I just sat through a grueling day of watching Texas Rising, the behemoth made-for-television series which premiered on the History Channel a couple of years ago. I was pleasantly surprised overall, since being a Native Texan, I was born knowing that nobody could ever do the story justice. But Bill Paxton made an interesting Sam Houston, although at times he seemed flawed and underwhelming; very much what his Houston character admits to President Burnet, his rival, but nevertheless loved because he was victorious in spite of his faults. And that in itself gave people hope. True enough.
The Western Channel devoted the whole day to broadcasting all ten segments. After hours of reprogramming my cherished notions, something a little less bothersome than Chinese water-torture, I began to accept Paxton's Houston... and began to enjoy the characters created around him.
Still, I had to get past several very annoying artistic decisions which will forever grate on my Texian paradigm. They shot the film in mountainous terrain, totally foreign to the land which owns these legends which are revered all over the world. They ignored historical characters essential to the story to make room for a steamy sexual rivalry between Houston and Santa Anna, both of whom supposedly shared the affections of the legendary “Yellow Rose.” I would never waste time trying to defend Sam's honor, as I am well aware of his infamous indiscretions, but it seems that Rising's Houston was a great deal more in love with the Negress than legend ever suggested. We're talking passionately devoted and begging for marriage.
The screenplay writers must have been clueless that Houston was freshly separated from his Cherokee wife, whom he had claimed when he filed for his Texas land grant. Not to mention several other Native American women who were also claiming him as they raised his offspring. Not to mention his first wife back in Tennessee, whom he had not gotten a proper divorce from.
The temptation to abuse artistic license is just too great for movie producers to ever do an honorable job of depicting the facts of history. You never want to get in the way of a good story. Media has the same problem with covering the news. People don't want facts, they want to be entertained, and we should never disappoint them.
So I got over it and enjoyed the series for what it was. Total fantasy. That made it easier to overlook the craggy mountains over Victoria, Texas, the HUMONGOUS buffalo head balanced oh-so-perfectly on Buffalo Hump, the Comanche war chief's head while he rode around blinded, no doubt, and the Red Wing boots on Deaf Smith's feet. By the time Sam was slobbering all over the legendary Yellow Rose, ready to throw away all political viability, and father a race of Texian mulattoes, I was sippin' the absinthe.
Forgetting the movie was supposed to be about Texas, I really got teared up when Deaf Smith has to shoot his faithful horse, and when a bunch of scraggly Texas Rangers empty their pockets to help pay restitution for their fellow ranger's theft in a past life, to save him from the noose. I even found the scene beautiful where Santa Anna comforts a dying Mexican soldier, while hiding in a deep underground cavern... IN THE BOTTOMLAND of the San Jacinto valley.
AND THEN, there were those giant mechanical wheels at the beginning of each segment... made up of swords and guns and roses... outrageous stacks of powerful nefarious gears, like Hong Kong bling cum Military Industrial Complex... with a Texas star... And some sweet Millennial designer sighed: “There! That makes it authentic.” I could just imagine the poor Texians getting caught up and ground up by it.
Hey... but I loved it! I would give this affectionate tribute an 8 out 10. It's not Lonesome Dove, which may have gotten the only 10 that I have ever given for a “Texas” film... I gave Places in the Heart a 9... and Trip to Bountiful a 7... so I am pretty hard to impress. So heck, for sheer art, I give Texas Rising an 8.5! It made me cry and it made me think, and it made me want to go write the TRUE Texas story that doesn't stink... that Hollywood would finally make. But until then, Texas Rising will get a rise out of Texas.