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I just finished watching Ken Burn's The National Parks: America's Best
Idea, and it's fabulous -- it far far far exceeded any expectations I
may have had.
The series is fascinating, surprising, intriguing, unexpected, and well narrated and voiced and commentated. The visuals are a combination of historical works (photos, footage, articles, etc.), lovely paintings and photos, and of course glorious beautiful high-definition cinematography. The narration (which is so interesting you don't even need to watch the images -- as I learned when I had to eat dinner during part of it -- but who can resist!) is done by Peter Coyote, and the voices of the historical letter-writers, authors, journalists, and so forth is by various luminaries from Eli Wallach, Derek Jacobi, John Lithgow, Adam Arkin, Tom Hanks, and dozens of others. And there are the occasional live comments from historians and other experts from various walks of life.
It's exquisitely put together and organized, never leaving the viewer bored; stories flow into and out of one another, or end only to be unexpectedly picked up again in a later hour or episode. The story of the parks is told not only through the stories of the politicians and naturalists involved, but also through the lives of everyday people and of artists and photographers (such as Ansel Adams) who loved the wilderness locales. There is a perfect mix of history, nature, beauty, drama, suspense, victories, defeats, and human interest. I was in tears at a few points.
Although a small handful of the names important to the natural park system are familiar (John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, etc.), the stories involving even those few are quite unexpected and fascinating. The vast majority of the true movers and shakers in the development of the natural parks are, however, gloriously unsung -- and thus doubly interesting because their outsized stories, which affected the country so greatly, are not nationally famous.
If you wish to purchase the DVD set, it's cheapest on Amazon, and the shipping is free.
If you watch the series on TV reruns if it ever returns, make sure you do it in order. It starts in 1851:
1851-1890: The Scripture of Nature
1890-1915: The Last Refuge
1915-1919: The Empire of Grandeur
1920-1933: Going Home
1933-1945: Great Nature
1946-1980: The Morning of Creation
I knew very little about our National Parks, but Ken Burns has really opened my eyes. This was a spectacular piece of art. I started watching this because there was nothing else on. By the end of the week I couldn't wait to watch the next episode. The program inspired me to look more into the life of John Muir and I even joined the Sierra Club. The National Parks have a vivid history that can only be explained as intriguing and inspirational. The people that worked so hard to give America these beautiful places should be role models for all Americans. There are places I want to go around the world. Because of this program I now know that the world has some wonderful places to see, but America does also and I can't wait to see them. Good job Mr. Burns.
If you can only see one National Park, make it The Grand Canyon. It really is another world. Then buy this 6 DVD set. This is documentary at it's finest. Ken Burns does this extremely well. It kept me enthralled through all 6 episodes. The cinematography is stunning. The history telling is inspiring and spiritual, yet accurate. I discovered some new heroes watching this. This mini-series embodies what democracy is all about. It started with the first National Park and it was an original American idea. That's right, we did it first. This is the kind of pride that shows in this production. This is an excellent addition to anyone's collection, for entertainment and value of American tradition to pass on to upcoming generations.
I am watching this series and am currently viewing part 5. I have been
transfixed by the film. I am not a new immigrant, having come here back
in 1964, but I have only visited two Parks in all that time I am
disgusted to report. I have seen the Redwoods and Crater Lake, but now
I want to see much more before it is too late. I just have not paid any
attention to the Parks in my backyard it seems. Now I will.
I would quibble about the frequent references to religion but I understand it because most of the US was religious to some sort of degree. For instance, I did not feel the presence of some supernatural being standing among the redwoods or gazing at Crater Lake. I was impressed for sure but not awed.
I am mindful of the constant struggle to maintain the Parks and think schools should show major portions of this series in their classrooms. Young people need to be aware of what a valuable and irreplaceable resource we all share. I am sure, given the history of the Park system, that greedy people will continue to try to eat away at it. Vigilance is needed for now and forever. Once this country becomes so crowded it will be most difficult to maintain these Parks. As in the Hetch Hetchy dam the question will always be: What is more important, some scenery or the rights of multitudes who need the resources contained within the Parks? I fear the answer will be the needs of people.
I appreciate being able to see these videos and have my eyes opened, and tearing at times, many times. Thanks to Ken Burns for making this series.
It is another example of what Ken Burns does so well. It is a film that
brings a well known but little understood aspect of American history to
life. The broad scope of the film is monumental. It covers, in fair
detail, the creation of all the major National Parks while delving into
the people, the politics, the conflicts, and the personal stories
behind the scenes. As with other of Ken's work, you begin to feel that
the people in the story are family friends or people you have known for
years. You understand how personalities shape events and move American
custom and law. You are left with an appreciation of American democracy
and freedom and the unruly way Americans sometimes resolve internal
how popularity and simply "the right thing" can win the day
after a good fight.
