Loosely based on the beloved series of children’s books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie became one of the most popular series in television history, earning 17 Emmy nominations throughout its nine year run. Television producer and NBC executive Ed Friendly had become aware of Wilder’s work in the early 1970’s, and given the success of other homespun family fare such as the Walton’s, he had little doubt that Wilder’s work could be successfully adapted for the small screen. Friendly turned to Michael Landon to direct the pilot movie; fresh off 14 seasons as Little Joe Cartwright on Bonanza, he agreed to do so, only if he could play the role of Charles “Pa” Ingalls.
While few would deny that Little House on the Prairie could be very saccharine at times, there’s also a hard edge to the series that doesn’t allow you to forget just how tough life could be for the Ingalls family. The pilot finds Charles’ wife Caroline (Karen Grassle) saying goodbye to her to her parents, knowing that she will likely never see them again. Charles, Caroline, and their three young daughters Mary (Melissa Sue Anderson), Laura (Melissa Gilbert) and Carrie (played by twins Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush) must head West, where game is plentiful and crops can be grown.
Much of the 96-minute pilot details the Ingalls’ ultimately unsuccessful attempt to settle in Kansas. Believing that the United States government is about to open up large areas of Osage reservation territory for white settlement, Charles and his family happily stake a claim to a large parcel of fertile land. With the help of his closest neighbor, the crass, but kindly Isaiah Edwards (Victor French, who would become a semi-regular on the series) Charles sets about building a home for his family, and the rest of the Ingalls’ settle into their new surroundings. Despite the bucolic setting, threats from Indian tribes, and natural disasters—including a fire that nearly destroys their home, makes daily life a struggle. These struggles, such as Charles disappearing while hunting, weather leaving crops in ruin, etc. would be recurring themes throughout the first season.
Once the series got underway, and the Ingalls family found a home in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, the general outline of the show was established. While each episode works as a standalone entry, there is some continuity, particularly concerning Mary and Laura, as they begin school in Walnut Grove. We are introduced to Laura’s nemesis, the spoiled and bratty Nellie Oleson (Alison Arngrim) who frankly, brings a welcome spark to a sometimes all to pleasant episode. It’s probably here that I should confess, I was a big Nellie Oleson fan. All the same, I was pleased when in “Town Party, Country Party,” Laura teaches Nellie a difficult lesson. Little House on the Prairie was capable of putting forth some truly emotional episodes, and during the first season, that came with “The Lord is My Shepherd.” Originally aired as a two-hour episode, the Ingalls family is delighted by the birth of a new baby boy, Charles Frederick Ingalls, but Laura finds herself jealous of the time and attention her father gives him. She refuses to pray for her baby brother’s good health, and shortly after, he dies. With a guest appearance from Ernest Borgnine, this is an episode about love, loss and relationships. Young Melissa Gilbert, who spent much of the season getting a feel for the character, occasionally overacting, really came into her own with her work here.
Given his work as an actor, Executive Producer, frequent director, and occasional writer on the show, Little House on the Prairie has Michael Landon’s family-centric imprint all over it. While parts of the show may delve too far into sugary sweet territory, Landon and those in charge were smart enough to keep the show realistic and topical enough to be interesting.
Little House on the Prairie: Season One and the Pilot Movie is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Lionsgate Films and NBC Universal Home Entertainment with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.36:1. Touted as having been restored and remastered, fans should be pleased as this looks far better than any previous home video release. Colors are noticeably more vivid throughout, and contrast appears to have been boosted a bit. There’s a;so a nice level of grain apparent throughout. I did notice some minor warping during the opening credit sequence, but other than that, this is a sharp transfer.
Little House on the Prairie: Season One and the Pilot Movie features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono mix that nicely recreates the rather straight forward sound design of the series. David Rose’s sweeping score sounds just fine, and dialogue is presented clearly. Sound effects, such as the Native American drumming heard during the pilot, have surprising depth.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- The Little House Phenomenon Part 1: A Place in Television History (HD, 14:04) The first installment in what is advertised as a six part in-depth look at the series, released with the announced upcoming seasons. Here the show is looked at in context with events of the time included Watergate, and Nixon’s resignation. Interviews with Melissa Gilbert, Michael Landon, Jr. and others are included.
- Original Screen Test (HD, 1:48) A brief scene between Landon and Gilbert that actually didn’t make the final cut of the pilot.
- UV Digital Copy
- Digital Copy
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