America’s Greatest Generation Gets the Ken Burns Treatment in Reverential WWII Documentary
Emmy Award-winner Ken Burns must be considered something of an American institution, given his string of reliably first-rate PBS documentaries on such subjects of historical and cultural interest as Jazz, Baseball, The Civil War, Jack Johnson and Mark Twain. The Brooklyn-born filmmaker’s deliberately-paced programs are each marked by a somber voiceover combined with a trademark flair for animating whatever photographs and file footage is available from the relevant era.
His latest offering, The War, was six years in the making and is co-directed by Lynn Novick. Recounting the U.S. involvement in World War II from 1941 to 1945, the show is narrated by eleven thespians, but primarily by the readily-recognizable vocal phrasings of stentorian-throated Keith David and humble everyman Tom Hanks.
The show specifically focuses on the contributions and sacrifices of citizens from four cities: Waterbury, Connecticut; Mobile, Alabama; Sacramento, California; and Luverne, Minnesota. The idea is that this quartet of typical towns are supposed to serve as a representative cross-section of American society.
Mixing wistful reminiscences of now elderly survivors with scenes of fighting and bombing shot back in the Forties, Burns and Novick attempt to weave an edge of your seat tale by bouncing back and forth between the nation’s domestic tranquility and its bloody frontline action. The film’s only flaw is that the handful of folks picked as protagonists here aren’t all that compelling, their drawls and distinctive regional accents notwithstanding.
WWII hyper-romanticized by revered representatives of America’s rapidly-disappearing Greatest Generation.
Very good (3 stars)
Running time: 840 minutes
Studio: PBS Home Video
DVD Extras: Commentary by directors Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, deleted scenes, additional interviews, biographies, photo gallery, educational resources and “The Making of” featurette.