Movie Review: Horatio’s Drive

Posted: February 8, 2011 in Uncategorized
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Haven’t done a documentary in a little while here, so let’s watch this one. This Ken Burns movie is the tale of the first cross country automobile journey undertaken by a rich Vermont Doctor. In one way, you might like the character of Horatio Nelson Jackson, in another way you might despise him and everything he purports to stand for. Strangely, this is also a movie where only men are interviewed save for two of Nelson’s granddaughters. So it’s guys, talking about a long car ride undertaken by a couple of guys. In a way, we could say that these are rich yuppies who have an adventure talking about another rich yuppie who once had an adventure. The story is pretty good, but there are drawbacks. Is it good or bad? Let’s have a look…


What’s good about the movie? The story is interesting, and it’s a good example of what that period of time was like. Even if you don’t care about a guy driving across country, you might care about what 1903 America was like and this movie gives you something of an idea through the medium of this car ride. As I said before, you might also really admire Jackson for his honest optimism and his belief in the automobile. We’re often told that everyone had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern age, that everyone before WWII despised technology. Well, no, Jackson loved the car and thought it could be a great tool for personal freedom. He’s also endlessly optimistic, although a cynic like myself might refer to him as “One who lacks pattern recognition skills” since he believes that the adventure will be successful no matter what befalls him. It’s a good story and like most of Burns’ movies, it’s fairly well told. The problem is, it’s still a Ken Burns movie.


What’s the problem with a Ken Burns movie? Well, Burns is nothing if not partisan. When it’s revealed that another team was trying to cross the country in an automobile, you can almost hear Burns screaming “How dare they?” It’s at this point that the movie becomes an 80s teen movie. These guys are treated like the rich kids who bully the heroes. The second team was funded by the Packard company, which made them jerks. Jackson was going alone, which made him awesome. They had a plan, while Jackson had none. They had maps, supplies, and knew what the hell they were doing… I think you can see where this is going. Because they were supposed to know that some guy decided to go on this trip a few days before they’re trip, which was being planned for months in advance, they were supposed to abandon it, right? It’s that sort of thing that makes you tilt your head and make a face. It’s a big problem with Burns, the creation of bad guys. That and steadfastly deciding to ignore huge parts of the history he’s covering because he didn’t want to be bothered.


Another mild bad, there is never a negative word said about the main character, for want of a better word. This is the Horatio Nelson Jackson Appreciation Society being interviewed to here. Never is it mentioned that deciding to just up and buy a car, hire a driver and set out across the country without so much as a decent map was possibly the stupidest thing ever done in human history. It’s only talked about as being heroic and optimistic. If you’re tired of me using that word (optimistic) right now, imagine how I feel. They only say some version of optimism about every ten seconds or so. Granted, it seems to be Jackson’s primary character trait, but you could find another word. Not that I need ever person she spoke with to say the guy was a moron who had the pattern recognition of a goldfish, but it would have been nice for even one person to acknowledge that this was sort of a stupid idea. The fact that it’s so very one sided leaves a lot of room to hurl comments at the screen.


HOWEVER! The movie is still good. It’s worth a look, for the history of the country alone. The problem is when people start editorializing on the story. They are so interested in telling us why this story is important, that we end up scoffing. Not because they story isn’t worth telling, but because why it’s important seems self evident. Burns really needs to trust his audience more. But, Tom Hanks is good as the voice of Jackson and the story is well told and compelling. I would say you should maybe get a copy.

Official Score:
41 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.
Vienna thinks if there is a rushing back ground, that she\’s actually in a car and rushing through the world.

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