Ken Burns' Vietnam War Is 'Required Viewing'

Critic calls 18-hour series a 'masterpiece'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 15, 2017 10:47 AM CDT

A decade in the making, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's documentary series, The Vietnam War, premieres on PBS Sunday, but it's already gaining quite the reputation among critics. The 18-hour documentary, told in 10 episodes, digs deep into the conflict, meshing first-person interviews with historical footage. Then it goes beyond since, for many, 1973 didn't mean the end of suffering. Here's what the critics are saying:

  • James Poniewozik at the New York Times says it "will break your heart and win your mind." Given the subject matter, it's no surprise he found it "wearying." It's "probably Mr. Burns' saddest film," he writes. But it presents a "staggering" amount of material and powerful oral histories.
  • Some 80 interviewees "offer a glimpse into the psyches of people on all sides of the conflict," writes Sonia Saraiya at Variety. It can be disorienting, but "disorientation in the midst of multiple national histories and conflicting personal agendas is, in a nutshell, the experience of the Vietnam War."
  • At CNN, Brian Lowry calls The Vietnam War "a masterpiece" that "humanizes what was often a faceless enemy." Another strength: its ability to show "the ripples from the war still being felt today."

  • It may be long, but it's "worth every single minute of your time," writes Hank Stuever at the Washington Post, calling it "required viewing." Not only will you experience "terror, horror, disbelief, discovery, disgust, marvel, pride, ambivalence and tears," but "you'll lose count of how many times you'll have to pick your jaw up off the floor."
  • Though "very little that's said feels dangerous, controversial or exposed from our perspective," The Vietnam War is remarkable, beautiful, repetitive, frustrating, assaulting, and "nightmarish"—and "it's impossible to look away," writes Daniel Fienberg at the Hollywood Reporter.
  • Adds Ed Siegel at the ARTery, "It's not easy and it's certainly not fun, but Ken Burns and Lynn Novick know how to make history dramatic, how to make television riveting, and how to tell the country's story in a way that really defines what American exceptionalism is all about."
(More documentary stories.)

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