Ken Burns Disappoints?

I had eagerly awaited the first installment of Ken Burns documentary on WWII.  While it was fine, it undershot my expectations.  My expectations may be affected by the fact that, unlike the Civil War or other topics he has addressed, WWII has been done to death by documentaries.  It may also be that WWII is so sprawling, its hard to get a handle on in his timeframe.  After all, his series will be much shorter than the classic World at War and even than his own series on Baseball.

As with the Civil War, I thought the focus on a few American cities and the impact of the war worked pretty well.  However, I found the narrator (Keith David) for this particular series sleep inducing, particularly after David McCullough in the Civil War did such an outstanding job (and he was not even a professional "voice") and after the incredible cast of voice-overs in that same series.  Also, the organization seemed bizarre.  Around the 2 hour mark, they seemed to be clearly wrapping up the first episode, with summaries of dead and injured in the first part of the war.  But then all of a sudden they grafted on a short segment about Latinos and the marine raider battalion on Guadalcanal, and even a little snippet about Bougainville.  And then it just ended suddenly.  Made zero sense to me.


  1. Dan:

    I think that latino bit got stuck on there after the fact, in response to pressure groups. Ken Burns is dependent on PBS, tax-funded television is dependent on politicians, politicians are dependent on interest groups, and interest groups demand their due.

    Ahhh, here it is:

    In the intervening years, Rivas-Rodriguez has become a watchdog for these men and women. If a memorial ceremony in Washington excludes Latino vets, she calls the organizer and offers to put them in touch with a few. When she heard that Ken Burns, America's premier documentarian, had made a 15-hour production that didn't include a single Latino veteran, she demanded to know why.

    She called his publicist and met with officials at PBS, which began airing the seven-part documentary, The War, Sunday. They told her the film had been edited and there was nothing they could do.

    Burns explained publicly at the time that Hispanic veterans simply had not sought him out.

    "We could not have told the story of the Second World War if we burdened ourselves with seeking every single group," the Associated Press quoted him as saying recently.

    After a maelstrom of letters and complaints, spurred largely by Rivas-Rodriguez, the filmmaker went back and added interviews with Latino vets, along with an account from an American Indian.

  2. The Charters Of Dreams:

    I too think "The War" was excellent, and I ran into this essay that I think makes a great point about how Iran is not an imminent crisis by comparing Iran to the threat that the Axis Powers presented to the west in the 1940's as documented by Ken Burn's "The War:"