The War Ken Burns and Lynn Novick

The War Ken Burns and Lynn Novick

Ken Burns’s latest epic series focuses on the Second World War, personifying a period so harrowing that it seems almost incomprehensible. Historians will undoubtedly regard The War as the most devastating medium to ever chronicle the United States’ role in WWII. As they suggest in commentaries and special features, Burns and Lynn Novick combed through thousands of hours of footage, an equal number of photographs, and interviewed hundreds of survivors to bring "the greatest cataclysm in history” to life over 15 hours and seven episodes. From footage of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour to aerial dogfights, ground war battles and brutal P.O.W. camps, it’s a spellbinding array of images. In a comprehensive "making of” featurette, Burns and Novick reveal that, after the film was essentially cut together in its present form, they spent a whole year adding sound effects (i.e., gun fire, explosions, soldiers running, etc.) to the silent military footage. They describe various methods employed to conjure the wartime spirit, such as having actors like Tom Hanks appear in the narration, voicing actual letters and news articles of the time. Jazz fan Burns enjoys collaborating with Wynton Marsalis on the film’s soundtrack as well, creating music that’s equally fresh and timeless. The experience of WWII is filtered through four American communities, each of which sent men to fight, leaving exasperated family and friends behind to contribute to the effort in other ways. Citizens and veterans from Alabama, Connecticut, California and Minnesota alluringly recount horrible ordeals and losses suffered, as well as the emergence of an unprecedented collective social and racial consciousness, and industrial acumen, where life as it was once known simply stopped and then changed forever. In one commentary track, Novick recalls how Katharine Phillips, sister of veteran Sidney Phillips, refused to marry until her brother returned home safely. She was also embarrassed because the patriotic fervour of the war affected her love life; Novick reveals that, for a time, Phillips was only attracted to men in uniform. While these trivial tales reveal how the war affected people in myriad ways, there are occasions where the schmaltz is laid on a bit thick, distracting from the narrative somewhat. With its extremes of heroism and pure evil, iconic protagonists and awe-inspiring strategies, WWII is inherently the greatest story of the 20th Century. In bringing lesser-known personal accounts to light, The War is a noble, invaluable educational resource and a generally breathtaking, insightful documentary. Plus: deleted scenes, additional interviews, biographies, resources. (Paramount)