The War and Ken Burns

Some quick observations on the first episode of “The War” on PBS. There were several moments of brilliance … but an equal number of dull lapses. The opening hour was a big let down. SO much time devoted to establishing the four communities central to the story … a cliche riddled bore-fest.

The stories from the men sent to battle as teenagers were poignant and honest. The harrowing tales from Bataan and Guadalcanal an eyeopener for me … especially since the truth of what happened there was hidden for so long. Curiously, Pearl Harbor was dealt with almost as an afterthought.

Ken Burns is a wonderful storyteller, but the skills that made just about every frame of “The Civil War” unmissable, seem to have failed him here. Is it the overabundance of material? Too much film? Too many still photos? Too much of the story already documented? Hard to say. In “The Civil War” actors brought the words of those long dead back to life. In “The War” we have the actual testimony from the people who lived it. These are regular folks for the most part, not performers, and though their words carry a true power, they are often delivered in a matter-of-fact manner … almost like they’ve told the story too many times. The exception for me was the Japanese-American woman telling the painful story of her families sudden internment. The hurt, confusion, and betrayal flooding back.

I wouldn’t miss this series for the world, but I’m hoping it gets better as we go along. Burns deserves our time as he pulls his epic together.

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