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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, 2 Jan. 2014
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This review is from: Ken Burns - The Civil War Commemorative Edition [Region 2 UK Version] [DVD] (DVD)
We in the UK can be a bit sniffy about our cousins across the pond over some issues, and decent TV documentaries would be a case in point. I recall seeing a British film-maker, I forget who now, recalling with great exasperation the total disinterest in factual TV in the US, let alone in in-depth historical series, when he was attempting to raise funds there for a factual programme. However, we're dealing here with America's own domestic history, and no doubt that helped the Burns brothers get their film made.

I never saw the original series, so can't judge if this remastered version is a marked improvement or not. But I can certainly say that it's a terrifically engaging and rewarding study. At the time of writing we're two-thirds of the way thought the nine-episode series. There are six discs: five for the series, and a sixth with bonus materials. The episodes vary in lengths, ranging from about an hour, to over an hour and a half. According to the Wikipedia entry on the series total run-time is eleven hours and thirty minutes.

There are a number of very good aspects to the series: much use is made of actors voicing the words of the protagonists, and this is done very well (with such luminaries as Garrison Keillor, Kurt Vonnegut, Morgan Freeman, Jeremy Irons and even Derek Jacobi amongst the 'voice talent') - and there's much said that is poignant or witty, and sometimes even both; this was one of the first major wars to be heavily photographed, and the images are incredible, evoking an era that's almost Napoleonic and yet can seem almost contemporary via these amazing images; good use is made of attractive maps throughout the series; there are some very eloquent and interesting contemporary talking heads, with ACW buff Shelby Foote stealing the show with his erudite but avuncular mix of knowledge and southern charm.

The use of music and landscape in the series is extremely good, to the point that it is mesmerisingly seductive, which makes for very enjoyable viewing but might perhaps also sit somewhat oddly with the very macabre nature of the subject. Another clever ploy is that not only is there great reliance on first hand accounts, but they also 'follow' the fortunes of key players, ranging from the famous big guns, like Lincoln, Davis and generals Grant and Lee, etc., to the likes of such common soldiery as Sam Watkins (Confederate) Elisha Hunt Rhodes (Union), and 'the slave who stole himself', Frederick Douglass.

There are numerous points where, if you're anything like me, you might well be moved to tears, as when Sullivan Ballou writes to his wife not long before the first battle of Bull Run, or when you hear some of the stirring words spoken on the topic of the emancipation of the slaves. I might come back to this review and amend it once we finish the series, but so far, so very, very, very good indeed.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 22 Mar 2014, 18:36:04 GMT
It's a classic series one of the best I've seen astonishing in the detail with the music and photos making this essential to this turning point in American history. Also I'd recommend Ken Burns The West which is as good, heartbreaking history of the Native Indians.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Apr 2015, 23:15:16 BST
Thanks for the feedback. I'll definitely be exploring more of Burns' docs. I'm sure I'll get to The West (and thanks for the recommendation), but I might go for Jazz next... Best, Seb
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