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Category:    Home > Reviews > Western > Literature > TV Mini-Series > James A. Michener’s Centennial – The Complete Series (1978/Universal DVD/TV Western Mini-Series)

James A. Michener’s Centennial – The Complete Series (1978/Universal DVD/TV Western Mini-Series)


Picture: C     Sound: C     Extras: C     Episodes: B-



When TV was still great and the Mini-Series still new, ambitious and about something, several novels by James A. Michener had already become major hit feature films, but the format offered the chance to recreate his books on a longer scale and the various studios and networks producing them were going all out to make them major events productions that would keep viewers and critics talking.  Centennial (1978) was one of the biggest and it is finally out on DVD from Universal.


The book compacts real history into hybrid characters and tells the tale of the title town circa 1795, we get multiple storylines that covers the deals gone bad with Native American tribes, land deals that some died over, the kind of groundbreaking men with guts (Robert Conrad) who made a difference, personal inter-relationships between “white men” and Native American Women (Barbara Carrera) and other ways the West was won and lost.  Though not as bold as Michael Cimino‘s controversial feature film Heaven’s Gate, this has dated in spots and was never brilliantly consistent, yet that The Western was in decline and the makers took such a big financial risk is amazing.  It was a hit and some felt it would be the last such production for a long time.  Few Western Mini-Series have been made since.


A big piece of change also was spent on the big name cast, including Conrad, Carrera, Richard Chamberlain, Andy Griffith, Raymond Burr, Donald Pleasence, William Atherton, Timothy Dalton, Mark Harmon, Dennis Weaver, Lynn Redgrave, Sharon Gless, Stephanie Zimbalist, Sally Kellerman, Richard Crenna, Cliff De Young, Merle Haggard, David Janssen, Alex Karras, Brian Keith, Lois Nettleton, Anthony Zerbe, Michael Ansara, Dana Elcar, Carl Franklin, Richard Jaeckel, Geoffrey Lewis, Doug McKeon, A Martinez, Pernell Roberts, Gale Sondergaard, Julie Sommars, Clint Walker, Alan Napier, Barry Cahill, Eric Server, James Best, Van Williams and an uncredited George Clooney.  That is an amazing cast by any standard, but typical of what TV used to be capable of.  Of course, Gone With The Wind likely propelled the makers to go bonkers in hiring so much talent, but it pays off as this runs 21 hours!


Not a fan of Westerns, I was not so big on the show then, but watched enough of it that I was surprised how much of this I remembered.  I would not say this exceeded its genre, but remains one of the most ambitious TV Mini-Series ever made and will likely ever see.  The various writers’ teleplay adaptations are rich and literate for any medium and gave the actors and audience something to see, not to mention the great locations.  Centennial is at least a minor classic of TV Mini-Series and TV Westerns as it refutes most of the TV Western shows before it with forerunning ideas we’d later see in the like of Dances With Wolves.  Serious fans should see this at least once and now, it’s all here.


Unfortunately, the 1.33 X 1 image comes from older analog NTSC masters, is soft, has limited depth, detail and even color, though this was beautifully shot in 35mm film by several cinematographers as co-Directors of Photography including Charles W. Short (The Enforcer (1976) and William Conrad Nero Wolfe series), Jacques R. Marquette (Bat Masterson, The Streets Of San Francisco), Duke Callaghan (Jeremiah Johnson, Columbo, Hart To Hart) and Ronald W. Browne (McCloud, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, The Six Million Dollar Man) meshing very well.  Needless to say this should be amazing when the studio issues this on Blu-ray.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is fair for its age and John Addison delivers a decent score, but is a little more compressed than it should be.  The only extra is a featurette with interviews called Memories Of Centennial including Conrad, Carrera and Atherton discussing the production in honest terms.


Let’s hope more classic, overdue TV hits DVD soon and with extras like that.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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