The National Parks: America's Best Idea (Blu-ray) Official AVSForum Review - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 18 Old 10-06-2009, 12:20 PM - Thread Starter
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The Review at a Glance: (max score: 5 )

Film: attachment.php?attachmentid=109947&d=1210373699

Extras: attachment.php?attachmentid=109945&d=1210373699

Audio/Video total rating:

( Max score: 100 )

82






Studio and Year: Paramount/PBS - 2009
MPAA Rating: NR
Feature running time: 750 minutes (12.5 hours)
Genre: Documentary

Disc Format: BD-50
Encoding: AVC (MPEG-4)
Video Aspect: 1.78:1
Resolution: 1080i/60


Audio Format(s): English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Spanish Stereo
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish SDH
Directed by: Ken Burns
Written by: Dayton Duncan
Region Code: A

Blu-ray Disc release Date: October 6, 2009







"For the benefit and enjoyment of the people"



Film Synopsis:

The National Parks (six episodes, twelve hours) tells the human history of five of the nation's most important and most heavily visited National Parks (Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Acadia, and Great Smoky Mountains) and the unforgettable Americans who made them possible. Set against some of the most beautiful landscapes on earth, each park's story is filled with incidents and characters as gripping and fascinating as American history has to offer. Woven into the series will also be a broader, evolving story of the very idea of National Parks, as uniquely an American concept as jazz, baseball, and the Declaration of Independence as well as the expanding, constantly changing National Parks system (encompassing stories from other parks) and the growing role they all have come to play in our nation's sense of itself, its past, and its future.





My Take:

Directed by Ken Burns and co-produced with his longtime colleague Dayton Duncan, who also wrote the script, the 12-hour film is the story of an idea as uniquely American as the Declaration of Independence and just as radical: that the most special places in the nation should be preserved, not for royalty or the rich, but for everyone. Filmed over the course of more than six years in some of nature's most spectacular locales from Acadia to Yosemite, Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon, the Everglades of Florida to the Gates of the Arctic in Alaska the documentary is nonetheless a story of people from every conceivable background: rich and poor; famous and unknown; soldiers and scientists; natives and newcomers; idealists, artists and entrepreneurs; people 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. The six-part series is narrated by Peter Coyote and features first-person voices read by some of America's greatest actors including Tom Hanks, Andy Garcia, Josh Lucas, Eli Wallach, Campbell Scott, Sam Waterston, John Lithgow, George Takei, Philip Bosco, Carolyn McCormick, Adam Arkin and Kevin Conway.

Wow. What an incredibly informative and fascinating documentary. I have never been to our most famous and beautiful National Parks which is something I plan to remedy. After seeing how majestic they are as well as the history behind them, I feel a sense of responsibility and allure to experience these treasures which have been referred to as the vast school rooms of Amercianism. Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan put forth a tremendous effort in the historical retrospective portions of this film. It paints a comprehensive portrait of the people who helped recognize these landscapes and the importance of preserving them for future generations. Principle among them was Stephen T. Mather, a millionaire businessman that on an impulse initially offered to oversee the existing 12 National Parks for one year. Mather and his trusted and dedicated assistant Horace Albright, launched a campaign to publicize the parks as a unified system and persuade congress to create a single agency, The National Park Service, to oversee it. It was the work of these two men that formed the foundation that today compromises our National Park Service. This in no way minimizes the importance of others who steadfastly believed and contributed to the National Park ideal. This includes but isn't limited Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir, Margaret and Edward Gehrke, Horace Kephart, George Masa, John D. Rockefeller, and many more. The film presents an intimate perspective offered by writers and historians with narrated commentary by Peter Coyote and first person voice-overs by celebrity readers. I was awestruck by the majestic cinematography captured during this film. Burns also uses dozens of vintage black and white photographs and film clips to regale the events that culminated in the formation of the preservation movement and the establishment of the National Park Service. I don't consider myself a history buff (although I do find it of interest) but I was captivated by this in depth look at the treasure trove of nature's bounty that is located right here in our country. Honestly I had no idea of their history and the struggle by those who recognized their importance and the need to protect them. Ken Burns has captured it all in this incredible documentary film that was six years in the making. It is spread out over six two hour segments on 6 BD-50 Blu-ray discs with special features contained on each. This is a great piece that is easily worth the time investment required to see it all.




