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The West
The West
Actors: Peter Coyote, Philip Bosco, Murphy Guyer, John Trudell, Eli Wallach
Director: Stephen Ives
Genres: Documentary, Military & War
NR     2003     11hr 51min

Produced by acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns, this sweeping documentary reveals the American West stripped of its Hollywood mythology, yet filled with intense drama and peopled with a mix of larger-than-life heroes and villai...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Peter Coyote, Philip Bosco, Murphy Guyer, John Trudell, Eli Wallach
Director: Stephen Ives
Creators: Allen Moore, Stephen Ives, Jody Abramson, Ken Burns, Michael Kantor, Dayton Duncan, Geoffrey C. Ward
Genres: Documentary, Military & War
Sub-Genres: Documentary, Military & War
Studio: PBS Home Video
Format: DVD - Black and White,Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 09/30/2003
Original Release Date: 01/01/1996
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/1996
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 11hr 51min
Screens: Black and White,Color
Number of Discs: 5
SwapaDVD Credits: 5
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 10
Edition: Box set
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

A ten star effort.
Movie Watch | Springfield, MO USA | 03/28/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The West
DVD ~ Peter Coyote
When some people use the word "documentary" they seem to imbue it with an expectation of total objectivity--as if one could eliminate all traces of cultural experience from one's makeup and discover a shining path of ultimate "truth" simply by the act of becoming a filmmaker. Nonsense. We are all a product of our times and of the culture in which we were raised and educated. Documentaries are always, always, always selective. There is no such thing as total objectivity, either in writing or in filmmaking.

That said, this is an enormously valuable effort to sift through an extraordinary cross-section of materials and condense them into 12 and 1/2 hours of very viewable, enlightening and often extremely moving stories. Yes, that's right, I said "condense". The documents available on the history of the West literally fill many museums, and unless you plan to spend every waking moment of your life from the time you learn to read until the day you die as a serious scholar of western lore, you will never gain a complete knowledge of the subject. This is an outstanding effort to provide a distillation of the sense and feel of the west from the earliest days of indian tribal inhabitation to the passing of the frontier. To have even attempted that feat in a 12 and 1/2 hour presentation took courage and imagination. Although I have often grumbled to myself about Ken Burn's relentless imposition of an over-stylized montage technique on the presentation of his documentaries, I have nothing but astonished admiration for his accomplishment in crafting this mini-series. Bravo.

Yes, yes, it doesn't tell the whole story of the West. Yes, it is selective. And, yes, there are other things that could have been included. C'mon guys, quit sitting back like Monday morning quarterbacks and griping about what is missing from this presentation. Think about what he WAS able to accomplish! He captured a sense of sweep, a sense of the development of the frontier, and an extraordinarily vivid impression of the cultural, religious, social, economic and racial collisions that occurred in this vast space over a period of a couple of centuries. Good grief, what do you want, blood? If he had never made another movie, this series would still have placed him in the pantheon of American documentarians. No one is claiming that this is the only document you need to expose yourself to in order to achieve perfect understanding of the history of the West. But it's certainly one absolute requirement for inclusion in any attempt to understand the subject.

For any collector of Western memorabilia and lore, for any teacher who wants to enrich a class in American studies, and for anyone at all who simply wishes to gain a sense of the West in our history, this is a must-have set of dvds to add to your collection. It should be available in every school and public library and rerun regularly on PBS. It's the best thing Burns has ever done--the Civil War series notwithstanding--and those who chirp like little toads that it should have been better are welcome to make an effort to direct and produce a version that improves on it. Don't hold your breath until that happens.

Now I'm about to suggest a bit of social heresy in this day of 30 second commercials and infinitesimal attention spans. If you really want to gain the ultimate impact, try total immersion. Choose a rainy or snowy Saturday or Sunday, lay in a goodly supply of your favorite food and drink, lock the door and turn your phone off (!), and then do a total viewing immersion. Watch the entire series from beginning to end in one marathon day. And by the way, treat yourself to some solitude. That's right, do it alone; spend one day watching this without having to pay attention to the needs or attitudes or reactions of a viewing companion. Let it surround and soak into your senses. Embrace the barrage of images and sounds. Plunge headlong into that amazing collection of stories about people and places and events. It will change you. You won't come away with total recall of details, but you will achieve a new sensory and intellectual appreciation of our history that is geometrically greater than watching it piecemeal with days or weeks intervening between the episodes. Later on, after some time has passed, you can go back and view it again in the self-contained capsules; that time through, you will absorb the detail. Go ahead, try it. Challenge your mind.

