Customer Reviews: The National Parks: America's Best Idea [Blu-ray]
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on September 29, 2009
Not sure why people are complaining about not getting more geological data or wildlife info. This documentary is about the IDEA of our National Park systems which includes inspirations and motivations. As history lover's review's how (and why) our National Parks came to be. I'm sure Burns included the term "idea" for good reason. The idea that Burns goes after seems to be a philosophy against commercialism and greed which makes sense after seeing the first episode. Who cares if spirituality was one of the inspirations though? For many, appreciating nature is a spiritual or at least meditative experience regardless of what they do or don't believe. So far this documentary is organized much the same as Burns' other films. Nice music, nice scenery captured in nice camera work with nice photographs- all interwoven with Park Rangers, historians, writers and other experts on the people and places mentioned. So far so good! Leave it to Burns to use National Parks to provide another reminder that not everything in this country is money motivated. If the rest of the episodes are as good as what I've seen it'll be worth a purchase.

e: Now that the series is over I can say I really enjoyed it. I feel pretty much the same as my initial review above. I do agree with some of the other reviews that this series didn't feel as cohesive as some of Burns' other films but it was still a really good one. I thought the narration and interviews had a more "scripted feel" to them. Another small gripe was that although I enjoyed the music (especially the guitar-work) I wish there was more variety. I wish they had recorded more music for this specific film so that songs weren't reused as much. It didn't detract from the film all that much though. And there is still quite a bit. When it was all said and done, not only did I learn about interesting things about interesting people and places, this film inspired more appreciation for our National Parks from me. That's enough for me to say it's worth a watch and worth owning. Recommended.
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VINE VOICEon December 10, 2009
Although the series suffers somewhat from repetitiveness occasioned by the need to keep re-orienting viewers as multiple story sequences are interrupted for long periods of time while first one, then another, thread is begun, I am glad that I was patient enough to view the entire collection. If you like Ken Burns's thorough and somewhat laid-back style, you will find it agreeable here as in his other series, even if this is not quite his best effort. One should bear in mind that this is primarily an historical documentary, not a travelogue or guide to the parks.

In terms of content, I'd probably give the series four stars; but I was disappointed in the video quality of the new motion-picture footage that Burns's photographers accumulated over six years of hard and dedicated work. I believe that a fundamentally wrong decision was made in the choice of medium. Burns has a love of old-style photography, and the many stunning examples of still photos were a joy to behold. I also agree with him that film is a more pleasing medium than direct-to-video. Unfortunately, it would appear that budget limitations (and perhaps portability considerations as well, as photographers were slogging through wilderness) precluded the use of 35mm film, which would have been ideal. Instead, a decision was made (by whom I have no idea) that 16mm film would be the next best thing. This is the point at which I would have decided to use direct video. Even though it may be a little lacking in warmth compared with film, there is only so much grain that I am willing to put up with in a hi-def production. My consumer-grade HD camcorder makes much clearer and cleaner video than is seen in this series.

There are a couple of points to be made in favor of the Blu-ray version, however. First, those who may be basing their purchase decision on what they saw on PBS's HD telecast should know that the Blu-ray disc is somewhat better; the graininess of the 16mm film really messed up the compression algorithms used in the distribution of the telecast. Also, the stunning still photos, both the old B&W's that were probably shot on 4x5 negatives, and the modern color photos, benefit from Blu-ray versus DVD, if you're willing to pay the price.

None of this criticism of the video is relevant to the DVD; nor will it matter to those with poor eyesight or who watch on less than full-resolution HDTVs or who view from a distance greater than recommended for a given screen size. I for one was hoping for something visually splendid, something like "Planet Earth" or the BBC's "Yellowstone," something, quite frankly, that would help to justify my investment in home theater. The National Parks doesn't do it.
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on October 2, 2009
I have always been in awe when visiting America's National Parks. Like most people, I take these wonders for granted, never had a good understanding of how they came to being. This documentary, though it contains breathtaking scenes, isn't all about the ooohhhs and aaahhhhhs of the National Parks. As the title suggests it's America's Best Idea, the documentary builds on how hard fought the idea was, like many great ideas. Most of us know very little about our national treasures. We may know that John Muir fought hard as a conservationist but many may not know that trying to prevent Hetch Hetchy valley from being dammed and flooded took the life out of him. I remember learning Teddy Roosevelt was a Rough Rider in school but never knew the major role he played at conservation and that even he and all his powers as President could only made the Grand Canyon a National Monument. Those of us who enjoy the great outdoors owe it to Muir and Roosevelt and others such as Stephen Mather and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The idea didn't come easy or free and some people put their lives and/or fortunes into making sure that Nature's Majesties are conserved for all to enjoy. Besides the beautiful scenes, the documentary is very informative and educational and a must for those who enjoy America's National Parks. This series would make a very nice addition to one's video collection and a must for those who enjoy the great outdoors.
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on October 1, 2009
In reading some of the previous comments/reviews, it is apparent that it would behoove some people to look up the definition of 'documentary'. It just might be a revelation that they mainly consist of historical content. If an endless montage of pretty pictures is all it takes to satisfy you (or that is all you can handle), stick to the National Geographic channel. I am not knocking their content, but you won't find this kind of depth/detail there. This series has the perfect balance of beautiful landscapes and historical narration. The point of this documentary is not simply to show the wonderous beauty that the National Parks have to offer. Rather, it is about exploring the origin and necessity of the parks and the journey from a grand idea to magnificent fruition. Learning what it took and the obstacles faced to make the National Parks a reality is very interesting and truly awe-inspiring. We are blessed to have these amazing places that we can all call our own.
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on October 6, 2009
An earlier reviewer states "You will not be seeing much of the actual National Parks here". The Ken Burns series I just saw in the high def PBS-TV showing had hours of breathtaking and spectacular scenes of National Parks, scenes I've never seen before. The scenes ranged from small detailed views to grand majestic panoramas, and everything in between.

