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Empires - Napoleon
Empires - Napoleon
Actor: David McCullough
Genres: Television, Documentary, Military & War
NR     2006     4hr 0min

For nearly two decades he strode the world stage like a colossus -- loved and despised, venerated and feared. From his birth on the rugged island of Corsica to his final exile on the godforsaken island of St. Helena, NAPOL...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: David McCullough
Genres: Television, Documentary, Military & War
Sub-Genres: Television, Documentary, Military & War
Studio: Pbs Paramount
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen
DVD Release Date: 10/10/2006
Original Release Date: 11/08/2000
Theatrical Release Date: 11/08/2000
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 4hr 0min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 5
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

The narrative moves quickly, but totally omits Napoleon's a
Tom Brody | Berkeley, CA | 11/23/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"The disc contains four hours of commentary, two hours per side of the disc. The style is uniform throughout. There is one narrator.

The following concerns only the first hour, of the four hour documenetary. During the first hour, there are about 25 black and white ink sketches, 45 color paintings, and numerous motion pictures of landscapes. The motion pictures show scenes from Napoleon's birthplace, the island of Corsica. We see Corsica's seashore, grazing sheep, Napoleon's childhood home, and Corsica's craggy mountains. Later, the live scenes show the palace at Versailles, close-ups of numerous statues, priests (actors) conducting ceremonies, church bells swinging and ringing, and soldiers (actors) firing cannons.

From time to time, we see one of several French scholars, speaking in French with a charming real French accent, and voiceover from the English-speaking commentator. (Love that cute French accent.)

The first hour discloses the following facts and events:

We learn the fact that Napoleon rose through the ranks on the basis of his ability, rather than from influence from his parents or ancestors. We learn of Napoleon's parents, his father Carlo a 23 year old University student, and later a lawyer and Corsican politician, and his mother Litetsia, strong-willed mother of eight surviving children. We learn of the capture of Corsica by the French.

Then, the film discloses Napoleon's move to France at the age of nine, to begin schooling on a military scholarship, and later entrance in the Royal Military Academy in Paris at age 15. We learn that he was teased at school, for being a foreigner from Corsica, and that he initially hated everything French. At age 16, Napoleon started out his career at the age of 16, as a second lieutenant, learning to fire cannons and build gun carriages. Briefly, Napoleon had second thoughts about a military career, and wrote a book about Corsica. The French Revolution, with its dramatic milestone of July 14, 1789, and dismantling of the French institution of privileges, provided room for advancement in the military, especially for men (like Napoleon) having no particular connection with nobility.

At the age of 23, Napoleon left the French army and entered politics in Corsica. He led a political party that opposed an established, elderly politician (Pasquale Paoli), but this backfired, and Napoleon was exiled from Corsica. On June 10, 1793, Napoleon left Corsica with his siblings and mother for France. The film then provides commentary on Robespierre and the Reign of Terror. At age 24, Napoleon became an artillery captain. He was sent back south to Toulon, on the coast, to drive out the British. His forces won, and at the age of 24, Napoleon was promoted to Brigadier General.

But later on, he felt like he was in a career rut, and felt depressed.

Later on, opportunity knocked. There was a small rebellion in Paris (October 5, 1795), and Napoleon was called to put it down. He did, and killed 100 French rebels, and three weeks later was promoted to full general (age 26).

Then, Napoleon met Marie Josephe Rose de Beauharnais (known as "Josephine"), a widow from Martinique, 32 years old with two children. Her husband had died on the guillotine. At that time, Josephine's boyfriend was a powerful Frenchman, Paul Berras. For example, Paul Berras was paying her rent for her living quarters, a cottage. Napoleon had his eyes on Josephine, because she was connected to many powerful men (her boyfriends) and because she had poise and charm. They married on March 9, 1796. The honeymoon lasted only two days, because he was asked to lead an army in Italy. Napoleon was promoted (in part because of his connection to Paul Berras) to Supreme Commander of all French forces in Italy, where the mission was to drive the Austrian army out of northern Italy.

On April 2, 1796, Napoleon led his soldiers against the Piedmontese in the mountains of Northern Italy. His military technique was to spread out his soldiers, let them advance to the enemy, whereupon the soldiers would then converge in a focused location and attack. On April 26, the Piedmontese surrendered.

Then, the film provides some commentary about Napoleon's continual letters to Josephine.

After defeating the Piedmontese, Napoleon marched to Lodi, an Italian town overrun by Austrian soldiers. Both sides were lined up on opposite sides of a river, firing at each other. Then, Napoleon crossed the bridge and drove the Austrians away (but did not actually defeat the Austrian army). At that point, Napoleon began to think that he was invincible in military matters, and the people of France agreed with this assessment.

On May 5, 1796, Napoleon entered Milan, a town in Northern Italy, and drove out the Austrian army. Milan welcomed Napoleon as a liberator. Napoleon made himself head of the provisional Italian government. The first hour of the documentary concludes at this point.

By the end of the four hour documentary, we learn that Napoleon's most important accomplishments were the establishment of the French Civil Code which codified the principles of the French Revolution and abolished feudal privileges, the establishment of the state secondary schools (lycees), the creation of Egyptology (24 volume book on Egypt; discovery of Rosetta Stone), and the building of canals, bridges, and reservoirs.