Well done, Mr. Burns! My hat is off to you. And thank you PBS for reminding us that our brains are for thinking.
Go West!
OutsideJob | Bronx, NY | 05/29/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

This is an incredible piece of filmmaking. This is Ken Burns' long-overlooked documentary masterpiece about the birth and transformation of the West of America. Every "chapter" is more engaging than the last. This doc is also very well-balanced as far as the white Native American points of view. "The West" spans the devastation and ingenuity unique to American History. This doc is completely overshadowed by "Baseball" and "The Civil War," ( has thousands of votes for those two and only about 100 for "The West") but this is as good as it gets. Go West!"
"someone finally got it right ~ The West!"
J. Lovins | Missouri-USA | 11/21/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Growing up in the Midwest, I thought "The West" was Hopalong Cassidy, Randolph Scott and John Wayne ~ nevertheless Westerns or B-Westerns captured my interest and I became addicted to what it was like from the very beginning of the West! Here is a wealth of history collected within the realm of centuries, put down on paper by Geoffrey C. Ward and Dayton Duncan ~ directed by Stephen Ives and presented by Ken Burns on five discs, as we take the journey westward bringing together all races, nationalities and religions striving for a new land and freedom for all her people.Never have I witnessed such openness in the telling of the triumphs and tragedies of America's westward expansion ~ it took more than 75 historians on this project to make it right. Right from the git go we have Episode One(The People/Bonus DVD Features), Episodes Two & Three (Empire Upon The Trails/The Speck of the Future), Episodes Four & Five (Fight No More Forever/The Geography of Hope) and Episodes Eight & Nine (Ghost Dance/One Sky Above Us) ~ featuring some of the most beautiful photography of our country. The entire collection covers the period of 1800 to 1915, wonderfully narated by Peter Coyote (whose voice sounds very much like Henry Fonda). This is one of, if not the best documentaries on "The West", I've ever seen. Been collecting Time/Life leatherbound books on the subject for years ~ Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell books and paintings ~ plus bronze of "The Mountain Man", "The Rattlesnake" and "Comin' Through the Rye" by Frederic Remington. Ken Burns "The West" on DVD is something I will cherish the rest of my life ~ will pass it on to my children and grandchildren, so they will know this is the way it was moving WEST!

Total Time: 12 Hours ~ PBS B8891 ~ (9/30/2003)"
An absolutely superb and wonderful documentary.....
David A. Marks | Paradise, CA United States | 05/15/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I recently purchased this DVD set/documentary from Amazon, even though I read the single negative review first. I have learned to sense invalid positive or negative reviews, particularly when they stand out vis a vis all the other reviews, and the reviewer who criticized this documentary was simply totally in error, as to his facts and comments!

This is an absolutely beautiful documentary, and it meets all of Ken Burns' own directoral standards, and more. But of course this would have to be the case, just in terms of basic logic, since Burns put up the money for this project.

The criticism of Peter Coyote, and of those interviewed in this documentary, couldn't be more invalid.....Coyote's voice and demeanor and attitude are all perfect for this project and I cannot imagine anyone else matching the high quality of his voice-over comments.

The experts interviewed throughout this film, are the best in the world when it comes to the history of the West (including J.S. Holliday, the premier historian/writer of California gold rush history).

As for the negative reviewer's criticism of the "panning" of some of the photos, this panning movement is done with the same high quality that Ken Burns provided when he directed his other documentaries, and is only used in specific cases, where the photograph gained value-added by the technique.

This is such a beautiful documentary set, and is done so professionally and with such sensitivity and skill throughout, that it would be a shame if any of you who are considering purchasing "The West" DVD set, failed to acquire this wonderful documentary, because of a single, off-the-wall, inappropriate, and invalid review.

But then the above comments are simply my opinion, and you the reader of these reviews, will have to judge for yourself.