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Gods and Generals(2003)
A sweeping epic charting the early years of the Civil War and how campaigns unfolded from Manassas to the Battle of Fredericksburg, this prequel to the film Gettysburg explores the motivations of the combatants and examines the lives of those who waited at home.
For more about Gods and Generals and the Gods and Generals Blu-ray release, see Gods and Generals Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on December 5, 2007 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Robert Duvall, Stephen Lang, Jeff Daniels, Mira Sorvino, Bruce Boxleitner, Kevin Conway
Director: Ronald F. Maxwell
» See full cast & crew
Gods and Generals Blu-ray Review
This controversial Civil War film arrives on Blu-ray in a generally good package.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, December 5, 2007
I have no greater duty than to my home.
One of my two majors in college was in history. I love history, especially the history of conflict. As such, I'm a fan of war movies, especially those focusing on the Vietnam conflict. I quite enjoy Civil War films as well. Unfortunately, there just aren't that many to choose from. Glory and Gettysburg, both fine movies, are the best of the best. Then there is Gods and Generals. One of my college courses was an upper level Civil War course taught by Dr. Steven Woodworth. He's one of the foremost Civil War historians in the country, and to say he didn't like this movie, for a myriad of reasons, would be an understatement. Perhaps his most adamant dislike for the film is his perception that the film "is the most pro-Confederate film since Birth of a Nation." His course was an eye-opener in a number of ways. He busted several Civil War myths and provided wonderful insight into the whole ordeal and to this movie. One can argue about historical inaccuracies, the length of the film, and omissions of key battles and moments until they're blue (or gray) in the face, and I'll leave that to the professionals. Personally, I find Gods and Generals to have some very good and touching moments, some exciting battle sequences, and generally good acting all around. It certainly could have been a better film, perhaps shortened up a bit, but it is, after all, an epic film, completely accurate or not.
Clocking in at 3 hours and 39 minutes and covering a good chunk of Civil War history, a full recap of Gods and Generals would be a daunting undertaking. This is a film where I believe that it's best left to the movie itself to lay out the plot for you, but I'll cover the very basics so you Civil War buffs out there who, by some chance, haven't already seen this movie know what aspects of the war it covers going in. Stephen Lang (who played Major General George Pickett in Gettysburg) this time plays the role of Lee's right-hand man ("he has lost his left arm, and I have lost my right"), Lt. Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. Speaking of General Lee, he is now portrayed by Robert Duvall (We Own the Night) rather than Martin Sheen. Jeff Daniels (The Lookout) returns as the Bowdoin College professor turned solider, Lt. Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, as does Kevin Conway (Invincible) who plays Sgt. Buster Kilrain.
Gods and Generals, unlike Gettysburg which was a film that gave about equal amounts of screen time to both the North and the South, gives most of its attention to the Confederacy, especially Generals Lee and Jackson. Jackson, a devout Christian fighting the war as much for God as for country, comes across as a very sympathetic character with several touching scenes with a young Southern Belle who steals every scene she is in. The girl serves as Jackson's respite from the horrors of war, but when she perishes from scarlet fever, the general known as "Stonewall" openly weeps, in front of his men no less. He cannot escape death and despair, but his faith in God never wavers. Lang's performance as Jackson is clearly the highlight of the film. Although he suffers the same fate as the rest of the cast--reading lines as if in a stage production rather than in a film (or as one would in real life), he nevertheless delivers them with a passion and grace I haven't seen very often in film. General Lee, staunchly supportive of his home state of Virginia, turns down the opportunity to command the Northern Army early in the film (then a Colonel in the United States Army). Duvall, like Lang, plays the part with a solemnity rarely seen in film or life. It's almost to the point of being over-the-top, and much of it frankly is, but it's the moments where it hits home that make up for the ridiculousness of some of it. As with Gettysburg, both Daniels and Conway are excellent in their respective roles. In between soliloquies are some impressive battle scenes, featuring the Battles of Manassas Junction, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. The battles are competently staged and exciting, long but also relatively short in comparison to the total length of the picture, but are hardly realistic in that the film holds true to it's PG-13 rating, abstaining from showing very much blood and carnage, both of which were in great supply in the real battles fought some 145 years ago.
