True, The Civil War, Ken Burns’ sweeping panorama of America’s 19th-century schism, seems a little less innovative 12 years later. But that’s only because his once-distinctive technique — textually, a deft enmeshing of hard fact and intimate reflection encompassing military, political, and cultural history; visually, a strangely dynamic capturing of static imagery with contemplative panning and zooming — has since been adopted as the TV-documentary norm.
That form is married to a Promethean body of content, summoning photographs, drawings, diaries, speeches, articles, and testimonials from modern-day analysts to tell the war’s heartbreaking story. Burns devotees will probably find the biggest jackpot among the discs’ special features in his deconstruction of the process in a handful of audio commentaries on select chapters. And if ”The Civil War”’s insidious soundtrack of tinkling piano, yearning fiddle, and down-home guitar has stamped itself on the collective consciousness, the 11-hour epic itself plays like a sepia-toned symphony of glory and carnage.