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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The perfect documentary
I watched this when it was on PBS and I finally understood what reviewers mean when they use the word "gripping." It's suspensful, engaging, and shocking. And educational. Of course, we all know the story already. At least we think we do, but this documentary will tell you more of the story that you ever thought you wanted to know, and presents the evidence in an...
Published on August 2, 2007 by Pete

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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what I was looking for.
After I received this movie and watched it, it was not what I wanted. This is a documentary and is very informative, but I later found out what I wanted was a "made for tv" movie which I had seen years ago and really loved. I'll keep looking until I find a DVD of the movie I want; so far I haven't found it.
Published 19 months ago by Judy L. Peck


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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The perfect documentary, August 2, 2007
By 
Pete "Pete" (Albuquerque, NM USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The American Experience: The Donner Party (DVD)
I watched this when it was on PBS and I finally understood what reviewers mean when they use the word "gripping." It's suspensful, engaging, and shocking. And educational. Of course, we all know the story already. At least we think we do, but this documentary will tell you more of the story that you ever thought you wanted to know, and presents the evidence in an unbiased manner to allow the viewer to decide whether to condemn the unthinkable acts. Make sure you have a blanket handy; it'll make you really feel the cold.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Horrifying and Informative, February 13, 2008
By 
Steve (Highland Park, NJ, United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The American Experience: The Donner Party (DVD)
The American Experience: The Donner Party Maybe you think you know the essentials about what befell the Donner Party as it tried to fight its way across the Sierra Nevada range in 1846, but chances are this masterful documentary will surprise you with little-known facts even as it freezes the blood in your veins. A superb job all around.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars good movie, November 16, 2008
This review is from: The American Experience: The Donner Party (DVD)
this movie is a really good documentary. It's very detailed and tells you everything about the Donner Party and the horrible things that they went through. It might be a little boring for high school students because it's not a real life movie; meaning that it has old pictures and some scenery. However, once all of the horrible ordeals start to happen these students become very interested in it. I personally love this movie as a history teacher.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Remember: never take no cut-offs, and hurry along as fast as you can." -- Virginia Reid, April 16, 2012
This review is from: The American Experience: The Donner Party (DVD)
In the late 1970s, I did a foolhardy thing. Armed with a used $10 Argus SLR camera, I walked through a blizzard in downtown New Haven, taking b&w snapshots of the havoc that a raging storm could cause. As afternoon turned to evening, winds grew to near-hurricane strength and pushed me toward home, three miles up Whitney Ave. Had the gusts blown in my face instead of on my back, I might've died from exposure. As it was, I barely made it to safety after two hours of struggle. The backs of my legs were bright red and numb to the touch for a full day. I'd escaped frostbite by inches.

Having first-hand experience of the blinding snow, bitter cold and fierce gusts of a blizzard, and the pain these cause, I cannot imagine how any of the Donner Party's remaining 46 survived NINE such blasts, way up in the Sierras where the temps are much lower, with no food and little shelter, for nearly five long months. Drifts 20 feet deep... it's incomprehensible!

Everything seemed to conspire against these emigrants to California: bad advice on a "short-cut" that proved longer by far and more treacherous, a band of attacking Indians that killed much of their cattle, and a snowfall that closed the mountain pass only one day before they reached it. Had their small wagon train left Missouri just a little earlier or taken the well-worn, proven path by the Great Salt Lake. If they'd only rested their oxen four instead of five days before making that last push up the pass...

So many what ifs, so much tragedy.

The starving were forced to strip what little flesh that remained from the dead, cook and eat it, just to survive. And yet, some time after the ordeal, Virginia Reid claimed in a letter to a cousin that her family were the only ones that didn't resort to cannibalism. How is it possible to go all that time without food and still have everyone in your family survive, while death and the unthinkable is all around you?

Just one of the unasked questions this 90 minute AMERICAN EXPERIENCE documentary leaves us with. Narrated by the late, lamented David McCullough, and with the voice contributions of Amy Madigan, Eli Wallach, George Plimpton, Timothy Hutton and others, this 1992 episode of that long-running PBS series remains one of its very best.

