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The Civil War - A Film by Ken Burns (1990)

David McCullough , Sam Waterston  |  NR |  DVD
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,203 customer reviews)


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The Civil War: A Film By Ken Burns
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Product Details

  • Actors: David McCullough, Sam Waterston, Julie Harris, Jason Robards, Morgan Freeman
  • Format: Box set, Black & White, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 5
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Pbs Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: September 17, 2002
  • Run Time: 680 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,203 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000068UY9
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #68,558 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Civil War - A Film by Ken Burns" on IMDb

Special Features

  • "Behind the Scenes: The Civil War Reconstruction"
  • Additional interviews with Ken Burns, Shelby Foote, George Will, and Stanley Crouch
  • 57 on-screen biography cards
  • Battlefield maps
  • Civil War Challenge (trivia)
  • "Ken Burns: Making History" (featurette)
  • "A Conversation with Ken Burns" (featurette)

Editorial Reviews

Additional Features

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

Product Description

Fourteen million Americans were captivated by this moving PBS series from award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns. Powerfully told through letters, diaries, war dispatches, and newspapers of the period, this epic takes you from the first shots at Fort Sumter to Lincoln's assassination. 1990; CC, b&w and color, 11 hours on 5 DVDs. Boxed. Simon says: Supplying your own horse garnered enlisted men a daily payment of 50 cents, which today would be approximately $9.50.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
499 of 513 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One Of The Best Documentaries Ever Made August 9, 2005
Format:DVD
There aren't too many productions from television that one can call "noble," but Ken Burns' The Civil War qualifies. Burns uses photographs, music, speech, maps and historical context to tell the story of the second most formative event in the nation's history. And since in those days people wrote...diaries, letters, journals...there is the written record not just of the great leaders, the politicians and generals, but of the wives and sweethearts, the nurses and doctors, newspaper editors and farmers. Most of all there are the words of the soldiers. Burns shows the importance and the sweep of the war, but in part he does it through the lives of average people caught up in events they may not have completely comprehended, but which they believed in.

If the words themselves have power, so do the voices. Burns recruited great voices, some actors, some not, to speak the words, distinctive voices that give great resonance to what we see. Julie Harris as Mary Chestnut, Charlie McDowell, a Virginia reporter, as Sam Watkins, Arthur Miller as William Sherman, Jason Robards as Grant, Studs Terkel as Benjamin Butler, Sam Waterston as Lincoln, and many others. He has David McCullough as the narrator. McCullough, an outstanding historian and writer, does a wonderful job. Burns also uses a number of historians to underline key points. Foremost, in my view, is Shelby Foote. Foote is the author of the epic three-volume Civil War. With his Southern accent, common sense and soft irony, he's a fascinating raconteur.

The program is never dry or dull. It is gripping and emotional. Both sides felt they were fighting for a pure cause.
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135 of 138 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The greatest documentary ever made! April 5, 2011
Format:DVD
I first saw this on PBS and was spellbound by it. It is simply everything you need to know about the American Civil War. If you think history is dry and uninteresting, this film by Ken Burns will change your mind. This is filled with comedy and pathos, courage and cowardice, and a balanced explanation that is fair to both sides of the conflict.

Burns used well-known actors to read the diaries and writings of both famous people (Grant, Lee, Lincoln) and average persons and soldiers. It gives one a well-rounded view of both sides. I am in awe of the writings of that time--the people had an incredibly, descriptive way of writing; a command of the English language that has sadly been lost in modern times.

Burns also used still photographs, panning across them, giving the audience the feel of watching an actual movie of the time. That technique has since been adopted by other documentaries.

I've seen the series many times, and each time find something more. If nothing else, see it for Shelby Foot--a writer/historian who speaks about Robert E. Lee, and others, like he personally knew them. Fascinating from beginning to end!
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160 of 169 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ken Burns Best January 1, 2005
Format:DVD
Ken Burns has established himself as one of the greats in terms of historical documentaries. The Civil War is Mr. Burns' greatest work. The attention to detail brings the history to life. Mr. Burns does an excellent job of bringing humanity to the tragic time in America. With the use of solder's and family letters it is evident what a difficult time it was to be an American. Originally aired on PBS in September of 1990, nearly fifteen years later the series remains the ultimate narrative about the United States darkest time.

