A&E Home Video
Cast: Michael Landon, Victor French
Extras: Documentary, Outtakes, Biographies,
When former Bonanza-star Michael Landon produced and worked on the TV series and TV movies of "Little House On The Prairie" from 1974 to 1984, everyone thought it was the zenith of his career. However, immediately after he visited the successful series one last time in 1984, he turned to "Highway To Heaven," a project which turned out to become an equally successful hit during its 5-year run, which was brought to an end only by the passing away of co-star Victor French.
In "Highway To Heaven" Landon plays Jonathan, an angel on probation, who is sent back to Earth by God to help people. Teamed up with former cop Mark, (Victor French) the two travel all of America to seek out people in need. Once the located candidates Jonathan would swoop in and for the length of an episode try to help these people better their lives, ease their suffering, treat illnesses and ailments and perform a few miracles once in a while. However, he uses those miracles very sparingly, which, as a plot device, helps to create stories in which Jonathan – and Michael Landon – can prove that human strength and willpower usually prevails.
The show was a heartfelt and emotional series that had some very dramatic moments and never felt overly melodramatic. While I did not follow the show religiously, it was one of those TV series that I’d watch if I happened to catch it. Not exactly a feel-good show in the common sense – many of the episodes and situations were actually pretty depressing given the series’ nature of Jonathan seeking out people in need – ultimately it created a sense of hope in each and every episode. It was that sense of hope that kept the show going, kept the viewer’s interest up and that helped Michael Landon to do his humanitarian work, by showing people that there may be ways, no matter how bleak one’s situation may be.
The cast of the show was also perfect with a strong buddy-style chemistry going between Landon and French. But even small parts were wonderfully cast and occasionally spiced up by guest appearances by familiar faces, such as Ned Beatty, or Ronnee Blakely for example. Look for an appearance of a 20-year old Helen Hunt on the last episode of the season box set, also.
A&E Home Entertainment is presenting "Highway To Heaven" in its original <$PS,fullframe> aspect ratio on this DVD set. The transfer is generally clean and clear, though there is some grain evident in the transfer as a result of the somewhat limited production technologies of the time. The image also looks a bit soft but is never blurry or out of focus. Color reproduction if good and faithfully renders the show’s production with faithful flesh tones and natural colors. No edge-enhancement is visible and the compression is without flaws.
The original Dolby Stereo audio track of the show is provided on the DVDs, making for a good viewing experience. The frequency response is good, though a bit limited at times, creating a sound field that feels a bit compressed and harsh at times. Nothing too distracting however, just once again a technical limitation of the show itself. Dialogues are well integrated and always understandable without being drowned out by sound effects or the music. Closed-captions in English are included on the release.
The 7-dsic DVD set also includes some exciting extras, such as rare outtakes from the show as well as text biographies for Michael Landon and Victor French. The biggest bonus however is a feature-length documentary about Michael Landon, entitled "Memories With Laughter and Love," a 1993 production that is hosted by Landon’s son Michael Jr. It is a close look at the star’s life and work and how his own cancer-related death in 1991 put an abrupt end to his career which has always been filled with his desire to create family-friendly television programming with values – something he succeeded in admirably, of course. From Little Joe to Jonathan the angel, this documentary is a very candid and personal profile that definitely deserves to be seen in order to appreciate Landon’s continuous strive for more valuable television content.
Coming on 7 DVDs, this "Highway To Heaven" season one DVD set is an all-out winner. Not only do we have a great TV show here, but it also comes with great technical merit and some bonus content that is nothing to sneeze at. Fans of the show and the actor will definitely make sure to add this box set to their shopping list.