Hal Holbrook. Learn about the greatest expeditions in the Northwest Passage from St. Louis to the Pacific. Follow the trails of not just Merriwether Lewis and William Clark, but also the entire Corps of Discovery, which included young army men, French-Canadian boatmen, Clark's African-American slave and Sacagawea and her infant son. 1997/color/4 hrs/NR/fullscreen.
Another reliably well-crafted, generally engrossing documentary from Ken Burns, Lewis & Clark
employs the director's now-familiar approach to his subjects, from its elegant juxtaposition of period illustrations and portraits against newly filmed footage of historic sites to Burns's repertory of accomplished actors to provide gravitas for quotes from the key figures. Granted the formula has become familiar enough to allow parody, but Burns knows how to invest his historical investigations with movement and drama, making this four-hour journey a worthwhile trip.
As narrated by Hal Holbrook, Dayton Duncan's script explicates the agenda presented by Thomas Jefferson to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, placing it in the context of the young country's gamble in Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase, and the expedition's goals for opening the West. While preserving the heroic scale of the undertaking, Burns also finds time to delve into the politics of the venture and the disparate personalities of the two explorers; in particular, Duncan and Burns look at the career of Lewis, the presidential protégé, his moody demeanor, and his untimely death. The film also looks beyond its titular leaders to examine the personalities of their corps of soldiers, their boatmen, and the Indians they met and depended on, most notably their female Shosone guide, Sacagawea. --Sam Sutherland