Movie Details

This Ken Burns documentary, narrated by Hal Holbrook, chronologically traces the well-documented 1804-06 military expedition of Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) and Lt. William Clark (1770-1838) to survey newly acquired lands and seek a Northwest Passage. Ordered by Thomas Jefferson (who labeled it the Corps of Discovery), the expedition was approved by Congress in 1803, and several dozen men were trained in Illinois in the winter of 1803-04. On May 14, 1804, the explorers departed from St. Louis, heading up the Missouri River by keelboat and continuing westward over the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific. Ken Burns spent almost four years on this project, retracing the route with cameras capturing mountains, rivers, waterfalls, and forests at the same time of year as first seen by Lewis and Clark. Traditional and Native American music provides an accompaniment to the grandeur of these vast vistas, while Stephen Ambrose and other historians offer illuminating anecdotes. Paintings and maps are intercut, but unlike other Burns documentaries, few archival photos are included (since photography was not invented until decades later). Reenactments, seen at a distance, are also kept at a bare minimum. The four-hour film premiered as a PBS two-parter on November 4-5, 1997. ~ Bhob Stewart, Rovi