The film is interspersed with glimpses of typical Americans and reveals their most delicate feelings in experiencing the National Parks. It is very effective at illustrating the transformative power of natural beauty, its healing and empowering effects on the soul, and our deep connections to nature and wildlife and our deep needs for it. The film is as much about the why humans seek to preserve natural beauty as it is a history of it.
It all works. It is a masterful piece of art and you will enjoy and be moved by it.
I absolutely love it! Extraordinary human stories behind the
extraordinary beauty. Couldn't help watching it twice every night this
week, thanks to WCMU, who broadcast each episode twice. Think I might
catch it the third time in this weekend's marathon rerun!
What more can I add? I would love to hear Garrison Keillor's voice as he would be the best narrator for our national treasures (of which he is one himself).
Indeed, our National Parks are a place of love, as one commentator said so movingly in the film.
The history of our National Parks has enriched my appreciation of great nature with humanity... Enough talking, let's go to our National Parks now.
"The knapsack of custom falls off his back with the first step he makes
into these precincts. Here is sanctity which shames our religions, and
reality which discredits our heroes. Here we find nature to be the
circumstance which dwarfs every other circumstance, and judges like a
god all men that come to her."
-A quote of Ralph Waldo Emerson in the movie
While there is no comparison to actually being in nature, the ideas that are presented in this masterpiece of a documentary are so new and refreshingly different to the common non-nature-goer that it can't help but bring the viewer, thankfully, away from their usual rat race-like trance and rhythm to a realization of a greater good and majestic context of reality.
What a beautiful and powerful reminder of what belongs to all us and what all of us, in turn, belong to!
While not a travelogue, it nonetheless contains many stunningly beautiful images. And Buzz-kill from Atlanta, put away your thesaurus. We are not impressed. I guess all us hicks that didn't go to Harvard, (funny how everyone who went there or to Yale never fail to mention it within a couple of paragraphs as though that gives their opinions extra credibility), just don't know what to enjoy without being told. Fact is those of us who have visited several of our national treasures can appreciate them for what they are, just that, and glad that the people responsible had the foresight to set them aside before it was too late. As far as I'm concerned, this was a well made documentary and inspires me to visit some of the parks I never thought of prior to watching it. Maybe Buzz-kill should get outside more often.
I had no desire to return to the US until I saw this documentary.
Whilst I loathe what most of America stands for, (money, guns, greed
and religious fervour.....yes, I'm generalising), I do say I admire the
appreciation and position National Parks hold in the American psyche.
This documentary is a reflection of that position and is beautifully
I am a fan of the way Burn's tells his stories. I find them simple, poignant and seamlessly told. Burns is a master craftsman and while many may criticise his condemnation of American action at times, I feel he is trying to say - let's not repeat the mistakes of our forefathers by forgetting what has gone before.
As for John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt and Co., their contributions should, and have been celebrated appropriately.
I have since returned to the US and been to three National Parks. And to Ken Burns, I am grateful for the fact I did.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The good: The historical information about the early years, about John
Muir, Mather, Rockefeller and the railroads. Coverage of the tension
between nature-use or "sanctuary vs. tourist resort". The fights to
save various areas and their incorporation into the parks, to prevent
spoilage of the parks, and the move to save predators, such as the
reintroduction of wolves. The beautiful nature photography, and the
The bad: Too many talking heads, such as creepy William Cronon. Peter Coyote has been overused as a narrator, and his voice here is too pretentious and sanctimonious. Too many tedious descriptions of traveler impressions of parks. Too many statements about values of wildness which say or imply they can only be found in national parks.
The ugly: The violins and weepy sentimentality. Break out the Kleenex! The phony religious and patriotic sentiment, such as the early parts about how the parks are primarily a place to worship a god. Later this becomes a claim it's the patriotic way to be part of America. Too much use of the Lincoln Memorial. Later for example, we get "We tend to put our highest ideals, our highest dreams in our national parks, therefore they function like consciences" - they improve your relation with your fellow man. Gimme a break!
I love the National Parks. I really like several of Burn's productions, but was bored by "The War". This is almost that bad.
Here is an example of a great presentation on the same subject, in a specific place: http://www.bigcypressswamp.org/bcs/home.html Elam Stoltzfus knows how to do it right.
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