Yes the earlier reviewer is partially correct in stating "it is really about the people and politics of making National Parks". Much of it is a tale of individuals, starting with John Muir, and followed by many more, who fought against all kinds of adversity and obstacles, and won! They won their individual battles to preseve these beautiful places. It is a tale of human beings who made a difference, a story of triumph and sacrifice. The stories are of famous people and of little known people. The stories unwind in a fascinating way, little by little, as the series progresses.

But the most prominent part of the series is the high def, wide screen, visual presentation of the incredible beauty of our National Parks. In my estimation this is Ken Burns best so far.
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on September 30, 2009
I have watched other Ken Burns documentaries and while I found them all well done, while occasionally sleep-inducing, but none have intrigued me as much as this one. I am an avid lover of our local, state, and national parks; I am a frequent hiker, camper, and trail-maintenance volunteer. I had no idea, however, what a struggle it was to get the national parks started! It doesn't really surprise me that there would be so many people willing to exploit such beautiful places as Yosemite and the Grand Canyon for profit, but I can't imagine what it would be like if they had succeeded.

I personally have found this series to be thoroughly enlightening. Besides enjoying the cinematography, watching it has helped me appreciate even more something I already loved so much because of the struggle to establish it. If you want just pretty pictures, there are plenty of other documentaries to watch (Planet Earth, etc). If you want to understand the history behind the keeping the places in those pretty pictures pretty and accessible to all, I highly recommend this series.
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on September 29, 2009
Ken Burns took the traditional approach with the first two episodes, but there may indeed be variety to come. I think what some of the other reviewers are saying is that "this has been done before", but never quite as well. As a fan of slow paced, thoughtful and thought provoking scenes, we are definitely treated to many of those. At times the content of the narrative is distracting from the images, it takes a lot of concentration to absorb both at once. And the music, some of which is so compelling you wish the narrator would keep quiet for awhile (an L A times reviewer tongue-in-cheek remarked recently "fiddle and banjo music should be banned from documentaries for the next 5 years", mostly, I think, because it can be so distracting). But what's the hurry, and what's wrong with making people think a little bit?

I must also confess that I have worked for the National Park Service for more than 25 years and done some "evening programs" with exactly the same themes depicted in the film. The live "campfire talk" will never be replaced by video (I hope), but watching the first two episodes I figure I should have let Ken Burns do it.

The reviewer who called this "the history of John Muir" has a point. It seems like at least 1/4 of the time of the first two shows was dedicated to his life and contributions. Incidentally, the great nature photographer and cinematographer DeWitt Jones produced a film in the early 1970s called "John Muir's High Sierra" which was every bit as professional and beautiful as the Ken Burns version just seen, possibly more so even without Lee Stetson's portrayal of the character. I wonder if Burns ever saw it? It is good to be reminded of those heady times of protest and nature-lovers, which is partly what the re-telling of Muir's story does for me. I hope there are many more of those times to come soon.
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on September 28, 2009
I was one of those reviewers who gave this series 1 star and I got 32 comments. I replied to all of them. They convinced me that it is unfair to review a series without seeing all the episodes, so I deleted the first review. I have seen all the episodes now and have to admit that Ken Burns has come down firmly in the right place. I can see why the Sierra Club, of which I am a member, has so strongly endorsed this series.
I learned a lot about the history of the National Parks, and,yes, I got some beautiful HD shots. I also saw minority viewpoints which were lacking in his last documentary. I appreciate this.
Burns has been criticized for showing too many old black and white photos. I understand he does this to get an historical perspective and it is effective but I think he uses this technique too much. Many have criticized the background music he uses. To me, it is distracting, a kind of elevator music. In the last episode he used a short clip of the Mamas and Papas. Why?
There are too many interviewed who see God in the National
Parks. This is different from the pantheism of Thoreau or the Native Americans. But I have to admit that we are a religious nation and the documentary reflects this fact.
These are minor objections and in the end I must endorse Burns' fighting the good fight against all those commercial interests that have tried to destroy the parks in the past and still are.
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on October 6, 2009
This is quite simply the most spectacular creative production I've seen. It is my considered opinion that this is Mr. Burns' best work to date. If you like nature, you'll be in awe of the cinematography; if you like history, you'll be fascinated with the tale of a uniquely American process that brought the parks into being and transformed them into national shrines that they are for so many. Most of all, if you love our country, you'll be inspired by the stories of selfless sacrifice and devotion to a dream that have succeeded in preserving that dream for many genrations to come. Not only is it a must see for you; I believe it will be a treasure for those future generations. This one will stand the test of time just as it's subject matter has done. A Masterpiece on a grand scale, but told in a lyrical, conversational manner. Outstanding. Bravo!
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on October 1, 2009
Ken Burns' presentation exceeds expectations! The story behind the creation of the National Parks is a story that must be told. The story reflects what is best about our nation -- people making sacrifice, sometimes at great personal cost, to do the right thing. The right thing in this case is the preservation of our nation's most remarkable wildlands for generations to come. Burns tells the story like an artist, carefully weaving scenery with the significant events that helped forge our park system. Knowing the story behind these precious wildlands magnifies the sense of pride and humble gratitude that we can take towards our National Parks.
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