The Discovery Channel pulled out all the stops for it’s first major miniseries. And I love the fact they picked a real life story. HBO seems to be faltering these days, because non-pay cable channels are out-producing it. For example, I loved The Hatfields & McCoys on History Channel because they tried to maintain a semblance of historical accuracy, something HBO typically ignores.
Klondike started out fantastic with the recreation of the march up the Chilkoot pass. After the gold rush fever subsided in South Dakota, Colorado and California, the “stampeders” headed north to the frozen wild in search of instant riches. Jack London, one of our greatest writers, was one of them. Around 300,000 headed for the Yukon, but less than 100,000 made it, and only about 4,000 actually found any gold. Few got rich, and more may have frozen to death during winters where temperatures dipped below minus 75 degrees. Early into the Gold Rush, Mounties demanded anyone entering the Yukon bring a year’s provisions, which required stampeders to make many trips ferrying supplies to the top of Chilkoot Pass. And once over the pass, they had to cross a 3-mile lake. London swam that distance several times, while lugging a 150-pound sack of supplies.
After the avalanche opening sequence, however, the credits came on and I knew I was in trouble, because the credits were a bizarre recreation of the opening of Game of Thrones. Especially strange since both shows featured the same lead actor. Obviously, the real music of the stampeders would have been more effective: miner songs played on mandolin, violin and jew’s harp. I also was hoping for lots more spectacular cinematography of the Alaskan wilderness, instead of the same helicopter flyover over and over.
BTW, here’s a shot of the real Dawson City at it’s height, when 40,000 were crammed into mostly tent cities at the intersection of Klondike and Yukon Rivers.
I guess the biggest flaw was the producer’s attempt to ratchet a moral narrative onto what should have been a naturalistic slice-of-life, which turned the project into a melodrama. Of course, they had to invent some silly romance and bring in a fictitious villain evil beyond all human understanding.
In truth Man versus Nature provided most of the drama in the Yukon. London’s greatest short story from the era involved a man freezing to death because he decided to take a casual walk along a frozen stream on a really cold winter’s day, and unfortunately he steps into a puddle of water, soaking his ankles, and before he can get a fire started, he loses all control of his bodily functions and freezes to death. That was the real Yukon. And if Klondike had just stuck with real stories and the real microcosm of Dawson, it might have been the monster hit they were looking for, instead of the near miss it is.