Synopsis by Hal Erickson
Executive produced by Steven Spielberg, the sprawling six-part, 12-hour TV miniseries Into the West covers 65 years of American history, from the first major migration westward in the mid-1820s to the massacre at Wounded Knee in the early 1890s. The story is largely seen through the eyes of two protagonists (and their families): Jacob Wheeler (Matthew Settle), a wheelwright who leaves his Virginia hometown and his family's business in 1827 to seek his destiny in the company of legendary mountain man Jedediah Smith (Josh Brolin); and Loved by the Buffalo (George Leach), a Lakota Sioux holy man who spends a lifetime seeking the answers to his profound and disturbing images about the future of his country -- and his people. Eschewing the usual "old-age makeup" route often pursued in epic tales of this nature, the main characters are played by progressively older actors in the course of the story: for example, Loved by the Buffalo is portrayed by no fewer than four different performers! In a more traditionalist How the West Was Won vein, the miniseries is festooned with major stars, some cast in very brief roles: among these are Josh Brolin, Keri Russell, Matthew Modine, Beau Bridges, Gary Busey, Tom Berenger, and Judge Reinhold. Nor is How the West Was Won the only inspiration for the multi-plotted storyline: other films echoed and emulated throughout the saga include The Iron Horse, The Big Trail, Westward the Women, The Searchers, and Dances With Wolves. As mentioned, the story is divided into six parts: "Wheel to the Stars," in which the fates of Jacob Wheeler and Loved by the Buffalo become forever intertwined; "Manifest Destiny," chronicling the first major trek to California; "Dreams & Schemes," wherein the Lakota lands are despoiled by Gold Fever and war breaks out between the North and South; "Hell on Wheels," chronicling the postwar chaos and the coming of the railroad; "Casualties of War," wherein the conflict between Native Americans and the white man results in wholesale bloodshed -- and, surprisingly, a "counter-revolution" of compassion and understanding; and "Ghost Dance," the last great stand of the Lakota, which brings the story full circle. Largely filmed in the Canadian Rockies over a six-month period, and utilizing the talents of six directors, Into the West premiered June 10, 2005, on the TNT cable network.