2000s The War (2007)

Published on October 5th, 2007 | by Chris

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The War (2007)

Review of: The War (2007)
Documentary series by:
Ken Burns

Reviewed by:
Rating:
5
On October 5, 2007
Last modified:October 8, 2012

Summary:

I can't help but think how many other stories and accounts have been lost, and putting this 14+ hours on film with this mere fraction of those accounts.... It's a piece that should be put up on a shelf, and when your kids are older, and ask about their great-grandparents and what it was like for them, you might let them see what The War was all about.

The War (2007)There have been a ton of World War II documentaries made over the last, what, 62 years?  Some range from absurd, but still interesting (like the SS/Occult stuff) to pure masterpieces such as Ken Burns' The War.

The focus in this series of seven episodes, is to let people from four US towns/cities tell their stories of the war.  Some fought, some stayed home, some were innocent victims abroad, and some lost loved ones.  But the stories are their's, and told by them.  That's what makes this series particularly interesting.

Since the story is told from these four locations (Mobile AL, Waterbury CT, Sacramento CA, and Luverne MN) the entire series does tend to take on a US-centric perspective.  A lot of relevant events and history of the war before the US involvement is touched on, but not in great detail.  And there are some events that just aren't mentioned at all.  But, after seeing the entire series, I suppose it makes sense to only tell those events that their subjects had experience with.

From the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, all the way through to the servicemen and prisoners returning home afterwards and struggling with what they'd been through....  There are moments which will make you furious, make you laugh, and at times nearly bring you to tears.  The stories told are just that moving.  There are times you can see in these guys' eyes that there are still things they aren't telling... things that they are remembering that they really don't want to.

I said in my "First Impressions" post that I thought The War was taking a bit too much of a "PC" stance.  While I still think Burns et al. went out of their way to find these controversial stories, such as the all-Japanese 100th 442nd unit Sen. Inouye was in, the Japanese internment camps, the racial oppression and discrimination surrounding Mobile and the shipyards, the same in the services with their tales of discrimination....  Those are stories that need to be told as well, and in hindsight I am glad they were told.

The entire series is presented in two "facets" if you want to call it that.  The first being the face-to-face interviews of the story-tellers, intertwined with their own photos and home movies....  The second is the exclusive use of stock photos and footage, which have expertly had sound effects added to them, where there wouldn't have been otherwise.  Every attempt was made to put you right into the situations the stock footage portrays.

The soundtrack also puts you in there as well, from contemporary music from Bing Crosby and others, to new music composed specifically for the series. (and I can't recall the guys name! shame on me! I can see his face!)  It hangs in the background and jumps out at opportune times to add just the right amount of drama to a particular situation.  You might notice some familiar voices expertly narrating some of the parts that aren't told first hand, such as Tom Hanks and Samuel L. Jackson.

Speaking of stock footage, as the series moves along, some of it becomes more and more grisly and graphic, with lots of shots of wounded and dead, civilians and soldiers from all sides.  Be aware of this if you're thinking of presenting this i.e. in your school or where ever.  In particular the last three episodes become increasingly intense and graphic.  But I have a feeling that it could have been a lot worse.  These images coincide with some of the stories, and quite frankly had to be shown, if nothing else just to prove how completely terrible the whole thing was.

I should admit a bit of bias in this review, and let me relate a story of my own.  My grandfather was a tank driver involved in some part of the D-Day invasion.  I was told this by my dad, who then said, "but don't ever ask him about it."  And I didn't, and that was that.  He died in '95, and I don't believe he told his story to anyone, at least anyone else who will re-tell it.

I can't help but think how many other stories and accounts have been lost, and putting this 14+ hours on film with this mere fraction of those accounts....  It's a piece that should be put up on a shelf, and when your kids are older, and ask about their great-grandparents and what it was like for them, you might let them see what The War was all about.

You should also check out the Veterans' History Project, if you are interested in contributing to the annals of history.

