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Ken Burns: The National Parks - America's Best Idea 1 Season 2009

Available on Prime
Season 1
Available on Prime
4.7 out of 5 stars (900) IMDb 8.5/10

Filmed over the course of more than six years at some of nature's most spectacular locales, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea" is a six-part, 12-hour documentary series by Ken Burns and his longtime colleague Dayton Duncan on the history of America s national parks. This is a story of people rich and poor, famous and unknown, soldiers and scientists, natives and newcomers, idealists, artists and entrepreneurs who were willing to devote themselves to saving some precious portion of the land they loved and in doing so, reminded their fellow citizens of the full meaning of democracy.

Starring:
Peter Coyote, Dayton Duncan
Original air date:
October 2, 2009

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Season 1
1. The Scripture of Nature (1851-1890)

In 1851, a band of Indian fighters in California encounters a place of astonishing beauty, setting in motion events that bring other newcomers to Yosemite Valley: artists, writers, entrepreneurs, tourists, and eventually John Muir, who becomes a national voice for preservation. Meanwhile, reports emerge from Wyoming Territory of a fantastical place at the headwaters of the Yellowstone River. An exploration confirms the rumors, and in 1872 Congress creates the world's first national park at Yellowstone, but does nothing to provide for its protection. In 1886, General Phil Sheridan and the U.S. Cavalry ride to the park's rescue.

CC TV-G September 27, 2009 1 hour, 53 minutes
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2. The Last Refuge (1890-1915)

At the end of the 19th century, some Americans begin to question the nation's headlong rush across the continent that has devastated forests and ravaged entire species of animals. Conservation's greatest champion is the new president, Theodore Roosevelt, who creates parks and wildlife refuges, and then audaciously uses the Antiquities Act to set aside 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon as a national monument. John Muir fights the battle of his life to prevent the city of San Francisco from burying the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park under a reservoir, and dies broken-hearted after he loses.

CC TV-G September 28, 2009 2 hours, 11 minutes
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3. The Empire of Grandeur (1915-1919)

America boasts a dozen national parks as the park idea turns 50 years old. A millionaire businessman named Stephen Mather impulsively accepts the offer to oversee them for one year. Mather and his right-hand-man Horace Albright launch a campaign to publicize the parks as a unified system and to persuade Congress to create a single agency to oversee it: the National Park Service, established in 1916. Mount McKinley, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Acadia and Hawaii's volcanoes are set aside as national parks, but Mather's top priority is in Arizona. After a bitter fight, the Grand Canyon is designated a National Park in 1919.

CC TV-G September 29, 2009 1 hour, 50 minutes
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4. Going Home (1920-1933)

As the nation enters the 1920s, Stephen Mather and Horace Albright ally themselves with the automobile to "democratize" the national parks and attract more Americans to them. Nebraskans Margaret and Edward Gehrke begin collecting parks each summer, while Glenn and Bessie Hyde spend their honeymoon in a homemade boat on the raging Colorado river through the Grand Canyon. Horace Kephart, a reclusive writer, and George Masa, a Japanese immigrant and photographer, launch a campaign to save the virgin forests of the Smoky Mountains from destruction by making it a national park.

CC TV-G September 30, 2009 1 hour, 54 minutes
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5. Great Nature (1933-1945)

A new president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, expands the national park idea to embrace battlefields and other historic and iconic sites. He enters pitched battles to create national parks on the Olympic Peninsula, Florida's Everglades, Wyoming's Teton Mountains, and California's High Sierra; he also creates the Civilian Conservation Corps to provide young men with jobs improving conditions at national parks. George Melendez Wright, a young Park Service employee, begins arguing that the parks are not doing enough to protect wildlife in their natural state. In Seattle, Iwao and Hanaye Matsushita fall in love with Mount Rainier National Park; and in California, another Japanese immigrant, Chiura Obata, finds inspiration for his art in Yosemite. When they are interned during World War II, they all find solace in their memories of the national parks of their adopted country.

CC TV-PG October 1, 2009 1 hour, 53 minutes
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6. The Morning of Creation (1946-1980)

After World War II, an increasingly mobile and affluent nation begins placing demands on the parks as never before, and the parks are in danger of being "loved to death." A Park Service biologist named Adolph Murie argues that ingrained practices such as killing predators runs counter to the purpose of national parks, while David Brower of the Sierra Club mobilizes public opinion to defeat Congressional proposals for dams in pristine places. In the 1970s, when President Jimmy Carter uses the Antiquities Act to set aside 56 million acres in Alaska, a huge uproar results -- and the largest grassroots movement in conservation history fights for the creation of seven new Alaska parks, adding 47 million acres, more than doubling the size of the park system.

CC TV-G October 2, 2009 1 hour, 53 minutes
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Bonus: The Making of The National Parks

Filmmaker Ken Burns and his longtime colleague Dayton Duncan take us on a behind-the-scenes tour of their series THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA'S BEST IDEA.

CC TV-G September 27, 2009 25 minutes
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
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 says...it'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.
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Format: Blu-ray
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.
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7 Comments 168 of 189 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Blu-ray
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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Format: DVD
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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