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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Monumental
Monumental
First Run Features // Unrated // September 20, 2005
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted October 2, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

When the Sierra Club was started by John Muir in 1892, it was a group of like minded people who enjoyed hiking and rock climbing through the Sierra Nevada mountains in California.  The organization was always interesting in conservation, but it wasn't until David Brower became the group's first executive director in 1952 that they became very proactive in saving the country's natural landscape for future generations.  Monumental, a documentary film by Kelly Duane, chronicles David Bower's 50+ year fight to save the wilderness, and how he transformed the Sierra Club along the way.

David Brower was a mountaineer and outdoors enthusiast who started working part time for the Sierra club as a young man.  After volunteering for the Army during WWII where he trained mountain troops and saw action in Italy, he returned home to find that the US was changing.  In the post-war boom, the west was growing at an amazing rate, and wilderness lands were being destroyed in order to provide water, land, and power for the new residents.  Not liking what he saw, Brower became a champion for the environment, fighting battles that no one else wanted to fight and winning several very significant victories along the way.

This documentary traces Brower's life and his many fights to save the US wilderness.  His importance in the environmentalist movement can't be understated, and the vast amount of things he was able to accomplish is simply astounding.  He had direct roles in creating the Redwood National Park, along with National Park at Kings Canyon, the North Cascades, Great Basin, and Cape Cod.  He was instrumental in stopping that damming of Dinosaur National Monument, the first time a government works project had ever been derailed after it has begun.   His most biggest victory though was his successful lobbying of Congress t stop the planned damming of the Colorado River that would have flooded part of the Grand Canyon.

Brower was able to achieve all of this by rallying the public to his side.  Using film, books, color photography, and newspaper ads he and the Sierra Club informed the public about what was going on and how they could help stop it.  These are techniques that various groups still use today to influence public policy.  He was an amazing man, and the father of modern environmental movement.  A testament to the fact that one person can make a difference.

Given such a dynamic character I was surprised that the film about his life was so lifeless.  In the 80 minutes that this movie runs, we never get to know who David Brower really was.  The only glimpse is when his son briefly talks about David being passionate about his causes even at the dinner table.  His personal life and what drove him to be such a tireless activist isn't explored at all, and when the film ends you still don't know much about him.

The film is arranged chronologically, and while that makes sense, it also is a problem with the movie.  It plays out like an emotionless listing of facts and figures rather than a living history of an important environmentalist.

The other problem that the film has it that it is too one-sided.  They never present the other side of the argument in any of the battles that Brower was involved in.  Everything is painted in black and white, with the business interests often called "crooks" and the politicians only interested in reelection.  I'm not quite cynical enough to believe that's the whole story.

The DVD:


Audio:

The stereo soundtrack sounds fine for a documentary.  The narration is clear and easy to understand, and the background music is well defined.  Some of the vintage audio recordings have background hiss but that's to be expected and doesn't impact the quality of the film.

Video:

The full frame video looks about average overall.  Most of the movie is composed of film that David Brower and members of the Sierra Club recorded between 1930 and 1970.  This footage looks better than I would have expected but much of it is soft and there are scratches and other print defects though these aren't significant.  The contemporary footage is also a bit on the soft side, with lines not being as tight as they could be, but otherwise looks fine.

Extras:

First Run Features included some nice bonus features with this disc.  There are two short films that David Brower made: Two Yosemites and Shiprock.  The first is a film that the Sierra Club produced in 1955 to fight dam projects throughout the west.  In it David Bower and cameraman Philip Hyde show Yosemite National Park and nearby Hetch Hetchy Valley on the same day.  Hetch Hetchy Valley, once as lovely as Yosemite, had been dammed and the devastation was dramatic.  It looks more like the moon than part of the US wilderness.   A very powerful short film.

Shiprock is a silent account of David Bower and his companions as they scale the "unclimbable" Shiprock mesa.

There is a short (2 ½ minute) interview with director Kelly Duane where she talks about watching Bower's home movies and doing research for the film.  There were 6 minutes of additional footage of ex-Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall (1960-1968) where he talks about his time in Washington DC, JFK, and working with Congress.

Also included is a PSA from the Sierra Club and text biographies of the film makers and musicians featured in the film.

Final Thoughts:

Even though this is a fairly dry biography that never really connects with the person that it's profiling, this is still an interesting film.  I was constantly amazed at how much Brower was able to accomplish.  An amazing man who did a lot for future generations, this is worth seeing just to see how much one person can accomplish if they are very passionate about what they are fighting for.  If you are a passionate environmentalist this is a film you'll want to see.  Others may get frustrated at the lack of balance.  In any case though it's worth a rental.

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