However, we also learn that Napoleon was one of the more destructive nuisances in the history of the world, for example, because of his massacre of the Spanish, and because of his march upon Moscow. Please also note that as Emperor, he ran a police state complete with a French version of the KGB (government spies) and forcibly prevented freedom of speech and of the press.

FOUR STARS for the Napoleon disc from PBS Home Video. The camera lovingly caresses each painting and black and white ink drawing. The documentary does a good job at sticking to the facts of the subject matter at hand, namely, Napoleon and his main squeeze, Josephine. The DVD dwells way too much on Josephine's hanky-panky, and on Napoleon's hanky-panky. Hence, if I were a school teacher, I might hesitate in showing the DVD to my classroom. The attention spent to Josephine is at the expense of more important matters.

I have these criticisms.

First, the disc needs a page showing thumbnail pictures of all of the paintings and drawings, with an identification of the titles and artists.

Second, the disc fails to mention Napoleon's defeat at the hand of Toussaint L'Overture. Toussaint L'Overture, a former slave, led an uprising against the French in St.Domingue (Haiti) and drove out the French by way of a slave rebellion. At this time, St.Domingue was, for France, and extremely valuable source of sugar, cotton, and indigo. Napoleon's wife, Josephine, had been born on the nearby island of Martinique, and her family owned a plantation on St.Domingue. To view the big picture, what we see is a former slave defeating Napoleon, a man famed for taking control of Austria, Poland, and Italy.

Third, the disc fails to mention the Louisiana Purchase. In spring of 1803, Napoleon needed money to wage war against Egypt and the English. So he decided to sell the Louisiana Territory to the U.S. The price was 15 million dollars, and to get the money, Jefferson borrowed 15 million dollars from an English bank. The goal of the English was to ensure that the French would never own territory south of Canada, while the French goal was to get money to fight the English. The treaty of the Louisiana Purchase was signed in May 1803, and two months later, Jefferson sent Louis and Clark to explore the new territory.

A disc from The History Channel, called THE FRENCH REVOLUTION, provides an excellent companion to the Napoleon disc. FIVE STARS for the FRENCH REVOLUTION disc from The History Channel.

But only FOUR STARS for the NAPOLEON disc from PBS HOME VIDEO. NAPOLEON was produced by David Grubin. Whatever possessed Mr.Grubin to omit Napoleon's relationships with the New World? He fails to mention Napoleon's defeat at the hands of a former slave, and fails to mention the Louisiana Purchase. There is way too much focus on Josephine. One gets the overall impression that Mr.Grubin was writing for a women's magazine, or for Dr.Phil, or for Oprah. The disc contains way too much "information" about hanky-panky. The disc sets a bad example to children. The disc teaches children to dwell on hanky-panky, to contemplate hanky-panky, and to conclude that hanky-panky has some relevance to more substantial things, such as the conquest of one nation over another."
Vive L'Empereur!
Roger Kennedy | 12/11/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This is a nice PBS production on Bonaparte, and can serve as a good introduction to the period, but it glosses over much about that exciting era. I understand that to truly do the emperior justice a bio much longer than this would be required. Unfortunately we go from Austerlitz, to Russia in 1812 and then rush up to Waterloo!

The first half of the program which shows the little Corsican's childhood and rise to power is first-rate, but the second just breezes through too much in such a short time. I also had a problem with David McCulloghs narration. He sounds too American for a European subject like this. I kept thinking is this Ken Burn's Civil War again!

The selection of supposed experts and historians was uninspired. Only John Elting was worth while, the others made simple and often foolish statements. Missing were David Chandler, Christopher Duffy and many other famous Napoleanic historians who would have breathed fire into this stiff production. No recent biographers of Napolean were included at all!

PBS put together a pretty dry production here. Even the music is a bit bland, and there is so much magificent music from this period. Missing also is Wellington's stunning Peninsular Campaign in Spain, the famed "Spanish Ulcer" of Nappy. Even the 1815 Campaign gets crunched with no explanation about the earlier battles of the campaign, and marshal Blucher's remarkable come back with the Prussians at Waterloo. There is no discussion about Napolean's famous Marshals who contributed so much to the flavor and character of his regime. This is basically a work about Napolean the man, and little else. The viewer should understand this.

A nice, but very bland, incomplete production, adequate for those who know little or nothing about the period, but frustrating for the true scholar of that tempestuous time. I give it four stars at least for the effort, but not for its content."
K. Oase | Los Angeles, CA | 01/11/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)

"While this video does cover tons of great is a little too much for teaching purposes. Within the classroom, you will have to pre-view the 5+ hour video to find what you want to highlight. It would have been much better (for teaching purposes) if they cut the fat and made it a little more user friendly."
It should have been done better
A Reviewer | Los Angeles County, CA | 05/31/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)

"In this modern day of Computer Generated Images, why this documentary wasted so much time with Pan and Zoom still photography, showing Tree's, Mountains, Sunset, Landscape, Snap Shots of Paintings, Statues, Bells, a Rose on a Bed, a Gate, a Fence, a Fly buzzing around a picture, absolutely stupid and annoying! It could have been done better, a lot better, however, it does contain some really good information, and it does make a good introduction to the subject matter. It becomes easier to read about Napoleon after seeing this documentary, so in that respect, it is a valuable and worthwhile contribution to our stock of learning information."