 – The Voice of Tinker Jones
13 – The Award
14 – The Lord Is My Shepherd (Part 1)
15 – The Lord Is My Shepherd (Part 2)
16 – Christmas at Plum Creek
17 – Family Quarrel
18 – Doctor’s Lady
19 – Plague
20 – Circus Man
21 – Child of Pain
22 – Money Crop
23 – Survival
24 – To See the World
25 – Founder’s Day
The program’s original 4:3 aspect ratio is faithfully maintained in these new 1080p transfers using the AVC codec. Sharpness throughout is stunningly crisp and features lots of details in clothes, faces, and hair without any age-related artifacts to mar the viewing experience. Color timing, however, varies from some episodes featuring a little bit of accelerated blue (producing pinkish skin tones) to others appearing a bit more natural. Only episode #2 seems just a trifle washed out looking, but that’s likely only in comparison to the strikingly colorful images in the other episodes and the pilot movie. Black levels are very impressive. Each regular episode has been divided into 6 chapters.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix offers a sturdy equivalent to the sound quality from its era with perhaps a bit more impressive fidelity present in this new lossless encoding allowing the dialogue and David Rose’s lush background scoring to come through loudly and clearly. However, there is some low level hiss to be heard in several episodes and problematic flutter present in quite a few of them along with occasional noise that sometimes intrudes into one’s enjoyment of the episode. There is some slight crackle and an occasional pop as well.
Audio Rating: 3.5/5
The Little House Phenomenon: Part One – a Place in Television History (14:04, HD): NBC executive at the time Tim Brooks, actors Melissa Gilbert and Dean Butler, director Maury Dexter, and Michael Landon’s children Michael Jr. and Leslie discuss the series’ place in television history and its lasting appeal.
Special Features Rating: 2/5
Original Screen Test: (1:48, HD): the screen test for Melissa Gilbert acting a scene with Michael Landon from the pilot script is presented.
Ultraviolet: code sheet enclosed in the case.
Little House on the Prairie has never looked as stunning as it does on these Blu-ray transfers even if there are occasional problematic noises from the lossless sound encode. The bonus feature package is skimpy, but fans of the show will undoubtedly not be complaining to get the series episodes uncut and looking so pristine. Recommended!
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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