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John Muir In The New World - Movie Review - 2011

Honoring A Man Who Made A Difference

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating


John Muir In The New World - Movie Review - 2011

John Muir in 1902

Whenever you enter a national park or wildlife preserve, think about John Muir (April 21, 1838 to December 24, 1914), and thank him. This wonderful biographical documentary about the great American environmentalist will tell -- and show -- you why.

Muir's Personal and Public Mission

In covering John Muir's life and personal history from his early childhood to his death at the age of 76, filmmaker Catherine Tatge provides a comprehensive view of the development of one of America's great heroes.

Using historic photos, archival footage and dramatic re-enactments, Tatge follows Muir on his journey to becoming the nation's foremost conservationist and the founder of the influential Sierra Club.

Muir Is A Great Character

The film shows that Muir was an extremely intelligent and clever individual who, from childhood, was a gifted problem solver and inventor. It also reveals the influence Muir's overly stern Calvinist father had on him, how the writings of Alexander von Humboldt and Ralph Waldo Emerson moved him to become engaged as an environmental activist, how his friend and mentor Jeanne Carr encouraged him and silently lobbied to support him hardships and loneliness, and change the course of his life, how his wife Louie Strentzel provided him with the love and stability he needed and how his collaboration and friendship with Robert Underwood Johnson, the editor of The Century, provided him with a vehicle for making his views known thoughout the land.

John Muir's accomplishments are legendary, and this film is an up close and personal view of the man behind the legend.

We witness Muir's moments of discovery, finding places of such extreme natural beauty that they make him ecstatic. Tatge makes it clear that spiritual enlightment is very much a theme in Muir's story.

Great Images, Effective Storytelling

In addition to revealing Muir's psyche, the film takes you to the pristine places Muir so loved. Archival footage and photos of the wilderness are captivating, and the contemporary cinematography is gorgeous.

Muir's personal evolution is fascinating. To tell the story effectively, Tatge uses dramatic reenactments, casting modern day mountaineers to play the environmentalist at various stages of his life. Tatge follows Muir's 1000 mile trek from Indianapolis to the Gulf of Mexico, takes you climbing in the high Sierra Nevada and exploring Alaska's glaciers.

Jane Alexander's voice over narration is augmented by readings from Muir's writings. And interviews with historians, scholars and the Sierra Club's current president expound on Muir's accomlishments and present background detail.

Framed as a tribute to Muir, the film is also tremendously effective in advocating for environmental protection. In this, its approach is reverential and inspiring, which is rather different than some other environmental documentaries that effectively raise consciousness about the issues through disturbing images of devastating pollution.

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Film Details:

  • Title: John Muit In The New World
  • Director: Catherine Tatge
  • Release Date: April 18, 2011 (Broadcast on PBS)
  • Running Time: 83 mins.
  • Parents Advisory: Advisory for content
  • Locations: USA, including Yosemite, Sierra Nevada, Alaska, Wisconsin, Alhambra Valley, and elsewhere
  • Language: English
  • Distribution Company: PBS/American Masters
  • Official Website
  • Trailer

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