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Over sexed, over paid and over here, ----- yes but there's more to the story!
Graham Watson15 May 2008
I still think that the gold standard of WW II documentaries is the 1970's World at War series. Laurence Oliver's ominous Macbeth style of narration set the tone and the 26 episode series covered WW II really well. Critics point out that it showed the war from more of a British point of view. I suppose the fact that Britain and it's dominions were fighting against the Germans and the Japanese for longer than any of the other allies in the Far East, North Africa, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, Scandinavia and continental Europe is perhaps understandable. If casualties alone was the standard used to measure sacrifice or relevance then the USSR could lay claim to that . Over 15 % of it's population in some form of another perished in the eastern front amounting to millions in a war of annihilation against the Germans. Taking it on it's own I don't think there is a conflict in human history that can match the brutality and barbarism that took millions of lives in such a short space of time. They are all important topics in the context of WW II and they have over the years been excellently covered and narrated by American as well as British production companies. One aspect that has not been really been examined thoroughly is the WW II purely from an American point of view.

Ken Burns probably needed to remind a new generation of Americans whose understanding of war is limited to computer games and watching smart bombs and predator drones on TV or on you-tube bombarding specs on the ground from a command center in Florida. In previous wars, Americans endured greater sacrifices. A lot of boots on the ground was the order of the day and American troops encountered huge numbers of well armed and fanatical opponents. Interestingly Burns seemed to focus on four states of the USA, Connecticut, Alabama, Wisconsin and California. I don't know why he picked these these in particular, but probably because it gave a good geographical balance of how it affected the lives of the families and the servicemen in the USA.

There is no doubt that mainland USA protected by the vast Atlantic and Pacific oceans had an easier time in WW II than the other allies. The US was never really under a serious threat of either large air raids or invasion. Yes crude attacks were attempted both by the Germans and Japanese but only for propaganda purposes. If it was an accident of geography (and the isolation explains the USA's late entry into the war) lucky for the USA and lucky for the world too! Remember it was a world war and the arsenal of democracy as it was known could offer vital military equipment and manpower for the war effort.

From a standing start,(although lend lease to Britain and armament production had been steadily rising since 1940) the USA really got it's industry going on a total war footing. Japan and Germany had a ten year head start in war capacity and training. By 1942 Americans were fighting in North Africa, by 1943 Italy, 1944 France ,as well as doing a bit of island hopping in the pacific to boot and by 1945 it was all over. In fact Americas limitless natural resources, raw materials, manpower (and woman power) and huge industrial potential uninterrupted from air raids were vital. Not only was it important for victory but also in shaping the post-war world, i.e. the Marshall plan. Americas efforts in the aftermath of the war with European and Japanese reconstruction should not be underestimated.

The American military with their self confidence, bold ideas, optimism and big band music and might have irritated and annoyed the other allies. In Britain they were over sexed, over paid and over there. However, amusing that might sound it doesn't really go anywhere in telling the whole story. On the cover of this DVD set there is a photograph of a tired and gaunt looking American GI, a far cry from the beaming soldier fresh off the boat in the snazzy uniform out on the town. He could have been from any where in the USA perhaps Connecticut or Wisconsin, but his haunted face tells the story. He was probably in his early 20's wanted to go college or get married, join his fathers business, work on the farm or be a lawyer, perhaps he wanted to be a baseball player. Yet his life was turned upside down, conscripted into the service and after boot camp was shipped off thousands of miles from where he grew up to places he had never heard of!

American blood was spilled as far and wide as Iwo Jima, North Africa, Normandy, Bastogne and Guadalcanal, Anzio, Remargen and Midway, just to name a few, ten of thousands of Americans died on land in the air and at sea. American forces were involved in some of the most vicious fighting of the second world war. Victory over Hitler nor Japan could have been achieved without US participation, but the USA couldn't have done it all alone too, allies were vital too.

It gives an interesting account of the war from how it impacted the lives of Americans and how they saw it from their point of view. I got the impression from Burns that the US fought harder in the pacific, it was more personal, probably because of pearl harbor but moreover the Japanese were really easy to hate, they were exceptionally cruel to their captives. Well narrated in an easy going style by Keith David. Must movies for Americans to watch after this is THE VICTORS 1963 and finally the very impressive BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES 1949.
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Feeling Closer to Dad
fixcasa6 October 2007
I am a 1958 Baby Boomer. My dad was a medic with the 97th. Now I know why he didn't really talk about the war much. He mostly talked about the friends he had made, and the sites that he had seen. After viewing some of the grizzly images in "The War", I can only imagine the horror he must have endured caring for the wounded and dead. My dad passed away in 1999, but I found myself often while watching "The War" wishing that he were there sitting next to me to answer many of the questions that this documentary brought to mind. Mostly I wanted to give him a big hug. I feel that I know and understand Dad so much better now. Thanks Dad and thanks Ken Burns.
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Soul Shaking
Jay091019512 October 2007
As a 1951 baby boomer, I am the proud son of a world war 2 vet. Growing up, Dad talked little about the war. What I learned about the war was from history books and war movies. But Ken Burns has changed all of that for me and I am sure the Millions who have seen and will see this incredible documentary. For now I am not just the son born after the war but someone who knows and feels what went on for 5 years in Europe,North Africa, in the Pacific and the Far East. I have learned things no book or film ever taught me: the sights, the smell and the taste of the horrors our boys faced as we fought toward victory. This is a movie that is going to be too late for the many Vets that have passed on during the 62 years since V-J day. But it is now here , for the record , for all us now and future generations to say "THANK YOU" to the greatest generation for saving the world from the most brutal humans that were ever put on this earth. Again, Thank you Ken Burns for this incredible experience.
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Compared to what?
nytexcel26 September 2007
I'm glad that the other reviewers here have seen, and enjoyed "The Civil War" by the same filmmaker. However, I don't see why it is so important to them to explain that they enjoyed it more than this film. Especially without explaining if they enjoyed this film more than other documentaries ON WORLD WAR TWO! It's apples 'n oranges folks.

