Mark Twain (Ken Burns) (2002)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 27-May-2003

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette-Making Of-The Making of Mark Twain
Interviews-Crew-An Interview With Ken Burns
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 218:38 (Case: 240)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Ken Burns

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring None Given
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $54.95 Music Jaqueline Schwab
Teese Gohl

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    If, like me, you are in any way interested in literature, you will have come across the writings of the famous and infamous Samuel Clemens, a.k.a Mark Twain. His most notable books, Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are childhood classics, and are hopefully still read in primary schools – not only because of their capacity to fire the imaginations of children, but also because of the important lessons they hold in the subtext. More interestingly, Twain was the first American writer to celebrate what it meant to be American, as opposed to the juxtaposition between the Old World of Europe and the New World of the United States.

    It is only fitting then, that the task of making a documentary on the life of this great author and fascinating individual fell to the award-winning documentarian Ken Burns. With the skilful writing and research of Dayton Duncan and Geoffrey C. Ward and the adept directorial talent of Ken Burns, Mark Twain explores across four episodes the life and times of Samuel Clemens – writer, celebrity, comedian, failed entrepreneur and family man. From his early beginnings as a riverboat pilot to his breakthrough novels, to the love of his life and the persistent tragedy that plagued him, this documentary takes a look inside Clemens’ life which is both in-depth and easily digestible. In fact, what struck me most about this documentary was just how easy it was to watch. Although certainly not a Twain novice myself, those I watched it with the first time through found it equally as fascinating as I did.

    While this is not entertainment in the Hollywood sense, it is undeniably an entertaining documentary and an invaluable starting point for an investigation of Twain scholarship. I would like to see this being used as a learning aid for school children in years to come.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    Presented in 1.33:1 Full Frame, non-16x9 enhanced, this is the original aspect ratio.

    The quality of the picture is exceptionally good and really there is not a lot to say. For starters, it should be noted that much of the video component of this documentary is made up of panning shots of stills, interviews shot on film and stock footage from the period. Obviously, the stock footage is black and white and not of very good quality.

    Colours are excellent, edges are crisp and clear, and shadow detail where relevant is very good. There is little to no graininess.

    MPEG artefacts are non-existent, although at times there is a slight amount of aliasing on images of photos which are sometimes held a little too long.

    The English subtitles for the Hearing Impaired are white with a black border and are easy to read.

    There are two dual-layered discs here, with two episodes on each of the discs. The dual layer pauses occur in between each of the two episodes on each of the discs so are in no way distracting.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There is only one soundtrack, an English 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo track.

    While there is some ambient background noise and some music which comes across quite nicely, the soundtrack is dominated by the narration which is, thankfully, clear and easy to understand at all times.

    There is no surround information and no subwoofer use.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    All menus are presented in a 1.33:1 ratio, non-16x9 enhanced with a 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo track.

Featurette: “A Conversation With Ken Burns” (7:17)

    Presented in 1.33:1 Full Frame, non-16x9 enhanced with a 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo track, this is a rather interesting interview with the director of the film about the documentary making experience.

Featurette: “Making of Mark Twain” (20:10)

    Presented in 1.33:1 Full Frame, non-16x9 enhanced with a 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo track. This is a far more extended look at the making of this particular documentary and is quite fascinating. It includes interviews with the director and the writers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The R1 release of this disc appears to be on two sides of the same DVD (dual-sided, dual layered or dual-sided, single layered I cannot tell from the information on the Internet). It misses out on the extras present on the R4 release, and is also encoded in NTSC. If you take all those things together, the R4 is the clear winner.


    Mark Twain is a fascinating and incredibly well made documentary. If you have any interest at all in English literature, or just like a bit of good non-fiction, check this out.

    The video is quite good, although in this instance it is a mere accompaniment to the audio.

    The sound is your basic 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo mix and suits the documentary style very well.

    The extras are fairly good and shed some light on the process of making this expert film.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Edward McKenzie (I am Jack's raging bio...)
Tuesday, July 08, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic DVD-RV31A-S, using S-Video output
DisplayBeko 28" (16x9). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationMarantz SR7000
SpeakersEnergy - Front, Rear, Centre & Subwoofer

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Anthony Clarke
Web Wombat - James A

Comments (Add) NONE