Ken Burns' spectacular 'National Parks' 

Ken Burns' The National Parks: America's Best Idea, which is superb, probably isn't his best film. But it is, by far, his most spectacular.

Throughout the six-part, 12-hour epic, you'll revel in impossibly blue skies, spectacular geysers, and mountains that seem to reach the sky. Rainbows stretching from waterfalls. Massive sequoias and redwoods. Sunsets that look like sunbursts. Wild animals roaming the fruited plains. And landscapes you'll swear are paintings, the colors are that unreal.

Even if you've been to see these natural wonders, you haven't seen the angles, landscapes and valleys Burns shows us. It truly is America the Beautiful captured on film.

But breathtaking vistas are only part of the appeal. As he always does, Burns finds what he calls the "emotional archaeology" of the story. And in this case, that's the stories of the people who had a hand in creating our national park system and the elements they fought to do so.

It's a longstanding, fierce battle pitting conservationists against the people who would rape the land for short-term economic gain and those who feared putting too much power under federal control.

As you can see, history does indeed repeat itself.

Some of the central characters in the creation of our National Park Service are names are right out of the history books — Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt chief among them. Both presidents used their abilities to persuade and, when necessary, took advantage of their presidential powers to achieve a much greater good. The opposition in Congress and in private business often kicked and screamed about the cost or the concentration of too much federal power, but neither Roosevelt blinked.

"We are not building this country for a day," Teddy Roosevelt declared. "It is to last through the ages."

Oh, to have a president today with that kind of courage.

Lesser-known figures also get their due — people like John Muir, who "preached nature like an apostle" in the mid- to late-1800s; Steven Mather, the first person to run the national park system; and George Melendez Wright, who established the wildlife survey program for the National Park Service, among others.

Burns loves the national parks, and that shows in every frame and every expert commentary. (Wait till you see the passion Yosemite park ranger Shelton Johnson expresses when he's speaking.) Other than part four, which concentrates on a few individuals' experiences in the national parks and tends to be a bit slow, The National Parks is a joyful history lesson. This may not be The Civil War, Baseball or Jazz, but it is breathtaking.


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Marc D. Allan

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