October 12, 2007
I somehow got myself inducted into the PBS Viewer Advisory Group, which means they send me surveys about shows now and then. I once got to preview a PBS program on DVD. This time they asked about The War, the latest documentary by Ken Burns. The Civil War is one of the best documentaries of all time. But his latest effort? Not so much. Here's what I told them:
The framing device is limiting and cloyingly sentimental. The narration is unfocused and often condescending. Important stuff is left out, and some of the material is plain wrong. (Burns apparently didn't watch "Hitler's Sunken Secret" on NOVA.) The thesis of the whole thing seemed to be: the U.S. military is run by idiots. Why not just play 15 hours of Tokyo Rose tapes?
Most of the material is covered more thoroughly on other PBS documentaries, such as "Victory in the Pacific" on The American Experience and "Sinking the Supership" on NOVA. KUED's Utah WWII Stories is ten times better. Failing to mention the Doolittle Raid and the battle of Taffy 3 in a full-length WWII documentary only signals contempt for honest-to-God heroism.
In a revealing fit of psychological projection, baby-boomer Burns simply couldn't hide how he really feels about the "Greatest Generation": "You SOBs don't deserve all that praise and I know it."