It hardly seems necessary for Ken Burns to attach his name so prominently to this film, because it is so immediately obvious to anyone who has watched any of his other documentaries, especially “The Civil War”. He has a distinctive “look” to his productions, which is obvious to the point of being easily parodied; erudite and ponderously earnest narration, gorgeously restored vintage photography and film footage, all garnished by period music alternating with a plonkingly solemn piano. That being said, I watched it wondering why “The War” did not engage me to quite the same degree as did his “The Civil War”, or even the British documentary series which also dealt with World War 2, “The World at War”, which I watched as a college student when it was broadcast in the mid 1970s.

I think Mr. Burns’ focus on the reminiscing veterans and their families, and on recreating the lives of four American towns during that war still leaves watchers a trifle short-changed in understanding the World War Two. While the series is successful on those terms, in that anyone who watches all seven episodes will have an excellent idea of what wartime America was like, it still left me a little less than gripped by interest. The high peaks of fascination were few and far between, but they were there; Who knew that there were color home movies being made, in 1944? (Beautiful sequence in episode 3 of an outdoor wedding reception) Viewers will become acquainted with the various experiences of war veterans; not all of them male, and not all of them adult at the time by any means, as the reminiscences of a woman interned as a child with her family at Santo Tomas in the Philippines will attest.

You will be left with the impressions of the war in various theaters and in various years by the Americans who experienced it; interesting and moving to be sure, but a somewhat limited view. I felt the lack of some sober historian stepping in occasionally, and making strategic sense out of it all; it was all who, where and what, but disappointingly little “why”.

The six disc set is tastefully boxed, and includes a long feature on production of the series – always interesting, how these things are assembled, a commentary from Ken Burns on Disc 3, and a massive and generous collection of deleted scenes and interviews, biographies – from which I fled, screaming. I would advise anyone purchasing the series to not try and watch it all at once.

“The War” is available at, and from other retail outlets.

Sgt. Mom is a freelance writer living in San Antonio, who blogs at The Daily Brief. Her most recent book, “To Truckee’s Trail” is available here. More about her other books is at her literary website,

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