I, for one, am enjoying it (last installment, tonight!) immensely. And, I would say, MORE than any other WORLD WAR TWO DOCUMENTARY I have ever seen (and I believe that I've seen most all of them). Focusing on four American towns was just the right size character study for this subject. Very, very, good film.
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Some Just Don't Get It
gentleman-bill30 September 2007
The music criticisms are from folks who apparently didn't live through the era. Swing songs were what everybody was listening to, dancing to and romancing to during WW II. In my opinion, the music was perfect. Even our GI's listened to it wherever they were. Even I, as a young boy remember nearly every song because I lived during those difficult times. The music picked up our spirits, took our minds off the horrible stories of combat and death occurring all around us. The sad and slow symphonic and odd flute sounds should remind one of the eerie and uncommon circumstances we all had to face during those times. And that death in combat is not a usual experience for most of us. Actually, I think the combat sequences and death scenes should be required viewing for all the kids being raised and educated today. They need to see the horrible sacrifices this nation made to be certain they, we and many other nations remained free from maniacal tyrants and killers like the Jap emperor Hirohito, Tojo, Hitler and all their ilk, and still some who stalk this country as you read this. If everyone watched and listened without criticizing to the message of those who fought this war, the families who remained at home and worried, cried, prayed and mourned their dead, they might just get in tune with why this country is so great. We get to watch films like this because our fighting men and women knew the value of freedom and many, too many, sacrificed, were wounded physically and mentally, and too often paid the ultimate price so we can watch these films and don't have to speak Japanese, German or any other conqueror's language. So, shut up about the music already! Listen to the message! Please.
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The War or How the US saw the War
Alexander-Freickmann12 February 2014
This documentation is well made, this is indisputable. But it is characteristic for US Americans to just see their point of view, skipping everything else. The Second World War was not just USA against Germany and Japan, it was much more complicated. And I expect that a documentation with a length of more than 800 minutes and the title "The War" an all-round view and not just one single view. But I could except this, if at least the documentation of World War 2 would be complete. The war didn't start on Pearl Harbor Day! Europe was until then already two years at war with the Germans winning. But because we see just the American sight, Germany and their Allies just seems weak and it is never clear why the European Countries couldn't handle them themselves. The importance of the Soviet campaign is hardly mentioned. In Contrast the Japanese seems to be the main aggressor of the Second World War. This is maybe true for Australian and US troops, but still Japan was never such a dangerous enemy as the Germans (especially because enough people living in Allied Countries sympathized with the Nazi Regime). It was also no wonder, that Japans aggressive war against China (some people call this the true start of World War 2) from 1937 is also never mentioned.

If the movie were, say, 2 hours long, it would be an interesting insight of how the USA experienced the Second World War. But in this nearly 900 minute version, there are too many flaws, which are not acceptable, at least for a Non-American.
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No subs? No problem.
Koval1 November 2007
"Dear God, we need your help real bad. Don't send anyone else but yourself, neither. Not even Jesus. 'Cause this is no place for kids."

I'm half way through the series and am absorbing it like a sponge. Fantastic story tellers, especially that pilot, Quentin Annensen (sp?). Oscar-winning actors couldn't have done it any better, telling chilling stories that make me realize how lucky I am, as a young man, to not have to experience such things. (...And I thought I had drama in my life.)

My Grandfather survived the war on various submarines, so I've been a bit disappointed there's been no mention, so far, of sub warfare. But as the series describes, "there were millions of people involved and millions of stories." I'm not too upset.

To the filmmakers, terrific job. To the vets, I'll always remember you.
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Not Burns' best, but still a great series.
LydiaOLydia20 December 2007
The six letter title ("The War") of this Ken Burns' series is remarkably illustrative of the piece. The title is not "America's War", as would be more apt in some objective sense, but simply "The War" as if you the viewer were an 19-year old American about to be shipped off to some far-off land. To you , there was only one, The War.

