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The War(TV) (2007)
A seven-part series focusing on the many ways in which the Second World War impacted the lives of American families.
For more about The War and the The War Blu-ray release, see the The War Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on May 13, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Directors: Ken Burns (I), Lynn Novick
» See full cast & crew
The War Blu-ray Review
Another masterpiece from the master of the modern Documentary.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, May 13, 2012
It was something that had to be done.
World War II has run the gamut of fictional and nonfictional accounts of its conflicts and peoples and turns of events. It's been portrayed as a patriotic, glamorized event and as a down-and-dirty, all-too-real, harrowing experience. Its stories have been told and told again, embellished here and toned way down there. Its battles have been studied and picked apart, right down to every last drop of ocean water, every last Pacific island leaf, every last grain of African sand, every last chunk of European rubble. The commanding officers, the national leaders, and the decorated soldiers have all been the subjects of countless works in the educational, fictional, and filmed realms. But the story of America back home, how she rose from depression to defeat the industrialized Nazi Germany at her own game, how farm boys became heroes, how courage triumphed, how the world changed because America changed it has never been the subject of an in-depth study quite like Documentarian Ken Burns' The War, a grippingly complex and involved account of World War II as it was fought and, in large part, how it was seen through the eyes of combatants and civilians both from four corners of American life. Sacramento, California; Mobile, Alabama; Luverne, Minnesota; and Waterbury, Connecticut are the home bases for one of the most detailed depictions of the war, a depiction that even in its massive length cannot capture all of the smallest details of the war but that does precisely and with a smooth narrative paint a picture of war on the fields of battle and back home, from start to finish, interconnecting the massively large scope with a personalization that only Ken Burns could so precisely and narratively effortlessly assemble.
Ken Burns' The War ascends above the average World War II Documentary that's more concerned with facts and figures, dates and times, sweeping generalizations and broad strokes, exciting visuals and nothing audiences haven't seen or heard before -- which is most World War II Documentaries -- rather than a true, involved narrative woven together on the individual level, telling the story of the world's deadliest conflict from the perspective of the everyman, the everyman who fought in the war or experienced it from half a world away. Rather than fictional characters, The War follows the lives of those who won the war and gave and risked their lives in the effort to do so, and how their heroism, life, and death gave further shape to the efforts and stories of their hometowns that were microcosms of the American landscape and the American way of life which helped define and win the war, but also, at times, revealed its weaknesses. The War tells the story of World War II on the fronts of battle and on the home front, where not only an industrial boom and an unflinching dedication of an entire nation played a large part in winning the war, but also where racial strife and imprisonment of a peoples would shape an almost "Twilight Zone"-like tale of a nation on one hand fighting for freedom and equality for all overseas but on the other not securing those same virtues for all those living at home. The stories of every major engagement of the war are interwoven with the evolving tale of American life back home. The hopes, expectations, sacrifices, sadnesses, and joys of people separated by thousands of miles but sharing in common a hometown and a national heritage make up the soul of The War, while still photographs, raw video, and a startlingly detailed narrative -- including pitch-perfect narration from Actor Keith David -- make complete one of the most thorough, fascinating, and well-assembled glimpses into this or any war.
Ken Burns again proves himself as the master documentarian, perhaps the finest such filmmaker of them all. His ability to combine generalizations and broad history with a personal touch and a flowing narrative makes him something of a small-screen professor versed in the story, as knowledgeable as the textbook, and as polished as a professional speaker. His documentaries -- and this one in particular -- are educations condensed into hours and shaped in such a way that audiences come away with a knowledge of a living history, not merely a collection of facts which seem cold and detached from the life narrative. The War is beautifully assembled and paced. It's vivid and highly detailed but easy to soak in. Yet it's incredibly difficult to watch, at times, not because of any Burns stumbles but for quite the opposite. Burns' ability to so accurately depict the war -- and that means its most visually gruesome and emotionally harrowing events and not simply the rah-rah cheerleading and detached combat footage audiences are accustomed to seeing -- will leave audiences in an emotional state that's not often the result of a documentary, but this is nonetheless a rewarding and critical experience for all interested in history and coming to understand World War II, not simply know it. One can only imagine the labor of love that must have been not simply assembling the footage and recreating the World War II story, but doing so with such a personal feel and an unmistakable zeal for the project, for the story and the people who shape it. Burns shares the tales of the individual -- right down to the exact street address -- who would fight and live and die and work and worry and cry tears of sadness and tears of joy through the course of the conflict, depicting them all as if neighbors, friends, family. Burns recreates the home front and the front lines with such accuracy that the film is, at many times literally, a time capsule capturing the intimate details of war in a way never before seen. This is a brilliant, first-class effort that could only have one name attached to it, and that name, of course, is Ken Burns.
