Hailed as a film masterpiece and landmark in historical storytelling, Ken Burns's epic documentary brings to life America's most destructive-- and defining--conflict. With digitally enhanced images and new stereo sound, here is the saga of celebrated generals and ordinary soldiers, a heroic and transcendent president and a country that had to divide itself in two in order to become one.
The most successful public-television miniseries in American history, the 11-hour Civil War
didn't just captivate a nation, reteaching to us our history in narrative terms; it actually also invented a new film language taken from its creator. When people describe documentaries using the "Ken Burns approach," its style is understood: voice-over narrators reading letters and documents dramatically and stating the writer's name at their conclusion, fresh live footage of places juxtaposed with still images (photographs, paintings, maps, prints), anecdotal interviews, and romantic musical scores taken from the era he depicts. The Civil War
uses all of these devices to evoke atmosphere and resurrect an event that many knew only from stale history books. While Burns is a historian, a researcher, and a documentarian, he's above all a gifted storyteller, and it's his narrative powers that give this chronicle its beauty, overwhelming emotion, and devastating horror. Using the words of old letters, eloquently read by a variety of celebrities, the stories of historians like Shelby Foote and rare, stained photos, Burns allows us not only to relearn and finally understand our history, but also to feel and experience it. --Dave McCoy
On the DVD
The DVD features on The Civil War provide a wealth of insight, creative philosophy, historical perspective, and educational enjoyment. Twelve years after its premiere broadcast, the film was given a digital facelift, sharpening image clarity, correcting color, and enriching its soundtrack with a remastered 5.1-channel mix, as demonstrated in the "Civil War Reconstruction" featurette. In interviews from 2002, producer-director Ken Burns, historian Shelby Foote, journalist George Will, author Stanley Crouch, and composer-musicians Jay Ungar and Molly Mason reflect upon The Civil War's enduring significance. And Burns's eloquent commentary--selectively included on each disc and totaling five hours--illuminates the historical importance and creative impulse behind crucial chapters of the film. Fifty-seven onscreen biography cards detail important North, South, and civilian figures, and two 1990 featurettes—"Making History" and "A Conversation with Ken Burns"--provide a more personal perspective on the creation of this extraordinary film. Useful for both personal and academic study, these features stand as a fitting supplement to one of the greatest documentaries ever produced. --Jeff Shannon