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Reader Participation Day: So, What Do You Think of the Ken Burns Film So Far?


We're at the halfway mark of The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. So what do you think? Has Ken Burns pulled off another masterpiece, or do you find it lacking in some regards?

Are you going to order your own personal DVD of the show, wonder what wound up on the cutting room floor, or pass on the three remaining episodes? If you're only a frequent park goer, is this series making you think more highly of the national parks and what they offer?


Maybe I missed it, but I would have thought that Burns would have had some mention of Edward Abbey. His views on park transportation (only appropriate by horse, foot, or bicycle) would have been an interesting counterpoint to the earlier successful integration of roads into many of our National Parks. I think I watched all 12 hours, although some of it was joined mid-episode where I tried to view parts I missed on the web.

As for footage of crowds enjoying our national parks - I do recall some. If you check some of the extra material that didn't quite make it into the final series, they filmed footage of Shelton Johnson leading interpretive programs at Yosemite and Park Superintendent Gerard Baker greeting visitors at Mount Rushmore. The one thing that I'm surprised didn't make it was the group of schoolkids touring Death Valley.

The extra footage is actually quite interesting. Most of the narration is by Ken Burns himself. I think only the final cut was actually narrated by Peter Coyote. Still - a lot of the quotations were still performed by talent such as Tom Hanks before they were cut out of the final series.

While teh series was visually spectacular, and historically informative, Ken Burns did not make the case for the American family to visit the parks. Visitor centers were portraied as unattractive: couldn't he have concentrated at the fact that there was SOME education going on here, and that the average family just want to get out and enjoy the outdoors. I saw NO footage of crowds of people enjoying themselves, just crowds feeding animals in Yellowstone: who's fault is that? The US Park Service sets the rules and tone of the park; that is a precedent that was done decades ago. These habits are hard to change.
TOO MUCH YOSEMITE!!! My wife and I visited Yosemite two years ago; what happened to Galen Clark, the protector of the park?
Again, not enough diversity of people, and visits to other parks. 10 minutes on Denali! Are you kidding?
Again, thank you for the visually spectacular tribute to the parks. I wish that more people were consulted to comment on the value of the parks today: like citizens who use the parks.

On Montana PBS, I just saw a short 30-minute documentary entitled "Before there were parks: Native views on Yellowstone and Glacier." If too brief, it was well made and offers what I think is an interesting counter-balance to the Burns story. I think it offers a different, even contrasting view of the parks; and if people have a chance to see it, I suggest they do.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

I enjoyed the series, and now that I've seen it, had a couple of reactions to it and to the comments on this story.

If you look at Ken Burn's other work, it's primarily from the viewpoint of a historian - not a travel writer, or a naturalist - and that's reflected in this one as well. That's his approach, and that's fine. That leaves the field wide open for those who want a different perspective :-)

This is clearly a subject that offers a lot more material than could be covered, even lightly, in the time available. It's worth remembering that the title was "The National Parks" ... not the "national park system." He had to narrow the focus somehow, and there was acknowledgment of "monuments," and to some extent, other types of areas.

Like some others, I would have enjoyed a little less emphasis on Yellowstone and Yosemite and more on some other sites, but I certainly learned some things I didn't know about both parks. Since viewing the series didn't cost me anything except a little time, I'm appreciative of the time and work that went into the project.

The series was a good reminder about how fortunate we are to have the parks and other units in the system that we enjoy today - and how things could very well have turned out differently were it not for the determination of a relatively small number of men and women.

One key question is whether the series will influence how we respond - as individuals and as a nation - to the issues facing our parks in the years to come.

I couldn't disagree with you more, James. Film producers, playwrights, football coaches, musicians, park managers, and everyone else purveying a product or service (yes, even the people who produce this webzine) need the feedback that critics provide. Taken in the spirit intended, it makes you work harder and smarter. As to the matter at hand, there's little question that the Burns national documentary has some pretty significant flaws. Pretending that they are not there helps nobody.

I am reading through these pages of comments, and it all seems like a pile of negative cynical "Monday Morning Quarterbacks" throwing stones. All of you would criticze John Muir to his face, as well? Certainly you would all stab him in the back for WHAT HE DIDN'T DO. In any film or work of art there's always something that could have been done differently.

If you ask me, anyone who looks for things missing for the sake of nailing criticism, is missing something within him/herself, and lacks the true depth to appreciate a stream flowing, for simply what it is. Not what it is not.

I'd just add that after seeing more of the series, they seemed to have gotten Ranger Johnson filmed at various stages of his appearance.

They haven't done an exclusive story only about the units with the "National Park" label. They've gone quite a bit in depth about the Antiquities Act of 1906 and the power it gave to the President to declare National Monuments. They've touched on Horace Albright's move to consolidate National Battlefields from what was previously under control of the War Dept into the National Park Service.

Gerard Baker is heavily featured in the series as Superintendent of Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

There also should be no doubt that the crown jewels of the NPS should get a lot of airtime.

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