Parental Guide:

This documentary film is appropriate for all ages.






AUDIO/VIDEO - By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100 / EXCELLENT = 83-91 / GOOD = 74-82 / AVERAGE = 65-73 / BELOW AVERAGE = under 65

**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**


(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

Audio: 80



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Video: 84


(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)


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The National Parks: America's best idea comes to Blu-ray Disc from Paramount and PBS featuring 1080i AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 31 mbps and lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 channel audio that has an average bitrate of 1.5 mbps.

This documentary was originally shot on Super 16mm film and its elements appear to have been faithfully preserved during the encoding process. As such the filmed footage has a noticeably grainy aesthetic that doesn't offer razor sharp detail or the infinite perception of depth/dimension found on some of today's reference quality Blu-ray Disc releases. This shouldn't be construed as a negative. This is a solid looking encode that holds true to Ken Burns vision and the results are excellent. The 1.78:1 framed images boast strong, stable contrast, boldly stated colors, and deep image penetration that captures the exquisite locations featured in this film. Shadow delineation is estimable and blacks are gradational and punchy. Some wide angle pans lack the ability to discern the finest details within backgrounds however this is inherent due to the nature of the photography. Many of the still black and white photos look stunning in high definition. The nature defined color palette pops nicely as the deep, vivid, reds, succulent blues, and resplendent earth toned hues are visually engaging. The various stages of gray and white are subtly revealing, with crisp highlights, and discerning detail. This is a solid video presentation that offers a lucid perspective as seen through the eyes of director Ken Burns.

The lossless Dolby TrueHD soundtrack delivers the elements contained within this documentary film with aplomb. Voices are clearly rendered with crisp articulation, smooth intonation and prominent placement so that even subtle tonal inflections are perceptible. The front three channels integrate nicely and combine high level detail/clarity with pinpoint imaging. The music score has appreciable top end air, smoothly rendered instrumentation, and astute focus as its primary elements are spread evenly throughout the soundfield to create a warming blanket that envelops the listening position. I thought it sounded great.



Bonus Features & Episode Break down:


  • Disc 1:


  • Episode One: The scripture of nature (1851-1890) 116 minutes

  • (HD) The making of National Parks: America's best idea - 25 minute documentary

  • Disc 2:


  • Episode Two: The last refuge (1890-1915) - 131 minutes

  • (HD) Capturing the parks - 24 minute behind the scenes look

  • Disc 3:


  • Episode Three: The empire of grandeur (1915-1919) - 114 minutes

  • (HD)Musical journeys through National Parks - Images of the parks set to music in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround:

    1. National Parks timeline
    2. Peace at last/Across the ocean
    3. Horizons
    4. Green groves of Erin
    5. The shades of Ogygia
    6. Teddy bear picnic

    Disc 4:


  • Episode Four: Going home (1920-1933) - 117 minutes

  • (HD) Outtakes - An interview with Nevada Barr and The Boss

  • Disc 5:


  • Episode Five: Great nature (1933-1945) - 116 minutes

  • (HD) The National Parks: This is America - 44 minute documentary

  • Disc 6:


  • Episode Six: The morning of creation (1946-1980) 116 minutes

  • (HD) Contemporary stories from America's National Parks:

    1. San Antonio missions: Keeping history alive - 12 minutes
    2. Yosemite's Buffalo Soldiers - 11 minutes
    3. Mount Rushmore: Telling America's stories - 9 minutes
    4. Manzanar: Never begin - 14 minutes
    5. City kids in National Parks - 13 minutes




Final Thoughts:

The National Parks: America's best idea is a wonderfully informative and captivating experience as illustrated by filmmaker Ken Burns. It truly captures the breathtaking natural creations contained in our National Parks as well as providing a comprehensive look at their history and the people responsible for their development. Its presentation in high definition on Blu-ray Disc may not offer the provocative high gloss imagery of other nature based documentary films released on the format however it presents very well and looks great. There are a variety of extra features that offer behind the scenes footage, interviews, and human interest stories that are all pertinent to this film's compelling subject matter. Stephen T. Mather believed that our National Parks are our richest patrimony. After watching this provocative and stirring documentary film I would have to say that I agree with his assessment. This set comes highly recommended.









