Picks and Pans Review: Into the West

updated 06/13/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/13/2005 01:00AM

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WESTERN

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"Wagon wheels, wagon wheels/Keep on a-turnin', wagon wheels..." That old song moseyed through my mind during the early installments of this six-week series. The 12-hour epic concerns a family of Virginia wheelwrights whose restless younger members head west, and it keeps on a-turnin' at a pace some will find awfully slow. But executive producer Steven Spielberg and his filmmaking team deliver some memorable moments along the trail.

The drama has trouble gaining traction in the June 10 premiere because the focus shifts back and forth between the aptly named Wheeler clan and the Lakota tribe, trying to keep tradition alive as white settlers encroach on their Plains homeland. But Into the West moves more assuredly once Jacob (Matthew Settle), the first of the Wheeler pioneers, marries a Lakota beauty called Thunder Heart Woman (Tonantzin Carmelo) and they join a California-bound wagon train with Jacob's brother Jethro (Skeet Ulrich) and cousin Naomi (Keri Russell). Ulrich is particularly effective as a decent man driven to the moral depths by a bad case of gold fever.

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