This seven-part series chronicles World War II through a distinctly American lens. The subjects are mostly common Americans impelled by circumstance of birth but mostly also compelled by a genuine American idealism to make war and suffer loss. What few WW2 veterans remain with us this day may be with us still perhaps a decade or two at most. "The War" gives them one last opportunity to reflect on comrades lost and horrors seen. It gives us as viewers one last opportunity to hear their stories as you might hear your grandparent tell you rather than as the cardboard cut-outs of history books. Typically for Burns', the piece is filled with well chosen period photos, moving images, and music.

And yet, as much as we want and need to remember the sacrifices of those who served, I can't help but think that this was the wrong film for Burns' to make. Sure, he will get accolades from veterans groups and politicians the country wide. But Burns should have left the story of American heroics and sacrifice to the sentimentalists - lord knows there are enough of them. A man with Burns' skill should have broadened his ken (no pun intended) to teach his largely American audience some new ways to think about the conflict and its implications for modern society.

If an American and, say, a Croat were to start discussing the war today, the American would speak about pride and sacrifice. Even if moderately knowledgeable about history, he'd have perhaps some vague sense that the Yugoslavs were somehow involved. Never in his wildest dreams would he have guessed that the Yugoslav armed forces suffered more dead than the Americans in World War II. And such are the points that need to be made in this age where 9/11, however inherently important it is, should be put into context. 3000 or so people died in 9/11. This is a blip on the radar - a bad few weeks in Iraq or a particularly bad day in any given African conflict. The message that Americans need to learn is not more paeans about the uniqueness and greatness of their sacrifice - but rather more about the universality of it. To be a world leader, America in 2007 needs less navel gazing and more outward understanding.

"The War" - "America's War" - provided none of this. It also barely touched issues of class and race in any substantive way, other than to give a somewhat embarrassingly lopsided and timid view of the internment of Japanese Americans. We need the Ken Burns' of the world. What am I saying - we need Ken Burns' to do more than pay homage to our great, brave veterans. We need him to tell the stories about ourselves and our world that Americans just don't know.
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The War
renkensw5 October 2007
My dad went over to Germany in 1946 to help "clean up" after the war as a member of the U.S. Army. Growing up he told us many stories of the after war devastation. I still remember those stories. I had studied WW II in high school, and this documentary helped me understand, through the eyes of four U.S. towns, just how WW II effected so many people all over the world. One thing that sticks in my mind is how the people of the U.S. all came together to save, to ration, to recycle, to just generally do without during this time. This will be a set to add to my DVD collection. Hopefully I can pass along my dad's stories as well as this collection to my grandchildren. And one more thing, I really enjoyed the music.
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Try to view history as it happened in the context it happened in
gizmo6123 November 2007
Ken Burns has done it again. "The Civil War" was a masterpiece. "Baseball" was absolutely superb. And "The War" is another A+ piece of work. Why? Let me count the ways.

1) All wars are hell. This time Burns was able to show what little he felt most humans could suffer without vomiting, some of which was filmed on the spot. Sure, some of the editing was a little choppy. Sure, vast areas of what happened in 1939-1946 had to be omitted by nature of the immensity and complexity of what happened. But most of the younger kids who thinks wars are only fought in the Middle East and who knew nobody in their families who died, or for that matter don't even know the dates of WWII, haven't a clue. So what if they didn't like the music? Hell, they didn't have Ipods or plasma tvs or cable then. Do some reading. Try to envision what absolute hell war is. Burns showed us.

2) For the first time, we were able to hear it - extensively - from people who lived through it. How many wouldn't give a lot to sit down with the folks from those 4 towns who spent hours in interviews, to hear more about it? WWII affected, almost as much as the Civil War, everyone in the country. Go talk to them, kids. Hear what they have to say. You and your generation have never submitted to anything that meant a total effort by your country to remain free. You can't conceive what it means to say that dropping 2 A-bombs of necessity to end the war saved over 500,000 American lives. People today froth at the mouth when they read the media touting the nearly 4,000 dead in Iraq. How about saving 500,000 lives? This war was so immense and affected everything and everyone that every generation of Americans should be made to really study it. Never since have we faced what these people faced. And Burns shows it. All of it.

3) We - you - can't view this documentary in terms you are comfortable with: instant gratification, burning the flag, anti-war demonstrations, cell phones and emails, and the whole plethora of me-me-me that exists today. You need to read what life was really like then, who did what and how they did it, what they believed in, what manners they had, what they were willing to die for. Burns gives you continuous examples of people from 4 American towns for 15 hours to try to tell you what Americans were willing to do to save their way of life from seriously evil sickos who were hell bent on destroying us. Those psychos in the Middle East have the same sort of plan to destroy anything in the west; similar to plans Hitler had to literally own the world and kill off those he felt were in the way and the plans that the Japanese had of making every western country a subservient fiefdom. Read about it. Read a lot about it (if you know how to read) and then watch the Burns doc. See what it took to stop them. Oh, Hitler and Tojo and Stalin, eventually, weren't that bad? They were only comic-book characters? If you believe that, you need a serious education.