Written and directed by Ric Burns, who uses antique photos (obviously post-1846), newspaper and other print relics, plus survivng letters to tell this most harrowing of stories, which is summed up in its last moment by the quote that tops this review.

"The Donner Party" is a show not for the faint of heart or the easily offended. It's also a cautionary tale of Mother Nature's hazards I wished I'd known about back in 1978.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Testament to Human Strength, November 6, 2009
This review is from: The American Experience: The Donner Party (DVD)
After putting this title in my Amazon Wish List I rented it from Netflix and viewed it on November 5. I remember watching it on PBS when it aired and this DVD brought to mind also the book I had just recently read called Desperate Passage. While these are actors reading excerpts from various diaries and recollections of some of the survivors of the Donner Party it still seemed so real. You can't expect a 90-minute spexcial to go into the depth a long book can as to all that the early pioneers endured just reaching the passage leading over the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1846, let alone what one terrible winter did to those holed up in cabins, lean-tos, or holes dug into the snow itself. Add to that the fearful conditions the four different rescue parties had to cope with just to reach the survivors, and you get an idea of what these humans perished from, and triumphed against. The weak, tired voices you listen to, and the somber music, make this a chilling retelling of this tragedy in our history. Just as an afterthought on the timeline, I read A Terrible Glory right after finisheing Desperate Passage and was interested to learn the Battle of Little Bighorn took place only 30 years later, in 1876.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profound, astonishing story, August 21, 2007
By 
Sidney Carton (Edinburgh, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The American Experience: The Donner Party (DVD)
The fate of Donner Party is one of the most human stories I know. Everyone should have a deeper understanding of what happened at truckee lake in those horrible months to these unfortunate families. Ric Burns' documentary is one I have revisited many times.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite documentary ever!, February 25, 2012
By 
Kelli Ramsey (Olympia, WA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The American Experience: The Donner Party (DVD)
I first watched this documentary when I ordered the Time-Life "American Experience" series on VHS more than 15 years ago. I finally found it on DVD and, though I had to pay more than usual, I just had to have it. This is why:

1-The research is thorough and rich in detail; especially with the use of authentic pictures, letters and journal entries from the time period.

2-The experts used in telling the history were great story-tellers and very knowledgeable.

3-Using actors to voice the various characters and further the story was fantastic. It really made the story more dramatic; if that's even possible.

It isn't surprising that Ric Burns, the director, is the brother of documentarian Ken Burns ("The Civil War", "The War"). They have a very similar style and it's fantastic. You really get a personal feel of the story and it just comes alive more than most documentaries. You really feel for everyone on a strong, human level. I've watched it often and I attribute this documentary to awakening a genre preference I didn't have before.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Watch this DVD TODAY!, March 5, 2010
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This review is from: The American Experience: The Donner Party (DVD)
This is one of the most entertaining dvds I have ever seen. I love American history and I also love movies of the wild wild west. This DVD is equal parts both. I would recommend this DVD to just about anyone. I am not the biggest documentary fan but I have watched this movie about 4 times in the last month.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Donner Party-Ric Burns, January 11, 2007
This review is from: The Donner Party (DVD)
This is one of the best documenteries I've seen. Ric Burns did an amazing job of drawing the audience into a real sense of the horrors these people experienced. The interviews made you feel as if the people interviewed actually experienced the tragedy themselves. Finally, the musical score draws you into the forlorn experience through its haunting melodies. I highly recommend this DVD.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heart Wrenching!, February 5, 2012
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This review is from: The American Experience: The Donner Party (DVD)
This is a MUST SEE. When you think things are looking pretty gloomy in your life, this movie will make you count your Blessings!
It's like a haunting song that won't leave your thoughts, So devastating! Knowing it's a true story is so heart wrenching!
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The American Experience: The Donner Party
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