The following seven films are included as part of The War:
The War Blu-ray, Video Quality
The War's Blu-ray presentation is a mixed bag of elements. Burns' film contains newly-constructed HD interview and town footage, old photographs, and antique film footage, most in black-and-white, some in color, the latter seen primarily in footage from the late Pacific fighting. As always, the wear-and-tear and natural state of the classic materials will not factor into the overall score. Needless to say, much of the older film footage is riddled with pops and scratches and softness and jagged edges and edge halos, all the sorts of wear anyone familiar with that vintage newsreel film footage has seen before. The photographs, on the other hand, are often crisp and very nicely defined if not a little scratchy here and there. These photographs capture people, building fašades, wartime devastation, even overhead views of cities with great clarity, allowing for a colorless but accurate representation of the way things were. The newer footage isn't quite perfect. Grain is rather sharp and spiky, but interviewee facial details are complex. Flesh tones are a little pasty and rosy, while black corners of the frame appear a hair dark and are prone to breaking down into blockiness. Light edge enhancement and shimmering are also evident on newer elements. For the most part, however, this one is defined by the older material created during the war. In true Ken Burns style, the old meshes naturally with the new, and the jump from shaky black-and-white footage to sharp and colored HD material is never as jarring as it sounds thanks to the quality of the narrative. Still, this isn't a pristine image by any means, but it's fine for what it is and is a quality component in the greater The War high definition experience.
The War Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The War features a surprisingly active and exciting Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The track is defined by several primary elements, the first being the spoken word, including Keith David's narration, the occasional voiceover of another actor, and interviewee sound bytes. The clarity and delivery are perfect, grounded in the center, and always balanced with surrounding elements, though to be sure heavier music and effects don't often play at the same time with narration. Period music plays with vigor and fine clarity; many of the era's hits energetically swing through the soundstage, and often with a surround element in support. There are instances where the music plays with a slightly shallow tenor, but the presentation is mostly top-tier. Nice, light bass in music and effects give the track a positive body and a sense of completeness. Varied support sound effects have been expertly inserted into the film and nicely reproduced on Blu-ray. For instance, still photographs and news reel footage playing in theaters are often accompanied by the whirring sound of the projector across the back. But the most active and intense element to be found comes in the form of the recreated sounds of war. The War places buzzing planes, rattling machine guns, flying bullets, exploding objects, and screaming men into the stage in an effort to bring a more vivid and accurate life to the moving footage and still photographs. Planes zoom from side to side, gunfire erupts form every corner, and explosions pack a hefty wallop. The sounds have been painstakingly engineered and fit the narrative wonderfully. To be sure, this is no Saving Private Ryan -- nor should it be -- but the presentation is excellent on all fronts.
The War Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The War contains two audio commentaries, a fine making-of, deleted scenes, and additional interviews. All but the commentaries appear on disc six.
The War Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The War represents the pinnacle of wartime filmmaking. It's Documentary perfection, and while it may or may not be Burns' finest achievement -- his The Civil War and Baseball are rightly cherished as Documentary pinnacles -- it's arguably the finest World War II Documentary in existence, certainly the most narratively gripping and expertly assembled. It's detailed but personal, intricate but easy to take in. The flow is beautiful, Keith David's narration is the perfect match, and the scope and length are just right. Whether for classroom use or for those who want to bring the classroom home, The War is an education, an enlightenment, even entertainment all in one incredible package. This Paramount/PBS Blu-ray release of The War features quality video and audio. The supplements are a bit on the thin side, but all told this is a must-own release that comes very highly recommended.
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The War Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Amazon Blu-ray Deal of the Week: The War (Expired) - August 19, 2012
Amazon's Blu-ray Deal of the Week PBS' The War. Directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick (Prohibition), this seven-part documentary examines the United States' involvement in World War II, both at home and abroad. Through August 25th, Amazon is offering the set ...
• The War Blu-ray - February 22, 2012
In May, PBS and Paramount Home Entertainment will bring The War to Blu-ray. Directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick (Prohibition), this seven-part miniseries details the struggles of those at home and fighting abroad during World War II. The War is expected to ...
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