4) What happened in 1941-1945 happened. As in all wars throughout history, there were morons in charge of some, heroes in charge of others, misguided attempts, spectacularly successful attempts, incredibly unlucky attempts. But nothing ever so large, on such a scale of planning, training, executing, supplying, and staffing h as ever occurred in the history of man, and probably never will. And Burns eloquently captured some of its essence. Nobody could EVER capture all of it, or even parts of it, on the scale in which it happened. WWII was the last of the romantic wars. During WWII there were still espionage, undergrounds, passwords, night parachutings, spy chains, radio broadcasts, a whole litany of danger that stopped with the Cold War. After that, Korea and Vietnam and now the butchery in Iraq turned into cold, mechanical, medieval barbarism. Burns had to pick and choose the parts that brought the personalities of those from four American towns into view. And he did that very well.
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Through American Eyes
Robert J. Maxwell24 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I don't know that this series -- perhaps "overlong series" -- is quite the equivalent of Ken Burns' "The Civil War" -- but what could be? The general outlines of World War II are so well known (Kids: We won) that I'll skip them and just make a few comments.

The presentation is divided roughly into three equal parts: (1) Life on the home front in Mobile, Alabama; Luverne, Minnesota; Sacramento, California; and Waterbury, Connecticut; (2) Combat, with some references (not many) to overall strategy; and (3) Interviews with the surviving men and women who participated in the war.

There are no reenactments, thank God. They're coming to be our substitute for B movies on documentary TV channels. There are no interviews with generals and admirals or today's War College instructors explaining why we did what we did. No British, German, Japanese, or otherwise exotic interviewees either. This is the war as seen strictly through American eyes although, as the narrator says, we suffered far less, relatively speaking, than many of the other combatants.

It's an ipsative choice. If Burns had tried to cover just the Allies, some viewers would still be objecting. "Why don't we see more of Britain's suffering?" Or, "What about the Poles?" America suffered less but we suffered enough. There are about four minutes of color footage from a typical war-time wedding. We've all been there. The bride in frothy white, the groom in Army uniform, the cake, the two dozen assembled guests at the tables, with tiny glasses of punch, smiling nervously. It isn't until the second viewing that I realized that the uniformed groom was the only male present between the ages of eighteen and forty. All the other men were busy elsewhere.

The music is chosen or composed by Wynton Marsalis, an ace trumpeter whose grasp of music includes all known forms. Mostly here, his score is alternately folksy, bluesy, or threnodic, and sometimes he quotes composers like Elgar and Faure. The score is punctuated with period music, like Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. You won't come away whistling any of the tunes. Marsalis isn't the bombastic Richard Rogers of "Victory at Sea." He's unobtrusive, almost self effacing.

The same can't be said of the film's producer, Ken Burns, who is almost childlike in his egocentricity and his commitment. "Ewww, Tom Hanks," he exults in the commentary. It would be easy to smear him a little if he weren't so good at what he does. The series, incidentally, was supported in large part by grants from Bank of America and General Motors. (At least they got SOME things right.) Another reviewer denigrated the series because it came from "the bolsheviks" at Public Broadcasting, which I guess makes General Motors a bunch of communists.

Surprisingly little of the combat footage is familiar. A few rip offs from "Memphis Belle," "The Battle of Midway," and "The Battle of San Pietro," and not much more. Just as well. Those shelves had been just about emptied by all the documentaries that have played on The History Channel and The Military Channel.

Is the presentation balanced? Or -- let me put it another way -- how much political correctness need we bear? Well, again, surprisingly little. It's a candid documentary rather than a critical one. The internment of Japanese-American civilians is described and shown but not dwelt upon. It's another mistake, a war-time tragedy, not an occasion for breast beating and white guilt. The good people of Mobile, Alabama, seem to have as much trouble with the influx of what they call "rednecks" as they do with what they call "Negroes." I kind of missed David McCullough's narration from "The Civil War." He's a cool and distanced historian, whereas Keith David's sonorous narration here is more dramatic. And I missed the sweetness and simplicity of "Ashokan Farewell."

The film is about war. And war is about loneliness, deprivation, and death. It's easy to be moved by the subject when one imagines what we learn from these episodes about America multiplied a dozen times over by the suffering endured by other nations, victors and vanquished alike. But Burns has the good taste not to jerk the easiest tears. Nobody breaks down and sobs. The P-47 pilot who killed hundreds of Germans describes the paralysis of his trigger fingers and the nightmares that haunted him for years after the war, but he does so dispassionately, a careful observer of the symptoms that stand for the greater whole. It's about as good as it's ever going to get.

