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Under the Radar

Reassessing The Civil War

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Since 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, PBS wants everyone to take another look at the network's signature documentary directed by Ken Burns.

Trying to review The Civil War is a lot like figuring out a way to review Mount Rushmore or the Washington Monument: it's become such a part of our collective experience that it might be the definitive history documentary of all time.

Originally broadcast in 1991, the film perfected the style and tone that's dominated PBS programs like American Experience and American Masters for the last two decades. Burns' elegiac tone and the slow panning and zooming over stationary images have become the standard-issue style for history documentaries.

The Civil War definitely holds up. If you don't like it or at least respect the accomplishment, you're never going to like anything else paid for with public broadcasting money.

Since there's no Blu-ray version of this new release, the hook is a new sixth bonus disc that includes never-before-seen archival interviews with Shelby Foote, a new interview with Ken Burns where he talks about the film's influence on American filmmaking and new interviews with George Will and Stanley Crouch where they discuss how their participation in the film impacted their lives. There's also a 16-page booklet that includes an essay from Burns and a timeline of important dates from the Civil War.

Should you spend your money on this one? If you've never seen it or owned a copy on DVD, this set adds some value to the older versions that are still floating around to buy online. If they didn't put out a Blu-ray this time, odds are there won't be one coming any time soon. If you've got a copy already, then it's a lot of money to drop for 100 minutes of new material.

The Civil War is also showing again on PBS this month and you also stream it on demand if you've got Amazon Prime.

 

 

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