'Ken Burns: Cancer, The Emperor of All Maladies'
(3-Disc Blu ray / NR / 2015 / PBS)
Overview: It is the longest running war in human history. Fought with razor-sharp scalpals, invisible rays, and lethal poisons, its battlegrounds are deep within the human cell. The story of the war on cancer spans centuries and continents. Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Siddhartha Mukherjee, tells the complete story of cancer, from its first appearance in the fossilized remains of dinosaurs to the gleaming laboratories of modern research institutions.
Blu ray Verdict: This incredible six hour documentary, once again from the always-impressive-to-detail Ken Burns, brings to us the complete story of cancer; from its first description in an ancient Egyptian scroll to the gleaming laboratories of modern research institutions. 'Ken Burns: Cancer, The Emperor of All Maladies' interweaves a sweeping historical narrative; with intimate stories about contemporary patients; and an investigation into the latest scientific breakthroughs that may have brought us, at long last, to the brink of lasting cures.
Sadly, and I bring this up now, not wanting to leave it as a footnote (hat you might never get to), narrator Edward Herrmann collapsed while recording his lines in the studio. It was around that same time that he exclusively revealed to the crew that he himself was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. He found it appropriate that his final performance should be in this film. Hermann completed his narration before dying December 31,2014.
Mukherjee's book, which Burns does an incredible job of bringing to the small screen, gives the history of cancer from its first identification 4,600 years ago by the Egyptian physician Imhotep. The Greeks had no understanding of cells, but they were familiar with hydraulics, so they used hydraulic metaphors, of humors, which were fluids whose proper balance, they believed, produced health and sickness.
Indeed, according to the documentary (and one assumes, also the book), cancer existed in silence in history until 440 BC, where the Greek historian Herodotus records the story of Atossa the queen of Persia and the daughter of Cyrus, who noticed a lump in her breast. The tumor was excised by her Greek slave named Demasitis, where the procedure is believed to be successful at least temporarily.
We further learn that in the 19th century, surgical approaches were developed to deal with tumors. William Halsted developed an aggressive, disfiguring breast surgery as a strategy for removing not only existing cancer cells but also places to which they might have spread.
Leukemia, a cancer of blood cells, was first observed by Rudolph Virchow, and Franz Ernst Christian Neumann localized the pathology to the bone marrow. Leukemia cells are dependent on the enzyme dihydrofolate reductase. Sidney Farber used molecules developed by Yellapragada Subbarow to block the enzyme and destroy the leukemia cells, producing a temporary remission in the disease.
This highly in depth, always impressive documentary, 'Ken Burns: Cancer, The Emperor of All Maladies' proceeds right on through to the latest research and therapies. Indeed, the book was described, by the magazine Time, as one of the 100 most influential books of the last 100 years, and by the New York Times magazine as among the 100 best works of non-fiction. This Ken Burns celluloid version will soon, I'm pretty sure, be garnering a whole host of other accolades. And rightfully so. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of: