History Channel // 2009 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // August 29th, 2009
Sun Tzu's legendary victory manual comes to life.
Featuring a surprisingly accessible and coherent look at Sun Tzu's career and legacy, Art of War is a stunning documentary, marred only by the creator's insistence that Sun Tzu's military brilliance somehow gives him the foresight to predict the outcome of any battle.
Without question, Sun Tzu's classic manual for battle has become the most influential guide to warfare in history. It is still used in war, politics and business all around the world. This documentary covers Sun Tzu's own military career, and uses it as a metaphor in several modern battles: The Tet Offensive in Vietnam, The Normandy Invasion, and the Battle of Gettysburg.
Sometimes, The Art of War is treated almost like a sacred text. The way it's gained traction in the business world, it's quite possible that a lot of people take it altogether too seriously. That said, his rules and guidelines do seem to predict the outcomes of many conflicts, even with completely different military technology.
Without question, this is what Art of War covers the best. The segments on Vietnam, The Normandy Invasion, and The American Civil War are a great demonstration of how Sun Tzu's principles are still relevant thousands of years later. It seems, almost without fail, that whichever side of a conflict that best uses Sun Tzu's principles of deception, tactics, and timings will always come out victorious.
At the same time, the show all but states that Sun Tzu would be able to predict the outcome of any conflict. This seems a little over the top to me. While I wouldn't want to lead an army against Sun Tzu, the main thing that this documentary demonstrates is that creativity in tactics wins out over brute force in any military conflict. Sun Tzu isn't the only tactician that understood these ideas, and many western generals were using the same tactics long before they had heard of The Art of War or the famed Chinese general. This doesn't invalidate any of the film's content, but it's important to remember that Sun Tzu was not a mystical Nostradamus figure -- he was just a brilliant general who wrote his ideas down.
The DVD is decent, but lacks the high level of quality it could have. The feature is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. While the image quality doesn't show any errors or flaws, the lower resolution does have a negative impact on overall detail and clarity. With so much motion in the created war footage, this has severe impact for viewers with widescreen televisions. The sound is in stereo, which is good enough for the interview and narration. The disc has no special features.
For those who want to explore the tactics and ideas of Sun Tzu in great detail, there are much better ways to do it. If, however, you are fascinated by military tactics and want to explore how The Art of War still has an impact on battlefields today, Art of War will be much more pleasing. For those who have never studied Sun Tzu's classic work, this documentary is a compelling, competent, and relevant introduction.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated