Posts Tagged ‘Union Pacific Railroad’

Hell On Wheels – “Pilot”

November 8, 2011

AMC’s Western drama Hell on Wheels made its much-publicized debut on Sunday. Similar to most Westerns, Hell on Wheels centers on Cullen Bohannon, played by Anson Mount, and his quest for revenge. Bohannon is a former slave owner, who released his slaves before the war.  Furthermore, he is a former Confederate soldier determined to avenge the murder of his wife.  This visually stunning program appears to have the ingredients for success but is lacking in execution.

The show’s failure in execution is best exemplified in its opening scene. Hell on Wheels begins with an anonymous man, who enters a church to confess his sins. He describes how he regrets his actions during the Civil War saying, “we opened a dark door and the devil stepped in.” However, when questioned about the specifics of his actions, the man is unable to describe his sins. The conversation quickly changes pace when the “priest” asks the man what he knows about Meridian. The “priest” then slides open the confession window and it is revealed that he is none other than Cullen Bohannon. Cullen quickly shoots the man, killing him. As people quickly scramble out of the church, Cullen kicks open the confession booth door and examines his kill. As he makes his way out of the church, Cullen catches a glimpse of a statue of Jesus on the cross. Cullen remains unfazed by this visual as if to say that the only higher power hr believes in is the gun on his hip. Cullen then opens the church doors and walks into a pool of white light, symbolizing that he is now on a righteous path. It is clear that creators Joe Gayton and Tony Gayton were trying to write an emotionally potent scene that offers a strong dichotomy between church behavior and classic Western manners. This is clearly a very ambitious scene but the end results feels forced and contrived.

Despite the opening scene, Hell on Wheels does have some compelling moments. Colm Meaney does a good job playing the corrupt railroad entrepreneur Thomas “Doc” Durant. His penchant for grand speeches provides the show with its most entertaining moments including a speech about how history will view him as a villain. This moment demonstrates that the show does have potential for success. Therefore, I plan on giving Hell on Wheels a little more time to effectively find its voice.

Hell on Wheels: Pilot Episode

November 8, 2011

While I don’t feel that Hell on Wheels is the absolute worst depiction of the buiding of the Union Pacific Railroad, I do feel that there are some major flaws in the execution of this show.

Much like plenty of AMC’s other shows, Hell on Wheels emphasizes the importance of staying as accurate as possible in a period piece. After watching their short clip on the wardrobe of the show, it became very clear to me how much time and research is put into the show simply for the clothes on the actors’ backs. Furthermore, AMC clearly does not have a modest about their perfect execution of period pieces; the fact that they have put a video on their site that explicitly goes into the details of how the wardrobe is based on photographs of the people the characters portray says a great deal about the credit they would like for their hard work.

Aside from the realistic depiction of the people involved in the building of the railroad, Hell on Wheels also does a great job at presenting an accurate picture of the trials and tribulations Americans had with the Natives of the land. All of our history books certainly express that Americans were wrong in taking the land of the Native Americans, but rarely do we understand how brutal the indigenous people were when they were defending their land. Yes, it was their land and they had every right to defend it, but there is a definite difference between shooting someone in the head with a revolver and scalping the skin off of someone’s head. I believe that Hell on Wheels did a great job at making the battle between the Native Americans and the settlers as realistic as possible.

My only problem with Hell on Wheels, though it is a large one, is that I don’t feel the plot is engaging enough. I feel that it is very typical of a Western, and I do not think the characters have enough breadth. Each are very stereotypical for a Western film or television series, but I do hope that in the coming weeks we see that there is an intriguing story behind each main character; I fear that it will be the stereotypical back-story that the audience can assume on their own, but I think this show would have a better chance at becoming a hit if the main characters and their stories wee unconventional.