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Featured TV on DVD Review: The War

May 13th, 2012

The War - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

I previously reviewed a previous release of Ken Burns' documentary, The War. Although it is a difficult mini-series to review, as calling it a, "Ken Burns' documentary" is not only a description, it is also a review in itself. If you know Ken Burns' style, you know exactly what you are getting with this film. But how well will it make the transition to high definition? That's the important question.

The Show

I'm not going to go over the plot in a lot of detail, as it's a documentary about World War II, so everyone here reading this should at least know the basics about what the series covers. Going into specific stories will only spoil things. I will note that it deals with America's experience in World War II, so it begins in 1941. The show not only focuses on the American experience in World War II, but it focuses on four small towns and how they were effected by the war, so it has a personal feel to it. It also uses the Ken Burns' style, also known as the Ken Burns Effect. Fans of his work know what I'm talking about. He takes still images and zooms in and pans across in order to show movement in what would otherwise be extended static shots.

I've previously reviewed Baseball, Civil War, and Prohibition. All four have very similar styles and all four are of similar quality. I would rank The War as number one, even though a lot of people consider The Civil War as the best. This could be because I'm Canadian, so The Civil War doesn't have as much emotional impact for me as it would for Americans. If you don't already own the TV mini-series, it is absolutely worth picking up. But is it worth paying extra for the Blu-ray?

The Extras

I've got good news and bad news. The bad news is that there are no additional extras on the Blu-ray. The good news is that there were a lot of extras on the DVD, so this seven-disc set is still loaded. There are audio commentary tracks on a couple scenes, an extensive making of featurette, deleted scenes, and extended interviews. All of the extras have strong replay value.

The technical presentation is mixed, but that's to be expected. Interviews and scenes shot specifically for the documentary tend to look great, but there is a lot of archival footage here that is really showing its age. Additionally, there are times when we zoom into still photographs where the grain is excessive. Not only that, but sometimes the grain even dances around, which can be distracting. Fortunately, these incidences are rare and overall, the Blu-ray represents quite a jump in video quality. The audio is, strangely and unfortunately, not a lossless track. It does have more activity in the surround sound speakers than a lot of documentaries have, including some dynamic effects and an active subwoofer, and it is an improvement over the DVD, but I'm at a loss to explain why they didn't go with a lossless track.

As for the price, the list price is the same for both the DVD and the Blu-ray; however, has the DVD at a much, much deeper discount.

The Verdict

The War is absolutely worth owning, there's no doubt in my mind about that. However, the Blu-ray is currently twice as much as the DVD is on That's too much to ask for for this type of release. I would recommend holding off on the Blu-ray till the discount is a little lower. On the other hand, if you haven't made the leap to high definition and you don't own the DVD, now is the perfect time to grab it.

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