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Ralph Potts
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post #2 of 18 Old 10-06-2009, 12:41 PM
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Ralph,

Nice summary - I bumped in to this live broadcast on PBS last week.
I completely agree with your final thoughts

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post #3 of 18 Old 10-06-2009, 02:26 PM
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Based on Ralphs review i'm collecting this. Kind of reminds me of Disney's Earth which was pretty good.

Collect!!
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post #4 of 18 Old 10-06-2009, 02:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JamE55 View Post

Based on Ralphs review i'm collecting this. Kind of reminds me of Disney's Earth which was pretty good.

Collect!!

JamE55,

Just one note. Not as much as eye candy as the planet earth type videos.
Don't get me wrong >> this includes some magnificent color scenery shots, but also a significant number of old B/W stills to accompany the historical narration..

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post #5 of 18 Old 10-06-2009, 04:38 PM
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I watched this series on PBS last week and enjoyed it, if you like Ken Burns work then you will too. As was mentioned this series is not Planet Earth so only about 50% of the show is scenery, the rest is B&W photos.
If you want more scenery then I suggest Nat Geo's National Parks Collection.
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post #6 of 18 Old 10-06-2009, 07:32 PM
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This Nat'l Park series is not your typical travelogue; instead focusing on the historical creation of the parks thru extensively researched archival materials and personal reflections from various informed individuals. As such, we don't get much in the way of dramatic flyover shots, with most of the views consisting of static, albeit magnificiently-composed stills. The doc mostly eschews coverage of each park's flora & fauna; again choosing to laud on the visionaries who had the foresight to fight for and preserve the natural landscape. I would have preferred a more balanced presentation with equal time spent on said historical aspects and on each park's natural attractions & features. As others have pointed out, there is definitely not the abundance of eye candy one would expect in a 12 hour presentation, and as such, I'm undecided on taking the pricey (over $100 Cdn) plunge on the BD.

Btw, the BD & dvd does offer one important feature not available on the original PBS standard broadcast -- a widescreen (1.78) presentation.

HiDef S c o p e Fanboy-man
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post #7 of 18 Old 10-06-2009, 08:03 PM
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I kinda thought the U.S. Constitution was America's Best Idea.

Nonetheless, the story of establishing and preserving the national parks certainly covers one of America's better ideas.

Free over the air HDTV + Tivo HD + Netflix for Blu-ray and streaming = Bliss
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post #8 of 18 Old 10-07-2009, 02:35 PM
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I was very unimpressed with the broadcast on my local PBS station last week. I've got one of the discs coming from Netflix. Hopefully it'll be more watchable. $129 seems pretty steep to me.
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post #9 of 18 Old 10-07-2009, 03:26 PM
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I like documentaries as much as anyone. I watch PBS, History, A&E and the Discovery channels more than nearly anyone I know. That said, I found this series incredibly boring. I tried to watch four episodes and had to give up each time due to the yawn factor.

I felt that the narrating was droning and monotonous and the pictures, even modern stills, were often very poor quality for HD. Like others have said, there is way too much concentration on people who promoted the areas to become parks and too little on the parks themselves.

Be seeing you!
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post #10 of 18 Old 10-07-2009, 03:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cuzed2 View Post

JamE55,

Just one note. Not as much as eye candy as the planet earth type videos.
Don't get me wrong >> this includes some magnificent color scenery shots, but also a significant number of old B/W stills to accompany the historical narration..

Thanks for the feedback cuzed2. Should be an interesting movie to watch since there's a b/w stills in it.
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post #11 of 18 Old 10-07-2009, 05:11 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gregoryperkins View Post

I was very unimpressed with the broadcast on my local PBS station last week. I've got one of the discs coming from Netflix. Hopefully it'll be more watchable. $129 seems pretty steep to me.

YES it's quite an improvement...

many of the Newer HD shots are quire spectacular IMHO.

Disc 5 was one of my all time favorite viewings....knew little about who worked the parks decades ago,etc.

Watching 6 as we speak!

