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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 (1,276 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 (1,276 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000068UY9
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #131,989 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
508 of 522 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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138 of 141 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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163 of 172 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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82 of 85 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
4.0 out of 5 stars I like it
Good to see it again.
Published 1 day ago by Mary C. Herrmann
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
wow
Published 3 days ago by R. Bradley Borngraber
5.0 out of 5 stars and the tariffs were back breaking while the North enjoyed no such...
I was mesmerized by the whole series. Yes, there are some facts that are sadly missing, but had the addition(s) been added it may have been a case of "too much information"... Read more
Published 3 days ago by Michael J. Berglin
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome
Awesome
Published 3 days ago by Michael Hornbeck
5.0 out of 5 stars The most comprehensive and well edited history of the Civil ...
The most comprehensive and well edited history of the Civil War there is. If you missed school when this was on - here you go!
Published 3 days ago by Klaus Knuth
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Stuff
Great information, a little slow often, and is just dated in technology at this point. BUT a great primer on the Civil War and it's impact.
Published 5 days ago by Allen Ritchie
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
"Absolutely the best Civil War documentary."
Published 5 days ago by Roger Decker
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
I'm fascinated by the Civil War and this documentary is one I could watch over and over again!
Published 7 days ago by fatciv
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent presentation by Ken Burns. A must to stuidy the Civil War.
Published 9 days ago by Yvette M. Pruett
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Another ken burns masterpiece
Published 9 days ago by Home owner/Real estate investor
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