Ken Burns app pans and zooms onto iPad

Alas, it's not the complete library of the filmmaker's fascinating documentaries, but rather a curated collection of clips.

The good news: The Ken Burns app is really cool. The bad news: It's all clips.
The good news: The Ken Burns app is really cool. The bad news: It's all clips. Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

How do you like your documentaries? Heavy on narration, interviews, and pan-and-zoom photos? Then you're probably a fan of Ken Burns.

The filmmaker has lent his signature visual storytelling style to a wide range of subjects, bringing to life everything from baseball and the Civil War to the Dust Bowl and Prohibition.

Now, he's dipping a toe into the app world. Ken Burns for iPad offers a curated collection of clips from his various films. And while it may be disappointing that you don't get the full Burns library, it's still an interesting and educational tool for history and documentary buffs.

The app offers three views for interacting with the material. Film view is a chronologically ordered scrolling list of Burns' movies; tapping any title brings up a selection of clips from that movie.

Theme view divides everything into six main categories: Art, Hard Times, Innovation, Politics, Race, and War, the idea being to give you a snapshot of history that includes clips from multiple films.

Finally, there's the Timeline, which starts in 1776 and ends in the 2000s. As you scroll through it, you can tap any bubble -- The Vote, The Great Pacific Railway, Women's Suffrage, and so on -- to watch the corresponding clip. You can also pinch to zoom in on the timeline, which amps up the horizontal scrolling effect.

Indeed, this is a very pretty, nicely designed app. And it includes a variety of exclusive material from Burns himself, mostly expanding on the included content or putting it in context. However, you get only about 30 minutes' worth of material for free, by way of the Innovation theme, which is included. If you want to unlock all the app's content (over three hours total), it'll cost you $9.99 by way of in-app purchase.

For anyone who likes Burns' films and/or history, that's probably money well spent. Of course, as evidenced by tapping "Watch the Film" for many of the titles in Film view, you can stream a lot of them in their entirety on Netflix. Much as I'm a fan of Burns' work and the overall presentation of this app, I think the price of admission should include the complete films, not just clips. Your thoughts?

 

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