America’s National Parks (2015) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2019.

This review refers to a six-episode version aired on SVT.

Categorization

Bombastic nature documentary.

Subject

The circumscribed wilderness of official US national parks.

Commentary

The opening narration of each episode is set to turgid music and made me laugh almost every time. The nature scenes are beautiful, and the narrator does encourage people to consider more than just the scenic tourist hotspots, but the inflection is poor. The narrator mentions that a lot of the species shown in the parks are extinct or threatened elsewhere, but instead of tackling just how impoverished the rest of the country was at the time of this production, he expends a great deal of energy on the “drama” of the parks, most especially the charismatic megafauna of Yellowstone, hunting and duking it out for alpha status. The animals are “monsters”. The implication is that the park system is adequate in all respects and that nature is to be valued primarily for its spectacle.

The narrator uses puns, references Middle Earth and jovially imputes lines of dialogue to the animals. He also dips into the weird political culture of the country. In the Great Smokey Mountains episode, he compares the river chub’s gathering of rocks to “the chub version of a McMansion” and a “welfare state run amuck”, exploited by “freeloaders” (other fish). This silliness says a lot about the country: To superimpose pop culture on fish was not the philosophy of men like Muir or Thoreau, whose work inspired the creation of the park system. The narrator is his own sideshow, fortunately unable to overpower the imagery shot and edited by Germans with more wisdom. The Yosemite episode is the most serious but the Saguaro episode is the best, although the filmmakers must have pushed over some of those waterlogged cacti.

moving picture nature non-fiction series