The series is finally released on DVD. While the price is a little high the amazing quality of the series makes the cost very reasonable. Ken Burns' Civil War is required for any Civil War historian's collection. The series is also a great way for those wishing to learn more about the Civil War. I would recommend this to anyone that loves historical documentaries. It does not get any better than The Civil War - A Film by Ken Burns.
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80 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can I give it More than 5 stars? October 31, 2002
Format:DVD
I remember watching this documentary by Ken Burns when it first appeared on PBS in 1990. It started my lifelong interest in the Civil War. Countless books and trips to battlefields later, it still stands as the finest general work on the war ever made.
The story of the war is told through pictures, narratives, and the unobtrusive narration by David McCoulough, who's voice is pitch pefect for the job. Never before have photos had such a dramatic effect in telling a story. They say a picture says a thousand words, and this series prove that maxim correct. The five discs cover the 5 years of the war, and the 9 parts of teh series. The most effective are "1861: The Cause", "1863: The Universe of Battle", and "1865: The Better Angels of our Nature". They cover the events that led up to the war, the turining points at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, and the end and aftermath of the war. Each is suprememly emotional. One episode intersperses an old narrative from the daughter of a former slave as she remembers her father's stories. Shelby Foote, author of the most comprehensive book on the war, offers invaluable advice. High praise must also go to Sam Waterston, who voices Abraham Lincoln. In the final segment of the 1863 disc, Waterston recites the Gettysburg Address, and I must admit it brought me to tears.
The music is also a key factor to the success of the film. Burns went back and found the old music that was popular among the people and the soldiers, both North & South during the war. It is moving, from the haunting opening music, to the old spirituals that are found on disc 2's "1862: Forever Free".
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Unparalleled
If there is any documentary more splendidly evocative of the Civil War, from the broad strokes to the personal stories and funny asides, I'd love to hear about it. Read more
Published 1 day ago by Read A Book
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good documentary about a major part of American history!
Overall Ken Burns The Cival War documentary is excellent. It covers the majority of the large scale battles and the aftermath. Read more
Published 1 day ago by kelly Groce
5.0 out of 5 stars Ken Burns at his best! 10 hours of transportation
Ken Burns at his best! 10 hours of transportation. Being a fan of history and great story telling it doesn't get better than this.
Published 1 day ago by Chase Ripperdan
5.0 out of 5 stars Have watched several times.
Ken Burns knocks it out of the park....again! A must for any American: gripping and honest.
Published 1 day ago by MtnHouse Jan
5.0 out of 5 stars Brings out all the senses while you watch
For those who Love American history this is the ultimate examination of the Civil War. Shelbe Foote does not receive the credit due him for his witty, quiet remarks.
Published 1 day ago by William Madden
5.0 out of 5 stars MUST WATCH!
Very informative. Love all the old pictures and videos. And you cant go wrong with Morgan Freeman!
Published 2 days ago by ACEwv
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Greatest thing ever put on film
Published 2 days ago by david. timothy hess
5.0 out of 5 stars Ken Burns sets the standard for Civil War documentaries
Ken Burns The Civil War is without a doubt one of the best if not the best films of its type. The only other person who took such an unbiased look at the four years of our... Read more
Published 4 days ago by David S. Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellant introduction to the American Civil War. Knowing our history helps to understand our present and plan our future.
Published 4 days ago by James Nethery
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Watch For All Americans
A very moving telling of the causes and affects of the American civil war. One disturbing attribute of Americans is our ease at killing each other.
Published 5 days ago by Glen
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The Civil War Mini Series by Ken Burns
I would say it would be rated PG. The series was originally shown on television, so there is no swearing beyond the words "hell" or "damn." There is liberal use of the "N" word, so a parental conversation about the context of its use would definitely be necessary.... Read More
Dec 17, 2010 by 27oranges |  See all 3 posts
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