The War - A Film By Ken Burns and Lynn Novick The War - A Film By Ken Burns and Lynn Novick
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Description

Creating epic documentaries about war is nothing new for Ken Burns, nor is the subject of the Second World War, which never ceases to be a popular subject of films and TV shows. Yet with The War, Burns has definitely succeeded in breaking new ground, exploring in depth the effect of the war on common Americans, and not just the soldiers of The Greatest Generation that fought it...

DVD Information

Binding: DVD
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audience Rating: PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned)
Brand: PBS
Manufacturer: PBS
Original Release Date:
Actors:

Features

  • Brand Name: PUBLIC BROADCASTING SERVICE Mfg#: 00017017
  • Shipping Weight: 0.90 lbs
  • Manufacturer:
  • Genre: Television: PBS
  • All music products are properly licensed and guaranteed authentic.

Reviews

Customer Reviews
Average Customer Review

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very real history of World War II, masterfully presented., April 29, 2016
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Simply put, this series should be required viewing for anyone who is too young to remember World War II or who wasn't born until after World War II. Likely no other single set of events so completely changed the world and set it--for better and worse--on the course it is on today. Sadly, few people beyond the Greatest Generation really know and understand what World War II was about. Worse yet, that ignorance has us poised to repeat a lot of the same mistakes that led to that catastrophic war.

The War captures nearly every nuance that occurred in those tumultuous years, and does that especially well with the personal recollections from ordinary people caught up in the war. Unlike so many World War II histories, this one is not some glorifying, propagandizing, sanitized recount of events. It shows, often in gruesome and bloody detail that can be outright uncomfortable, the mistakes, miscalculations, brutalities, and horror that occurs in the "fog of war." The... Read more
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You owe it to yourself and your ancestors to watch this., August 14, 2015
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Hands down the best documentary regarding World War II that I have ever seen, or may ever see. Prior to watching The War, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of WWII; by the end, I came to realize I had no idea what it was like, and what my grandparents and great-grandparents went through. That is the power of this series - it steps away from the strict historical retelling of what happened where to give you an idea of what was going on here at home. I found myself simultaneously heartbroken, horrified, and uplifted, and definitely changed in some way by this series. Never happened to me before; the only regret I have is not watching this sooner in my life.

The only thing I found missing was more in-depth coverage of the holocaust aspect of the war, but that is more a part of the European history of that time, and is certainly covered in detail in dozens of other documentaries. I'm not sure I could have taken it anyway. A recommendation would be to avoid... Read more
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5.0 out of 5 stars A powerfully moving account of the war told in vivid, first person detail. Highly, highly recommended, December 10, 2016
By 
Carolina Dad (North Carolina) - See all my reviews
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Alternatively moving, horrifying, funny, and tragic, this powerful account of the war brings the experience of WW2 into sharp focus through the vivid recollections and words of people from four small American towns. The spare, unpretentious authenticity of the stories told here in direct and unadorned language can be almost unbearably heartrending at times, but the film's greatest gift is its own transparency - you almost forget you are watching a film, so engrossing and etched in granular detail are the vignettes. Mr. Burns and his team unfailingly treat the subject matter and the speakers themselves with dignity and respect, even when drawing forth painful or brutal memories from those dark, dark times. An incredible experience, and highly recommended.

Just as an advisory note, especially for parents: there is no sugarcoating here, so be advised that certain passages recounting episodes of particular brutality can be very hard to watch.
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The War (2007) Chris

Summary: I can't help but think how many other stories and accounts have been lost, and putting this 14+ hours on film with this mere fraction of those accounts.... It's a piece that should be put up on a shelf, and when your kids are older, and ask about their great-grandparents and what it was like for them, you might let them see what The War was all about.

4.5


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About the Author

I've been watching war movies for probably 25 years now. Since December 2006 I've been sharing my habit and passion for these movies here on this site.



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