History Channel // 2010 // 138 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // October 9th, 2010
History introduces Instant Expert, an exciting new line of titles offering on-the-spot knowledge to students and lifelong learners on a wide variety of topics.
From a young age, Americans are schooled about the importance of the Mayflower voyage to America, and how the Pilgrims who made the journey established the first Thanksgiving with the local natives. The way I learned it in school, the Pilgrims were basically the first Europeans to set foot on American soil, or at least to stay and colonize it, and they brought "civilization" and "culture" to the Indians. However, an adult perspective on the Mayflower voyage is much different, and this is the story The Mayflower showcases.
The opening scene is a reenactment of a stormy night aboard the Mayflower in 1620, with the future colonists huddled below deck, fighting with each other about whether they should push on to America, and whether or not all they have suffered has been worth it. This sets a tone for the story of the Pilgrims; a life of hard choices and even harder work to gain their freedom and a place to call their own. As Puritans, their religion was not in line with the Church of England, a belief system that challenged the rule of the monarchy, and would earn them a trip to prison, should they be caught. Those sent to prison did not get parole, sickened, and died young.
Told mostly through the journal writings of William Bradford, who later became Governor of the Plymouth colony, the story is presented as a dramatic retelling, with actors and period settings. The story begins thirteen years prior to the voyage with the congregation fleeing to the Netherlands, where they establish themselves for several years before deciding to find their own colony and identity in the New World; thus, the Mayflower was hired as an escort to take them to America. The documentary takes the viewer through their difficult voyage, the creation of the Mayflower Contract (a document of necessity, recognized as the first attempt at an American democratic governorship), through the events that lead right up to and just beyond the first Harvest Feast, which we know today as Thanksgiving.
The reenactments are woven with interviews, historical pictures, and narration for a well-rounded story that is very nicely done. I enjoyed the direction and cinematography, and the principal actors (especially Sam Redford, One Life to Live, as William Bradford) all put in good performances. The filmmakers take their time to tell the story, inserting interesting anecdotes and establishing other political and social events occuring at the time, nothing feeling slow or rushed. Even the perspective of The Wampanoag (the Native Americans the colonists encountered) is showcased, and Squanto, a former slave who acted as interpreter for the colonists, is profiled.
One caveat: The docudrama on this Instant Expert installment was originally released in 2007 as Desperate Crossing: The Untold Story of the Mayflower. In other words, if you already own that one, do not re-purchase. If, however, you are purchasing for the first time, Desperate Crossing has a couple extras that make it a better choice: a making-of documentary, and blooper reel. The only advantages to buying The Mayflower are the price point ($3-5 USD cheaper) and building a library of Instant Expert titles. As an educational tool, the Instant Expert version has the edge; a more straight-forward presentation which includes a study guide, reference book list, discussion questions, and an interactive quiz. At 138 minutes, there is quite a bit of information presented.
The Dolby 2.0 stereo track and full frame transfer for this release are well done, with some nice cinematography, deep rich colors, and light variations. One bonus feature, the aforementioned interactive quiz, is designed for educational discussion purposes.
The Mayflower is a must-see for any fan of history; just do your homework on which version best suits your needs.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 138 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Interactive Quiz
* IMDb: Desperate Crossing
* Mayflower History