16 February 2008


Overlong Gettysburg Still Worthy

By Kristin Battestella

The movie is almost as famous as the epic battle it portrays. With 4 hours of full of itself Civil War glory, Turner Pictures’ 1993 Gettysburg is still essential Civil War viewing.

Tom Berenger stars are Confederate General James Longstreet, and Martin Sheen is Robert E. Lee. For the Union we follow the 20th Maine and Colonel Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels), with moments from Turner staple Sam Elliot as General Buford and C. Thomas Howell as Chamberlain’s Brother Thomas. Many knowns and unknowns come and go as the historical players of the Union and The Confederacy during the detailed portrayal of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Gettysburg begins the night before the 1863 battle, takes us through the July 1-3 fight, and concludes with the fallout on the Fourth of July. The opening credits are long, but necessary. A historical photograph of each player is presented with a still of the actor in that role. This is immensely helpful simply for the amount of men to follow on both sides of the battle. Props also to director Ronald F. Maxwell for casting talented folks who look the part. Today, it would be a stretch to find actors with the talent and look enough for such an engrossed Civil War film. The closing credits also inform the audience as to what happens to the major players after the War.

Some of the dialogue and quiet moments in Gettysburg may seem out of place, over the top, and full of themselves. However, it is important for modern folks to remember they did really talk that way back then. Much of Sheen’s preachy speeches are from the papers of Lee. That’s one of the things that makes the Civil War so fascinating. We still have a lot of the first hand materials and research from the War to consider. On the other hand, some of the dialogue is also near soliloquies and obviously prophetic because we, almost 150 years later have all memorized the Gettysburg Address.

Although beautiful and heart strings worthy, the classical score of Gettysburg is also a bit too obvious. The heroic music makes its presence known every time something big is about to happen for either side. It’s a bit redundant. The fine performances and heavy movement onscreen speak for themselves.

It’s a shame that most of the folks who would sit down to watch Gettysburg are already historically minded and naturally know the outcome of the battle. I imagine it would be really something to watch the film ignorant. Southern commanders waver between the hopelessness of the battle to the pride and hopeful gentleman of Virginia. The Union is struggling with deserters and the tiredness of a war they thought would be over in a few months. For one who is unaware of the Union victory, the stirringly accurate Picket’s Charge is enough for anyone to cheer for the South. Based upon The Killer Angels novel by Michael Shaara, Gettysburg frankly highlights a few conversations about the causes of the war. Slavery, the Preservation of the Union, Virginia love. The focus of the film however is not the issues, but rather the honor, intelligence, pride, and brotherly divides on both sides of the War. Again, you can almost believe the battle could have gone either way, had fate not had plans with the valiant men involved.

The prequel to Gettysburg, Gods and Generals is very favorable to the Confederacy. Gettysburg, however, smartly maintains a balance and gives justice to the fighting on both sides of the battle. Filmed on location in Gettysburg and the surrounding Pennsylvania countryside, Gettysburg also used Civil War re-enactors from across the nation to authentically recreate each stage of the battle. The star cast and the re-enacting extras seamlessly work together to create every detail of the three day battle. Who hasn’t watched Gettysburg as part of their high school history class? The show is rated PG-amazingly the violence of the fighting comes with little blood and gore. Despite its lengthy speeches and 261 minute length, Gettysburg shows the massive weight of the Civil War’s definitive battle like nobody’s business.

The DVD edition of Gettysburg has the standard features and comes on a two sided disc. For any fan of military history, the Civil War, or stirring film, Gettysburg is worth the four hour trade for its attention to detail and dues given to the heroes on both sides of the war. Young and Old will always take something away from Gettysburg.

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