These remarks cover only Parts 1 and 2 of the series.
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A poignant and moving testament
dlachiondo4 October 2007
Ken Burns's great gift is for making sweeping events such the Second World War, understandable and personal the viewer. As an educator, I share his concern for the general lack of knowledge by young people about this war (A large percentage believe that the U.S. and Germany fought as allies against the Russians) as well as the relentless depletion of collective memory from that war's survivors. In addressing these two issues, Burns deserves our gratitude. While some may quibble about aspects of this documentary, it does succeed in its expressed mission to explain the events "from the bottom up." As for the music, I think that it was generally appropriate. I enjoy jazz but I think that its extensive use in this production reflected more of Burns's preferences than what G.I's were listening to. e.g "The White Cliffs of Dover, "You Are My Sunshine" "I'll Be Seeing You" etc. This, however, is a very minor criticism.
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An Example of American Centric History
jr-565-2636629 September 2015
I am not going to join the gush of positive comments about this documentary for two reasons:

First, I come from a family with a strong military tradition. Members of my family have participated in every one of America's wars from WWI to the current War on Terror. We have a strong belief that it is honorable and right to serve in the defense of his great country of ours. Having said that you would probably be surprised that these words are written by a Mexican-American veteran. But American born Mexicans can be patriotic, too.

And that is my problem with this documentary. All of my uncles served in WWII with the US Army, Navy and Marines. One of them, CPL Joseph Jose Soto US Army, was killed in action on 20 August 1943 during the Battle for Munda Field in the South Pacific. He was not even a citizen but immigrated to this country from Mexico, like many other Mexican Nationals did, to specifically join the US military in its time of need. My dad did not serve because he was too young, but he served in the Korean War. They and the family are proud to have served their country.

So, the fact that Ken Burns did not feel it important to include the sacrifice of Hispanic veterans is a personal insult to all those who have served honorably during that war. Their sacrifice is equal to, if not more than the white and black veterans he chose to profile in this series. What is reprehensible was that he promised to add additional features as a "supplement" rather than re-edit his documentary, features that no one has seen or heard of. And PBS, who prides itself as being "inclusive", decided not to force the issue on the basis of "artistic freedom", or whatever that means. I guess "inclusive" is a elective state of being for PBS. By the way, most native born Mexican-Americans could care less about the fact that the premiere date was Mexican Independence Day. WE DO NOT CELEBRATE THAT DAY! WE CELEBRATE THE FOURTH OF JULY!

And equally inexcusable is that he fails to mention the contributions of Native Americans to the war effort. Native Americans were recruited from their reservations, some of whom had never lived outside of, to provide invaluable service as code talkers. Their service was legendary and probably saved thousands of lives.

My second problem with the series is that it is a prime example of how American-centric this country has become about its history. We did not fight WWII by ourselves. It was fought by an alliance of free nations that started two years before we even got involved. Yet, the American public, and Ken Burns seems to not know this. The only thing the public knows about WWII is Pearl Harbor, D-Day and the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan. Maybe Iwo Jima. The public is not aware that the Russians killed more Germans than all of the Allies combined and lost more soldiers fighting in Poland in 1944 than the US lost in all of WWII.

We as a nation have become so self centered that we have forgotten that it takes a coalition of nations to defeat threats to world peace just like it did in WWII.

Compared to his excellent series about the the Civil War, this is a series I could not recommend based not only on his omissions, but the content and lack of context. I understand that he did not set out to produce a comprehensive history of WWII, but to produce a documentary of the war from the view of small town America. However, he failed to meet the low standards he set for himself by excluding a major contribution of some of its citizens. I guess in his eyes, Hispanics and Native Americans don't count.
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tell me something I don't know
rhinocerosfive-131 October 2007
Shallow, dull, and unnecessary, this documentary fails even to live up to its title.

To consider WWII's impact upon American life, this misnamed series starts at Pearl Harbor, relegating three years' European and five years' Asian warfare to the vaguest of backgrounds. The Nazi invasions of Poland and Russia get about a minute apiece. The Rape of Nanking is barely mentioned, in context of American newsreel consumption. Okay, fine, but don't call it "The War." Call it "Our War," or "Homefront" or "America's Americentric View of the War and How it Affected Americans." Don't insult the rest of the planet, which had already been fighting for as much as 50 months before December 7.

"The War" makes gestures toward a smalltown motif, but after a lot of talk about focusing on 4 towns, we spend time with soldiers from elsewhere. And the homefront imagery tells us nothing new: women joined the workforce. Rationing, victory gardens, no new cars. Blacks joined the workforce, racial confrontations ensued; Japanese-Americans were interned in cheerless prison camps. Guess what, Ken - I already watch PBS! Wait, wait - black and Japanese-American soldiers were segregated and under-appreciated, though they were just as heroic as everybody else. Betcha didn't see that coming. One surprise: uber-liberal public television makes exactly zero references to the experience of women in uniform.

(I'll tell you an exhaustive documentary miniseries we really need: a worm's eye view of how the troublemakers gear up to cause one of these awful world wars. This is the insight we could use, not "how did we defend ourselves?" but "how could we have been so ill-prepared as to not see this coming?")

A pretentious, plodding structure makes it worse. No single campaign is delineated beyond generalizations - "The siege of Saipan had only just begun;" "Bastogne would not be liberated for weeks." The first few hours especially contain a lot of rough, disorienting transitions. And the narration is redundant and occasionally nonsensical, as when Keith David tells us that Carlson's Raiders and Japanese Marines were sometimes "only a few feet" apart - this during hand-to-hand fighting. Who's signing off on this stuff?

This Ken Burns film needs among other things a Shelby Foote, a lively historical authority on whom the viewer may hang his faith and attention. Instead, somebody reads from contemporary journalism: Ernie Pyle, who already fumbled his own movie (a dog starring Burgess Meredith) or Al McIntosh, channeling Horton Foote. The veterans and civilians interviewed in talking-head format are charming, some of them, though only one or two show any real storytelling flair, and they do it late. Wynton Marsalis, who might have supplied our voice of wisdom, instead seems to have imagined Aaron Copland scoring a funeral of Norman Rockwell.
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Hitler invaded Russia and Ken Burns made a series about WWII - both bit off too much
Guy5 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Let's start with the basics - this isn't 'the war', this is America's war. The Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and the British Empire - let alone Poland or China - only get a look in, with most of the pre-1941 war barely mentioned at all. The series limits itself even further. This is the war as seen by a few small towns in the US (except when it isn't). This is the war as experience, with a bare- bones narrative to connect and (partially) contextualise the personal stories. This is history as emotion - telling each other sad stories without ever understanding the deeper currents of human existence.

What's more, Ken Burns is really most interested in the home front and in particular the racial aspect of America in the 1940s - which means that you have to steel yourself for endless guff about American racism against blacks and the Japanese (with the Hispanics tacked on after Latino pressure groups made a stink). Sorry, but Manzanar and Jim Crow is hard to get worked up with in a war that saw the Burma-Thailand Railway and Belsen. In truth 90% of America was white at the time, blacks and Japanese saw almost no combat and played a very minor support role in the war. That isn't to take away from the bravery of the 442nd or to deny that the Red Ball Express was important, just that in context of the American war effort (let alone in context of the global war that was raging) they are pretty unimportant.

The music and the interviewees and much of the footage is very good. But the history is appalling; bereft of insight, overview and comprehension. The structure is awkward, the writing clumsy, the narrative plodding, and the whole thing manages to feel tremendously pompous in that special PBS way. In comparison, THE WORLD AT WAR is over thirty years old, often badly shot, and with a much smaller budget. Yet it ascends intellectual and moral heights simply unknown to THE WAR. The sheer, gut-wrenching horror of THE WORLD AT WAR's quiet descriptions of evil are infinitely more powerful than the manufactured cathartic weepy moments of THE WAR. Any attempt to encapsulate the entire Second World War requires a genius, with immense organisational talents, great intellectual depth, and tremendous emotional feeling - Ken Burns isn't such a person. But the archive sure is pretty and the interviews are always interesting.
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Cosmoeticadotcom21 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
In regards to art, greatness is not merely a difference of scale, but a difference of kind, in that the elements that constitute greatness force an almost alchemical change in the nature of the beast. The brushstroke, wordly coinage, motion of the camera, or whatever it is that constitutes the given art, becomes more than the brushstroke, wordly coinage, or motion of the camera. There seems to be an almost ineffable rise in the ability to invoke reaction from the art's percipients, and while certainly not supernatural, the great art and the great artist is a cut above, even if the mechanism of the ascendancy is not immediately evident, even to the most astute critic.

This ideal was brought home to me while watching filmmaker Ken Burns' most recent PBS documentary, The War, co-directed by Lynn Novick, for Burns, despite his ability to often stumble into a great moment, seems not to fundamentally understand the mechanics nor elements that constitute greatness. This 15 plus hour film follows in the wake of three other monumental documentaries he has crafted in the last decade and a half: the magnificent The Civil War- whose only dramatic flaw was the melodramatic schmaltz historian Shelby Foote displayed for the Confederacy, the too long Baseball, and the somnolent Jazz. In between he has crafted some interesting shorter documentaries on subjects as diverse as Mark Twain and Jack Johnson, but his bread and butter has been the marquee 'big doc.'

Burns has been plagued by years of controversies, both artistically and historically. His best film, The Civil War, which pioneered the Burnsian template of talking heads, melodramatic readings of personal letters, and slow scans of still photographs, accompanied by sometimes highly poetic words (and often purple prose), and swelling crescendos of music, was a triumph of art in a journalistic form. Yet, even that artistically great film was dogged by numerous historical flaws- documented in Robert Brent Toplin's book Ken Burn's The Civil War: Historians Respond. Baseball was far too long, and too obsessed with the cult of personality, rather than the thing that made the game America's pastime: its history, season by season, and its pennant races. Jazz was a snooze that hagiographized often obscure musicians, and the whole project was a bit too weighted down with Political Correctness. Burns does not often fall into The Greatest Generation claptrap that was so nauseating a decade ago- after all, yes, that generation defeated the Nazis and Japanese empires, but did nothing to end segregation and interned 120,000 Japanese-American citizens. By contrast, the Baby Boomers presided over the downfall of the Soviet Empire, sent man to the moon, ended the folly of Vietnam, supported Civil Rights and Women's Liberation, founded the modern Conservation movement, and survived the political hari-kiri of Watergate and Iran-Contra. By my scorecard, the Baby Boomers win by a substantial margin.

