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In 1863, the Northern and Southern forces fight at Gettysburg in the decisive battle of the American Civil War.
For more about Gettysburg and the Gettysburg Blu-ray release, see Gettysburg Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on May 15, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Martin Sheen, Jeff Daniels, Tom Berenger, Stephen Lang, Richard Jordan, Maxwell Caulfield
Director: Ronald F. Maxwell
» See full cast & crew
Gettysburg Blu-ray Review
A beloved Civil War film faces overwhelming odds by way of a flawed Blu-ray release...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, May 15, 2011
For Civil War buffs, Gettysburg has few equals. Openly criticize Ronald F. Maxwell's sprawling battlefield epic within three miles of Antietam or the Gettysburg National Cemetery, and prepare yourself for a tongue lashing. (Or worse should you dismiss it entirely.) But its critics make a solid case. At a densely packed 271-minutes, Gettysburg is arguably too long, too overindulgent, unmistakably romanticized, and more of an elaborate reenactment than an unflinching, uncompromising account of the three days that changed the tide of the Civil War. Cards on the table: Gettysburg is no Glory. Blasphemy, I know. Long, laborious and bloodless as it can be though, it's difficult to deny its value as a film and, more importantly, its worth as a meticulously researched slice of history. Maxwell's extras may not always effectively convey the enormity, ferocity or finality of war, but his lead actors deliver such moving performances, such exacting portrayals of the battle's gods and generals, that the indifference of "Fourth Rifleman from Left" and his well-fed battalion of reenactors is easy to overlook. Blood and sweat may not flow freely, but every tactic, movement, grueling charge, small victory and tragic loss of the Battle of Gettysburg is masterfully translated on screen. Moreover, long as it is, uneven as its pacing tends to be, watching Gettysburg isn't a chore by any means.
"Gentlemen, that hill is steep. It's rocky. It's bare. To come straight up it is impossible. No, the Reb army is gonna swing around. It's gonna come up through that notch right over there. It'll move under the cover of trees, try to get round the flank. And gentlemen... we are the flank."
The Battle of Gettysburg wasn't just a turning point in the Civil War. It claimed more lives than any American engagement before or since (some 47,000 casualties in just three days), halted the Confederate Army's northward trajectory and, four months later, inspired one of the most celebrated presidential speeches in American history: the Gettysburg Address. It also remains one of the most fascinating battles in the Civil War, a fact Maxwell doesn't skirt or diminish in any way. One of the advantages of Gettysburg's 271-minute girth is that it affords Maxwell the opportunity to cram in every last detail (or most of them, anyway) of the day-to-day skirmishes and attacks that eventually led Confederate general Robert E. Lee (Martin Sheen) to order a 12,500-man infantry charge on the Union's center line; an assault that would end in a localized slaughter and a desperate retreat. It was a shock felt round the South. Just two days earlier, on July 1, 1863, Lee and his commanders -- Lieutenant General James Longstreet (Tom Berenger, decked out in a fearsome beard), Major Generals George Pickett (Stephen Lang), Isaac R. Trimble (Morgan Sheppard), Henry Heth (Warren Burton), J.E.B. Stuart (Joseph Fuqua) and John Bell Hood (Patrick Gorman), Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell (Tim Scott), and Brigadier Generals Lewis A. Armistead (Richard Jordan), James L. Kemper (Royce D. Applegate), Richard B. Garnett (Andrew Prine), among many others -- were confident that Gettysburg would be little more than a rest stop in the march to Philadelphia. Their defeat delivered a tremendous blow to morale and momentum that accelerated the fall of the Confederacy.
But the Union's victory at Gettysburg was a costly one. With a death toll exceeding that of Lee's army, the Army of the Potomac's successful defense carried with it a steep price; more than 23,000 men lay dead as the Confederates retreated. It would have been far more though had it not been for the efforts of the Union's finest. Brigadier General John Buford (Sam Elliott) and his cavalry face Heth's forces; Colonel Joshua Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) bravely repels advance after advance at Little Round Top despite leading a patchwork division against overwhelming odds; and Major Generals Winfield Scott Hancock (Brian Mallon), George Meade (Richard Anderson) and John F. Reynolds (John Rothman), Colonels James Clay Rice (Joshua D. Maurer), William Gamble (Buck Taylor), Thomas C. Devlin (David Carpenter) and Strong Vincent (Maxwell Caulfield), and men like Lieutenant Thomas Chamberlain (C. Thomas Howell) fought valiantly to defend their ground. While keeping track of so many Civil War icons and legends might seem as if it would require a 400-level History course, Maxwell -- like author Michael Shaara before him, upon whose 1974 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel the film is based -- establishes an accessible hierarchy of main characters; not by military rank, but by each individual's contributions and unique perspectives. The heart of the Confederate forces isn't Lee, but rather Longstreet, a noble man who sees the battle more clearly than his commanding officer, but presses on nonetheless. Likewise, the heart of the Union Army isn't Buford, but rather Chamberlain, who feels the weight of battle on his shoulders as much as he feels the impact of it on his spirit.
