Master documentarian Ken Burns runs the gamut of the Great American Pastime from rugged sport through immortal myth in this exhaustive 18.5-hour documentary presented in Burns’ now-trademark (and often hypnotic) style that mixes archival photographs, film footage and interviews, all set to the dulcet tones of narrator and former NBC Nightly News anchor John Chancellor. Perhaps inevitably, the documentary is only fitfully interesting and entertaining, though no one can ever accuse Burns of not doing his homework (and a lot of it); the real pleasure here is the structure, as the film is presented as a series of nine chapters, or “innings” (Netflix also includes the two-part 2010 follow-up chapter, The 10th Inning) that cover a particular era in time, with each one containing a prologue that closes with a period-specific rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” (the “inning” covering the ’20s has it performed on piano; the ’60s features a version performed by Jimi Hendrix). As always, Burns completely immerses himself in his subject matter but keeps any and all opinions to himself (for the most part), making Ken Burns: Baseball a near-encyclopedic saga through which the viewer can learn just where the sport came from, where it’s been and where it’s going — and enjoy some pretty incredible ball game footage, at that. Originally released in 1994, this is Burns’ ninth documentary of a to-date total of 20 over the course of 30 years, making him one of the genre’s most prolific MVPs.
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