Wednesday, 3 June 2015


In the 19th century, Texas fights for its independence from Mexico. James A. Michener's Texas (aka Texas), the 1994 miniseries based on the book by American best-selling author James A. Michener (1907-1997), is available since April on French region 2 DVD from Koba Films with Showshank Films. 

Published in 1985, Michener's 1,076-page Texas, chronicles the history of Texas from 1535 to the 1980s through the destinies of fictional characters and historical figures. In 1984 ABC wanted to turn the yet unfinished novel into an event 10-hour "Novel for Television" similarly to what NBC did with Centennial (1978) in 12 episodes. Then the Alphabet network also had an adaptation of Poland in development. Rival CBS aired a lengthy treatment of Space in 1985.

The Texas miniseries actually materialised in 1993 thanks to the acquisition of TV mogul Aaron Spelling's Spelling Entertainment Group by video rental giant Blockbuster Entertainment. The companies wanted to showcase their synergy with a big project for the direct-to-video market. Blockbuster and Spelling teamed with Republic Pictures for a $12 million production of James A. Michener's Texas. They convinced ABC to put a third of the budget for half the network usually paid a four-hour miniseries (1). In exchange the broadcaster gave them a three-month video window before telecast.

The producers condensed their source material into 180 minutes. Written by Sean Meredith and helmed by veteran director Richard Lang, Texas spans 1821 to 1846 and focus on the colonization and the march to independence. Filming took place with an impressive cast mainly at Del Rio and at the Alamo Village, built for John Wayne's movie The Alamo (1960). In 1821, Stephen F. Austin (Patrick Duffy) is hired by the Mexican government to bring hundred of American settlers in the wild Texas territory. Amongst them are Mattie Quimper (Chelsea Field) and her step-son Yancey (Esteban Powell, later Anthony Michael Hall).

Finlay MacNab (Daragh O'Malley) and his son Otto (Sully Ross, later Rick Schroder) are persuaded to join the colony by James Bowie (David Keith), a famous knife fighter. The settlers live with inhabitants of Spanish origins like mustang trainer Benito Garza (Benjamin Bratt). They must swear loyalty to Mexico and convert to Catholicism but the "Texicans" want to be Americans. Sam Houston (Stacy Keach), a Tennessee statesman, meets Stephen Austin. Conflict grows and, in February 1836, 157 men prepare to defend the Alamo mission against 1,200 Mexican troops of General Santa Anna. Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett (John Schneider) and William Barrett Travis (Grant Show) are with the fighters.

The hefty budget didn't prevent the use of stock shots though the reenactment of the battle of San Jacinto is quite convincing. The credits of John Wilder, who exec produced Texas with Aaron Spelling and E. Duke Vincent, include Return to Lonesome Dove (1993) and Centennial. James A. Michener's Texas hasn't the scope of the latter but a solid story and strong performances make it follow the trail of the Lonesome Dove saga with efficiency. Rick Schroder played Newt Dobbs in Lonesome Dove (1989) and Return to Lonesome Dove.

The narration is provided by Charlton Heston. Lee Holdridge composed the great score. Bonus material of the two-disc DVD set is comprised of a Making Of, a trailer, a presentation film and an "Espace découverte" Koba Films and Showshank Films. The two 90-minute parts of James A. Michener's Texas are available with its French dubbing and the original dialogue track - subbed in French or not. The miniseries hit U.S. video stores in November 1994. ABC aired it in April 1995 and French television in February 1998.

(1) Running time with commercials.

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