Kevin Costner stars as ranch owner John Dutton in this original series from Paramount Network. Season One consists of nine episodes, the first of which spans an hour and thirty minutes. The remaining eight run under an hour each to allow for commercial breaks. Here’s our review of the series and release on Blu-ray Disc.
Yellowstone depicts daily life on the ranch: early rising, herding cows, horse breaking… but intertwines those routines with dirty politics, violent encounters between native tribes and the police, and the personal battles each character faces.
Then, there is the whole branded-man thing. Select guys who work for Dutton wear a cow brand and there’s a hierarchy on the ranch that eventually unfolds. Anyone who crosses a branded man might end up on the “long black train” – a metaphor for a long nighttime fall off the side of a cliff.
Actor Cole Hauser (who plays Rip Wheeler) describes Dutton in one of the bonus featurettes as having an “angel and a demon on each shoulder.” The statement may sum up the series that revolves around John Dutton whose ranch within Yellowstone National Park is the largest in the country.
Episode One presents the conflicts John Dutton has with a land developer who threatens the legacy and land his family was built on, but also introduces the dispute he has with leaders of the Broken Rock Indian Reservation about cattle ownership and the land they graze upon.
To add to the conflict, Dutton’s son Kayce (played by Luke Grimes) is a former Navy SEAL married to the daughter of one of the reservation’s Native American leaders. As one might expect, he has mixed feelings towards both sides when there are political battles which often go beyond the courtroom and into violent confrontation.
Dutton’s daughter Beth, played by Kelly Reilly (who disguises her English accent for this role), is a sexy and ruthless financier but also drug, alcohol and sex addict with severe psychological problems. Reilly’s performance in this series is outstanding and about as close as you can get to Cersei Lannister if she lived in the wild west.
Costner is perfect as Dutton but almost seems too big for the “small screen.” It’s hard not to think of epic films like Dances with Wolves and Open Range where time is compressed into 2-hour blocks. In Yellowstone, events move at a slower pace more suited to television series.
One gripe about the acting [spoiler ahead] might be found when one of Dutton’s sons is killed in a cattle standoff. There just doesn’t seem to be that much emotion about losing a close family member from any of the characters. Nevertheless, the loss does inject another layer of sympathy for the family and complexity to the narrative.
Yellowstone was shot on Arri Alexa cameras (competitors to RED cameras) at 2.00:1 aspect ratio. The video looks about as good as 1080p can look, especially for a TV program.
In the opening scene there’s a close up of John Dutton and a beautiful horse following a car accident. The color, image sharpness and photographic composition are indicative of the rest of the series.
There are some epic and wide-spanning shots in the show that are gorgeous in 1080p (one wonders what it may have looked at in 4k) and best-viewed on large screen TV.
There is one mentionable camera shot that follows Dutton’s truck along the freeway. You think it’s just another car with a camera mounted on it but it turns out to be a drone or some type of aircraft that turns off the road and rises into the sky.
There’s also a night scene on the ranch in Episode 1 that must have been a challenge to light, but looks great played back from the Blu-ray Disc on a 4k TV set to cinema mode.
Yellowstone on Blu-ray Disc provides sound in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 multi-channel format in English along with subtitles in English SDH (subtitles for the deaf or hard-of-hearing).
The dialogue in Yellowstone is consistently clear and never compromised by background music or ambient sound. Make no mistake, the script is what drives this series, but a subtle musical score helps scene transitions.
Take note of some nicely mixed audio where Dutton’s employees break horses in. As the horses round the ring the sound effects of gallops fade in and out as if you were standing there. It’s a simple effect, but if not done correctly can affect the quality of the scene.
There are seven pieces of extra content including character spots, production design, special effects and a look at the composition for the theme music from Brian Tyler. All the content, provided in HD, gives you some insight into the making of the series and is well worth watching.
There’s plenty to digest in this series, from human branding to troubled relationships between family members, the plot thickens with each episode. And, the way show creators John Linson and Taylor Sheridan have presented these cowboy’s lifestyle there never seems to be a dull moment.
Yellowstone is surprisingly gory in parts, and contains some sexually risqué content that’s uncommon for a traditional TV show but not so much for an HBO or Netflix original series.
The show is a must-watch in HD, and the 1080p Blu-ray presentation looks so good it probably doesn’t need to be in 4k – although we’d love to see what HDR specs would do to increase contrast and color depth.
Yellowstone has been renewed for Season Two and will premiere next summer. If you love the open range, great cinematography, and slower-paced dramatic television Yellowstone won’t disappoint.
Purchase Yellowstone: Season One on Blu-ray Disc at Amazon.