The charismatic force behind countless conservationist campaigns over the course of his life, David Brower did more to save Mother Nature from Big Government than anyone before him: After putting the Sierra Club on the map, he helped to push the 1964 Wilderness Act through Congress, saved the Grand Canyon from damming, and helped to create Redwoods National Park. Combining archival footage from the ‘50s and ‘60s (most of which was shot by Brower himself) with recent interviews, director Kelly Duane means to position Monumental: David Brower’s Fight for Wild America as a totem to the conservationist juggernaut, but the film is really nothing more than a bone-dry visual timeline of the Sierra Club’s transformation into a national political force from its origins as a meager hiking organization. Many of the shots of American landscapes untouched by industrial development are ravishing to behold, but besides one cutaway between an untouched Glen Canyon to a shot of white Americans enjoying fishing and skiing outside the canyon’s manmade dam, Duane’s aesthetic fails to approximate the radical fervor of Brower’s lifelong obsession with saving the environment from industrial expansion. Not only is there very little sense of who the great Brower was beside some vague crusader for our sensitive ecosystem, with all the title cards Duane forces her audience to read throughout, Monumental comes to resemble a taxing and impersonal homework assignment.
The talking-head interviews are PBS-grade but they look and sound okay, and though the archival footage that makes up a good chunk of the film certainly looks its age, it's obvious that it was spruced up for the release of the film.
The entirety of David Brower's Two Yosemites and Shiprock, an interview with director Kelly Duane, extra scenes with former Secretary of Interior Stewart Udall, message from The Sierra Club and Patagonia, bios, information about the music in the film, and trailers for War Photographer, Bright Leaves, and Howard Zinn.
Tasteful but unexciting. Monumental is nowhere near as special as David Bower's fight for wild America.