Maxwell carefully charts the course of the battle and all its complexities, as well as the various officers' interpersonal conflicts with the deft hand of a skilled storyteller. Both convention and romanticism play a role in Gettysburg -- regardless of how much the film's most dutiful proponents insist otherwise -- but with such high stakes, selfless sacrifices and gut-wrenching consequences, Maxwell's poetic flourishes and grief-fueled pseudo-soliloquies are forgivable. Revealing even. Bridges, Sheen, Berenger and Lang are magnetic; so much so that it's impossible to look away when they stride into frame. I don't mean to so casually shrug off the film's supporting cast, but it's Gettysburg's principal performances that infuse the ensuing battlefield drama with context, historical significance and emotional heft, and allow the Union's victory and the Confederacy's defeat to resonate as much as they do. Yes, yes, yes: the stage beards, tame bullet wounds, clutched chests, stocky charges and clashes, dying declarations and laziest extras do their best to undermine Bridges and his castmates' soulful work, but by the fifty-minute mark, each distraction becomes a triviality and the magnitude and spectacle of the production begin to leave a lasting mark. (Seeing as the film was intended to be a television miniseries before Ted Turner decided it was strong enough to sustain a limited theatrical release, the disconnect between its actor-born strengths and production-spawned shortcomings shouldn't come as a surprise.) It takes an undying love of history to ignore Gettysburg's every weakness, sure. But those who push through will be rewarded with a greater understanding of the men who fought, the forces who faced one another, and the war that almost toppled a young nation.
Gettysburg Blu-ray, Video Quality
Gettysburg has seen better days, as its 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer appears to have been culled from a dated master. Edge enhancement undermines the quality of the image on numerous occasions, obvious ringing is an ongoing problem, print imperfections are apparent, contrast fluctuations and minor telecine wobble prove distracting, skintones are a tad inconsistent, and crush takes a heavy toll. Be that as it may, all is not lost. Colors are warm and lifelike on the whole, black levels are reasonably deep, and detail has received quite a boost. Grain is intact, textures are more refined than ever, closeups are more impressive, object definition is more satisfying, delineation is more revealing, and overall clarity has been improved, often to dramatic ends. Make no mistake, the entire presentation handily bests its DVD counterpart. Yes, nighttime scenes are noisier and murkier than others, and yes, every now and then artifacting and banding manage to flank the otherwise proficient encode. But, for the most part, the 271-minute film haggardly holds the line, despite being housed on a single BD-50 disc. Significant compression issues, aberrant noise, unsightly smearing, aliasing and other serious anomalies are kept at bay and, in the end, Gettysburg's Blu-ray debut makes a decent impression, for better or worse.
Gettysburg Blu-ray, Audio Quality
I wasn't completely satisfied with Gettysburg's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track either. While it certainly outmaneuvers its lossy DVD cousin, it isn't the immersive, sternum-splitting lossless experience I was hoping for. Dialogue is altogether clean, clear and intelligible, even if it sometimes gets overwhelmed on the battlefield. Low-end output is also fairly powerful, even though the LFE channel tends to lumber up hills and across fields when it should charge ahead at full speed. Rifle fire is spotty, canon blasts lack memorable kick, and midfield clashes are a tad thin. Likewise, the rear speakers enter the fray with noble intentions, but rarely drop listeners in the terrifying midst of a convincing war. Ambience isn't entirely engaging, acoustics wax and wane, and directionality is limited. That said, many of the mix's shortcomings can and should be attributed to the film's now-eighteen-year-old sound design, making each deficiency easier to stomach. Ultimately, those armed with appropriate expectations will be more or less pleased with almost everything Warner's track provides.
Gettysburg Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The 2-disc Blu-ray edition of Gettysburg comes packaged in a handsome 48-page Digibook case, features the 271-minute Director's Cut of the film, and offers a number of worthwhile extras including an audio commentary, an hour-long documentary and more. Yes, most of the set's special features have been relegated to a no-frills DVD, but standard definition presentation aside, the content still adds some additional value to the film's Blu-ray debut.
Gettysburg Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Gettysburg meanders at times, sure. It's much too long, no doubt. But somewhere between the overtly poetic musings of its gods and generals and its beardy, bloated, abnormally bloodless disposition, the fascinating history of the Battle of Gettysburg, the meticulous research of its filmmakers and the masterful performances of its lead actors all but demand attention, respect and praise. Unfortunately, Warner's Blu-ray release is more problematic. Its video transfer is riddled with issues, its DTS-HD Master Audio track doesn't capitalize on its potential, and its special features, though rewarding, don't amount to the be-all, end-all supplemental package I was hoping for. Still, the Blu-ray edition represents a substantial upgrade and Civil War buffs and Gettysburg fans will quickly shrug off its shortcomings.
Gettysburg: Other Editions
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Gettysburg Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Gettysburg, Extended Gods and Generals Announced on Blu-ray - February 25, 2011
Warner Home Video has announced that on May 24 it will release on Blu-ray two movies depicting events from the Civil War directed by Ronald F. Maxwell: Gettysburg (Director's Cut) and Gods and Generals (Extended Director's Cut, with an hour of never-before-seen ...
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