I watched the first installment of The War, the documentary by Ken Burns, last night. It was, as is always the case with Burns, fascinating, well-done, and over-done. The first episode is two and a half hours long, mostly because of the tacked-on added footage saluting Latino soldiers. At first glance, I thought this was going to be more focused on the four towns Burns picked to add as back home backdrops for his multi-part series, Mobile, AL, Sacramento, CA, Waterbury, CT, and Luverne, MN. Those people in those small towns do humanize this entirely inhuman war, adding names, faces and personal stories to this sprawling epic. But Burns doesn't stint on the war coverage. The first part has a ton of footage, some of it horrifying, of the rev-up to war and the initial battles, especially in the Pacific.
The over-done part comes in the editing. While it's a fascinating, epic story, told wonderfully, it's too damn long. And beyond that, do we really need Norah Jones singing some kind of love theme to America? Burns at times personifies my personal mantra, which applies to so many things: just because you can, doesn't mean you should.
But my biggest gripe about The War has nothing to do with Ken Burns, it's with PBS. Once again, we have a multi-part series with no coherent broadcast schedule. Part of it is PBS's hippie-like, laissez-fare (or just plain lazy), allowance of letting local stations program what they want, when they want. Even this broadcast schedule at PBS.org is impossible to follow when it comes to figuring out which episode is first-run and when it first airs (not to mention that HD times are different than regular broadcast times). Would it kill them to mention first-run first with an additional listing tied to it that read "rebroadcast at..."? At the very least, could they number the episodes on the schedule? Burns tells us in each one which episode number it is.
One thing that (pleasantly) shocked me: just about everyone interviewed on camera seems way too young-looking to have been in World War II. Are we building better-looking, longer-lasting people these days?