Yet, given all the potential that Burns demonstrated with his magisterial, if flawed, The Civil War, those many years ago, The War comes off as a passable, though ultimately forgettable, document- a solid 70 out of 100; but far short of the BBC's mid-1970s landmark (albeit Anglophilic) The World At War, still the touchstone documentary effort regarding World War Two. The reasons for these I have documented. So, I must return to my earlier posit, that this solid effort is not only different in scale from The Civil War, but different in kind. One may be able to pinpoint a scene here, or a dozen there, see the flaw stemming from Burns' own parting of ways with his brother Ric Burns, who was instrumental in many of Ken Burns' earlier, better works, or some other reason I have not spotted, or have forgotten in the morass of this film's heft- even though it seems far less weighty than the shorter great film. Yet, whatever that reason is, or those reasons are, to most they will remain as ineffable as the insights so many of Burns' subjects could not voice. And, after all, is not the voice the key to all good stories?

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Typical overly formulaic Burns with standard PBS political correctness instead of the full story
bowofdeath23 August 2015
Warning: Spoilers
I don't care if he or his brother invented the formula. It's foo formulaic and has become stale.

This could have been custom ordered to specs written by PBS for all we know.

Apparently Burns loves Jazz but hates big band/swing music cause he uses some of the worst choices of it in the film. He also umps back and forth between it and Marsalis' depressing score till you feel quite emotionally manipulated.

Speaking of manipulation, there are way too many viewers that give Burns credit for an emotional story that is simply the facts of the war told as stories by those that lived it. Give me several million dollars to track down those people and I could make a better series.

No stories from gay soldiers. At least the black soldiers had their families and fellow black soldiers to comfort them. Who did the gay soldier have? Apparently they still have nobody judging by the other comments and Buns' failure to acknowledge their existence. I'd like to know how many men, whether gay or just pretending to be gay to get out of serving, did so? Could you even get out of serving if you said you were gay then? Obvious questions he did not ask. Unfortunately it is still PC at PBS to screw gays, but only if they are male. Liberal societies always manage to have a few hypocrisies in there PCness. This is one, redneck is another, and on and on.

The four city structure seems to be an excuse to say why he didn't include things he just chose not to include because he ignored it when convenient to include other people's stories like Daniel Inouye, and rightfully so.

Mentions 16 million American men and women served int he war. He knew he had to give women credit to get on PBS but didn't want to show them in stereotypical jobs like nurse, factory worker so he includes them as if they were 8 million of them risking their lives and dying in combat?

Returns too often back to our segregation of blacks internment of Japanese Americans in camps. Considering the extreme fanaticism of Japanese citizens I don't wonder the fear of some Japanese Americans being fanatics too if understood in the context of the time. It is easy to be an armchair Monday/morning quarterback. Never mentions they did get an apology and reparations that few others slighted or even killed in the war got.

A very Americentric view of the war. You would never know 20 million Russians died in the war but for him spelling it out instead of showing the proof as he did for Americans.

Too quick to adapt the military's habit of treating captured, killed, missing and injured soldiers all as "casualties" as if there is no difference.

According to The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, there were 15 million soldiers killed in WWII and 45 million civilian deaths*. * World-wide casualty estimates vary widely in several sources. The number of civilian deaths in China alone might well be more than 50,000,000

They list countries with the most deaths as: Soviet Union 24 million China 20 million Germany 7.7 million Poland 5.6 million Dutch East Indies 3.5 million Japan 2.85 million India 2 million French Indochina 1.25 million Yugoslavia 1 million Rumania .8 million Philippines .75 million Hungary .6 million

Jumps all over the place with quotations of what was happening that are confusing. Far too many "back in Europe" or "back in the Pacific" segways become monotonous.
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'Let's Get Lost"
js59052 October 2007
I have, aforementioned on this title; perhaps Burns' docudrama may be somewhat less than definitive- it is very close; considering the time constraints of his format. While WWII lasted around 48 months- plus 6 months thereafter; How on earth could one have documented it in seven episodes? I continue to believe Ken Burns did a very credible job; considering his time constraints. Let's be real; it happened pretty fast; compared to Vietnam; or our present Iraqui struggle. While his approach, from four American town/cities seems bizarre; He tried to paint a picture of racism and segregation, that was all to real until the late 1960's; perhaps, if more ethnic groups had been entitled to participation; it may have ended sooner. It's hard to say.

As far as Burns' musical accompaniment goes; isn't it trivial? I didn't know that Sinatra recorded, "Let's Get Lost," I thought it was a Chet Baker tune, And I do appreciate the Benny Gooodman sidetrack. Sorry guys; but, I believe Burns was on the money....
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the anti war
jrcarter-63 October 2007
I don't think that Burns did a tremendous job here. Not only did he focus on 4 towns that were supposed to be representative of America, but he played to the political correctness of today's America.

