TV Series Review: ‘America the Beautiful’: Great Start, Lackluster End

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Hoping to impress a mate, a male roadrunner catches a lizard and proudly displays it to the female. (National Geographic for Disney+/Neil Anderson)

TV-PG | 3h 58min | Documentary, Nature | July 4, 2022 (USA)

Releasing a limited television documentary series titled “America the Beautiful” (ATB) on the 4th of July is nothing short of a shining moment and excellent counter programming.

Not everyone and their brother are going to see the fifth installment of the “Despicable Me” franchise or the fourth incarnation of “Thor.” It also helps that you don’t have to go to a theater to see it (although it would look great on an IMAX screen).

Bringing the world to our doorsteps in print since 1888 and across television screens for nearly 60 years, the folks at the National Geographical Society certainly know how to put on a show, and from a purely visual and cinematic perspective, “ATB” is devastatingly Awesome. and truly impressive.

mind blowing visuals

In a manner similar to that seen in the “Star Gate” sequence from Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the five “ATB” co-directors present time-lapse aerial photography of eclectic North American locations and terrain that they use all over the world. This six-part, 238-minute long series never gets old or fails to knock the viewer out.

The first episode (“Land of Heroes”) is by far the best of the series, especially since it is the first time we see everything. No, that’s not a typo and the wording will be explained shortly.

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The mother caribou must keep her young moving as they traverse the beautiful yet brutal wilderness of Alaska. (National Geographic for Disney+/Florian Schulz)

We witness a resourceful squirrel hoarding acorns in Wyoming’s Grand Tetons; nature’s slow but steady organic recovery after the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state; a 15-foot, 1,000-pound American alligator in Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin; and the hunting of a school of anchovies by dolphins and sea lions off the coast of San Diego.

A brilliant opening one-two

One can almost feel the heat rising from the scorched earth in Death Valley or take a quiet breather in the spectacular time change of autumn leaves in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

The episode concludes with the mesmerizing, dancing, cool colors of the Northern Lights (the Northern Lights) in Alaska’s summer skies and our first glimpse of a majestic bald eagle. The only thing better would have been the inclusion of Ray Charles singing “America the Beautiful”.

The second episode (“Brave New World”) is almost as good and is the only installment in the series to include humans on screen. Animal doctors undertook the mammoth task of repopulating three million acres of ancient forest on the Northern Great Plains with endangered bison.

A father-daughter team near Stillwater Cove, California, next to the Pebble Beach golf course, pulled more than 50,000 (out of more than a million today) decomposing and eventually poisonous golf balls from the ocean floor.

At one point in the early 1970s, the population of the Florida Panther (Florida’s official state animal) had dropped to around 20, but by 2017 it had risen to 230, still an anemic and worrying number. They are so difficult to locate that specialists working in the Florida Wildlife Corridor had to install multiple cameras with motion sensors just to confirm their numbers.

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Storm clouds rolling over the American prairie. (National Geographic for Disney+)

The Corridor, which runs statewide and covers more than 17 million acres, is home to more than 700 threatened or endangered species, some of which live in close proximity to humans and high-volume interstate highways , especially I-75. By everyone’s yardstick, the conservation group’s work of almost 40 years has been a resounding success, proving that it is possible for man and nature to “coexist” happily.


Halfway through the third episode (“Northland”), the series not only begins to lose steam, it begins to become redundant. The Tetons, the Northern Lights. and Mt. St. Helens are revisited and before it’s all over, Death Valley and the Grand Canyon are featured three or more times each. Scenarios depicting owls, prairie dogs, bears, and alligators appear in five of the six episodes.

This is not to say that the last 3 1/2 episodes are a waste of time; far from there There is at least 15 minutes or more of original, non-repetitive prime material in all six episodes. The problem is that all six episodes are 45 minutes or more.

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A common dolphin surfing a wave off the coast of California. (National Geographic for Disney+/Nick Hawkins)

If the filmmakers had produced two one-hour episodes that were region-specific (north, south, east, and west would have worked just fine), the end product would have been as plain and mean as the first two installments.

poor time management

The ultimate make or break of any documentary, whether it’s the subject of nature, science, biography, sports, the arts, or whatever, is not so much how good it looks (which certainly helps), but how well you manage time. . The recent Texas-based “Deep in the Heart” is a perfect example. It’s “only” 103 minutes long, but there’s not a wasted frame to find.

Here, the narration provided by Michael B. Jordan (“Black Panther,” the “Creed” franchise) is enjoyable, but unspectacular, and his attempts at humor (via the producers) fail. Also, the repeated use and misuse of the word “hero” becomes problematic. Virtually all animals are known as “heroes” for reasons (primarily foraging) that don’t even remotely fit the definition of the word. By contrast, none of the humans in the second episode are referred to as “heroes”, although what they do in regards to helping the environment is a brave and selfless thing to do.

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It’s caribou breeding season in Nelchina, Alaska, and that means only one thing for grizzly bears: dinner. This Grizzly has sniffed out a herd of caribou and is on their trail. (National Geographic for Disney+)

Without the United States?

Finally, at no time does Jordan say “United States of America”, but the blanket “North America”. Technically, this is correct, as there is only one passage in Canada, but nothing at all in Mexico, the third largest country in North America.

To the filmmakers’ credit, politics, guilt trips, and moral finger wagging are thankfully absent, which is a huge plus.

There is an excellent two-hour movie hidden within this almost four-hour series. Some significant edits and a narration overhaul would have made it a “must see”. As it exists now, it’s simply a pretty decent way to spend a lazy, rainy afternoon.

The series premieres on Disney+ on July 4.

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Advertisement for the documentary series “America the Beautiful”. (National Geographic)

‘America the BEAUTIFUL’
Directors: Tom Stephens, Maddie Close, Lauren Pascoe, Rob Sullivan, Jo Harvey
Documentary film
Duration: 3 hours, 58 minutes
TV Rating: TV-PG
Release date: July 4, 2022
Rating: 3 out of 5