Once returned to NEtflix this will become a MUST PURCHASE for me!



Quote:
What an incredibly informative and fascinating documentary

AMEN!

4 out of 4 stars!


many B & W shots were tweaked (effects added)which I thought was very cool as well!
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post #12 of 18 Old 10-08-2009, 12:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gregoryperkins View Post

I was very unimpressed with the broadcast on my local PBS station last week. I've got one of the discs coming from Netflix. Hopefully it'll be more watchable. $129 seems pretty steep to me.

Amazon has it for $71.00, Best Buy for $84.00 plus tax.
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post #13 of 18 Old 10-08-2009, 01:24 PM
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I watched this series on PBS-HD. Overall, it was great, but there was quite a bit of repetition of themes--and in a few cases actual footage--within and among the episodes. I think it would have been a better series if Burns had edited it more tightly to about 8 hours, rather than 12.
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post #14 of 18 Old 10-08-2009, 10:50 PM
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if you have not visited the national parks yet, you might put it into your plans.
I feel some day a video may be the only way to see them, like "Soylent Green."

my HT
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post #15 of 18 Old 10-16-2009, 07:13 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Icehouse View Post

Amazon has it for $71.00, Best Buy for $84.00 plus tax.

Yeah, I know, but list price is list price. Say you get this as a gift for pledging to a local pbs station, they're going to take $129 off your charitable contribution. I imagine a lot of people will get this if they offer it. My local station is offering it for a $250 contribution, exactly what I give them (blu or dvd). I doubt I'll get it.

I just saw disc 4 and it looks dvd quality at best. I wouldn't use this series to show off my tv. It's hard to believe that they need that many discs for the entire thing. What's the point of high capacity discs if you only fill them half way?

I hope he switches to a Red cam or something better than super 16 for his next series. Sub hd res just doesn't cut it in this day and age.
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post #16 of 18 Old 03-18-2010, 09:05 AM
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I just watched disc #1 of this series last evening; I have the other ones in my NF queue. Have to say I was very disappointed in much of the video quality, particularly of the outdoor scenic shots. I agree that the B&W stills looked pretty awesome. While watching the whole thing I was very confused, almost alarmed that there was something wrong with my equipment? I have a Mits 65" DLP set and a Sony B-R player that are only a few days old. I was concerned enough to put in another disc I had at home jsut to make sure it wasn't the equipment.

Again, except for the re-touched pictures I think the overall quality of this (at least disc #1) is awful. The scenery shots reminded me of an old VHS VCR. Maybe later discs will improve some? I hope so!
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post #17 of 18 Old 03-18-2010, 09:32 AM
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I've watched a few of Ken Burns' documentaries. I've loved them. This is easily the worst of them for me. I found each episode to be painful and difficult to finish. They put me to sleep. The photography was, to me, pedestrian.

I wonder if it was a weakness in the subject matter. Here's what I mean: for the Civil War, or for the Lewis and Clark expedition, we were not there, and most of us have no idea what it was like. Reading a letter about those times is exciting and thrilling, as it takes us into the moment. Each of the letters and such read in The National Parks went "thud" for me. I've been to a few of the parks. They ARE magnificent. Hearing my next door neighbor describe them ... boring.

Anyway, there is much better eye candy out there. I guess it's ok for informational purposes if you're REALLY into the development of each park in excruciating detail, or have some kind of John Muir obsession, but all in all I think Ken Burns is a one-trick pony whose trick I've seen one too many times.
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post #18 of 18 Old 06-14-2010, 08:00 AM
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Have you ever watched a program with one hand over the bottom of the image to avoid being aggravated by the superimposition of animated logo graphics every few minutes?

This series was nearly unwatchable on PBS-HD because of that.

I got the Blu-ray set through Amazon to avoid (1) having to screen out the bottom-of-the-screen garbage and (2) to avoid rewarding PBS and the station for that with a mark-up on the disks.

An I'm a long-time PBS fan!

Thankfully, the bottom of the screen garbage is not on the Blu-ray, which is as beautiful as Ralph says.

I'm waiting eagerly for the Blu-ray release of Ken Burns' Jazz series, which, like this one, is a political as well as artistic triumph.

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