It is obvious that the Japanese and Blacks that fought in WW2 got the worst assignments, and performed admirably. I agree that it is good to highlight their contributions, because in other documentaries they were slighted. However, I don't think this is the point of WW2.

I think the point of WW2 is that ordinary people were capable of extraordinary things. Burns focus on the tragedy of war, the line of questioning he pursues with the participants, skews the meaning that we should take from WW2.

Of course war is horrible. Of course terrible things happen during wars. We know that. What you don't know about war is how each man in combat looks out for not only himself, but his comrades in arms. You don't hear about the true compassion that these guys felt for their fellow soldiers. I think that is because of the questions that are asked(which you don't hear).

It is nice to see footage from the German and Russian archives. But I think that Burns could have done a lot better job on this documentary.
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Political Correctness kills what could have been a great series
Leviticus9 August 2010
I've read deeply into the history of the second world war, so I was no stranger to the majority of the material. The Civil War Series was so good I figured Ken Burns would hit a home run on this one too. Not hardly.

The Good~

The entire series is infused with large amounts of uncommon archival footage and many photographs. It was almost worth watching to see pictures that have NOT been in every WWII history book since the '50s.

The series explains just the right amount of overall strategy to keep the viewer on track. Well done.

The vignettes and stories about various home front activities were quite interesting. It's easy to forget that against the backdrop of a great drama ordinary life has to go on. Anecdotes about war plants, scrap drives, war bond sales and the like provided a lot of body and background to the story. The interviews with survivors were also excellent.

The Bad~

Ponderous, overreaching attempts are made throughout the entire series to show what a racist country the U.S. was in its treatment of Blacks and Japanese-Americans. Nobody denies the Japanese internment, or the lot of Blacks during that era. It would have been okay to talk about it as part of the history of what happened, and maybe show how far we've come in our attitudes since, but Burns couldn't leave it alone. About every fifteen or twenty minutes we return back home from the war front to another awful story about the internment camps, Whites-only lunch counters, segregated armies, and on and on and on. Then it's back to the war front with the jaunty clarinet music for a while. About the time you're getting thoroughly engrossed in what was going on in the Solomons, it's back home for another dose of white guilt flagellation.

It ruins the whole series. Four out of Ten.
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What the...
selwynandrews-8095812 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
So I'm nearly through episode 1 and, with 19:11 remaining, a modern-sounding song plays over a montage of fighting, its lyrics "America, I gave my best to you". This seemed particularly jarring and even saccharine (dare I say it, Bruckheimeresque?), needlessly editorialising when up to that point straight reportage and the stories of the people involved had carried things along quite satisfactorily. 'White Christmas' had previously played on the soundtrack, and that's a very sentimental song, but it belonged to the time and place and had meaning for soldiers far from home. The song was bookended by statistics about American dead, which carry enough weight and horror by themselves without the song's slightly desperate underlining. Something of a gaffe, I hope the rest of the series avoids this kind of thing.
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Another war documentary like "The Civil War" is probably unrealistic
Gore_Won25 September 2007
I had high expectations for the series (if you have watched any of "The Civil War", you will understand), but I now believe my expectations were a bit unrealistic. First, WWII is a much more complex subject, encompassing much of the world. It had to do with WWI in Europe, decades of military aggression by Japan, the Great Depression, etc. - any American viewpoint is incomplete by default. The Civil War, by contrast, was, as Ken Burns stated, about slavery. It involved the entire nation, and is thus integral to the American experience, but it is compact enough that you can condense the topic into battles and military strategy, even if its causes stem from decades of disputes. There are too many strands for WWII to fit as nicely.

Go in with more realistic expectations, and you won't be disappointed.
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Blazer2124 November 2007
As a Canadian I found that "The War", as told through the eyes and lives of people from four USA cities, is nonetheless every bit as important a documentary,and should be required viewing, regardless of nationality. The approach taken by Ken Burns was perfect. This film gives the viewer, not only an intense and important history lesson of WWII, but provides the backdrop of American society during those times. The stories re-lived and told by veterans, their families, and of course, Al McIntosh, Rock County Star-Herald, are deeply moving and quite simply, so very interesting. The archival footage - film, photography, and print is an amazing collection that will bring you to tears. Thank you Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and all the other collaborators. Outstanding work to be shared,hopefully, for generations to come.
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The Truth Will Out
MitchB-63 October 2007
Burn's tries to make the case for how much Americans endured collectively in our most significant war. But no matter how hard he tries, hovering and unspoken is the truth that our sacrifices were minor and our suffering was minimum in comparison with what most of the rest of the world endured -- making the whole thing seem like empty propaganda.

But Burns is the best, and if really wants to tackle an American story of sacrifice and survival in the modern age, he should expand "Jazz" into the full story of the Great Depression.

Unfortunately, I don't have much else to say on the matter but I need to write ten lines in order to get my comment accepted by IMDb.
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