My professor was not the only person to dislike this movie. It has been derided as overly long, horribly inaccurate at times, awkward in the delivery of lines, and for its pro-Confederacy stance. As pure entertainment, Gods and Generals delivers if you have the patience of a saint to wait around for the battle scenes. However, if you are a fan of American history, as I am, you may very well find yourself at times mesmerized by the scenery (except for some bad matte paintings), the costuming, the larger than life characters and, of course, the battles. Despite the criticism of this film I've been subjected to over the years, including that of a professor I studied under for a semester, I certainly don't dislike this film. It's good entertainment and worthy of having in your movie collection if you are fan of this sort of historical movie that is a combination of action and melodrama, regardless of how inaccurate or biased it may or may not be.
Gods and Generals Blu-ray, Video Quality
This 2.40:1, 1080p presentation of Gods and Generals arrives on Blu-ray as a mixed bag of at times stunning imagery and at other times simply as a decent looking image devoid of life and vibrancy. One of the best aspects of this image quality is the attention to fine detail. For example, every stitch in the flags at the beginning are clearly visible. Colors are rich and vibrant, especially (and once again) in the numerous flags seen throughout the picture. There is nary a speck on this print. Flesh tones look great. On the downside, the image looks a little bright and washed out. It appears to clean itself up after a while, and then once again it falls into looking washed out again. Black levels suffer during the washed out scenes and are often the main culprit of them. Overall, however, this is a pleasant image that serves the movie well.
Gods and Generals Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Warner Brothers has once again foregone a lossless audio track in favor of a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Dialogue sounds natural and clear. Some instances of heavy bass (such as the beating of drums) came through the front speakers with nothing coming from the subwoofer. There is nice ambience throughout; we hear owls hooting and crickets chirping in the quieter scenes. Dialogue, and there is quite a bit of it in the film's 3 hours and 39 minutes, is never an issue, sounding crisp and natural from beginning to end. Of course, the primary focus of this soundtrack is the battle scenes, and they sound wonderful. Bass picks up, gunshots, cannons, explosions, screams, the trotting and running of horses, and the clanging of metal are heard all around, creating an immersive 360-degree sound field. Voices shouting out orders echo. It sounds absolutely marvelous as the sounds of war emanate from every direction in the room. While a Lossless audio track would have been a welcome addition, Gods and Generals offers up one of the more impressive Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks I have heard and for a lossy track, this one is hard to beat.
Gods and Generals Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
There are some decent supplements on this disc. First is a commentary with writer/director Ron Maxwell, director of VMI Museum operations Keith Gibson, and Virginia Tech Alumni professor James Robertson. The commentary is broken into "sections" that only cover 1:28:25 of the movie. It's rather odd, but I guess it's hard to fill in nearly four hours of movie, even with three participants. They discuss creating a movie that will make Civil War buffs happy while making it easy for the layman to understand as well. We get some very interesting Civil War history and anecdotes that are sure to interest students of history.
Ted Turner provides an introduction to the film (480p, 3:00). He discusses how he grew up "in the shadow of the Civil War" and how his passion for making Civil War films was finally brought to realization. A Journey to the Past (480p, 21:59), hosted by Ron Maxwell and Donzaleigh Abernathy, is nothing more than your average promotional fluff piece that has cast and crew talking about why this is such a good movie and about the history behind the movie. The Authenticities of the Film (480p, 12:53) looks at the painstaking efforts that went into making the film as historically accurate as possible, notably using the town of Harper's Ferry in lieu of creating a set for Fredericksburg. By the way, "authenticities" is not a word. The Life of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (480p, 14:28) is a short biography of the famed general.
Visit Virginia (480p, 0:31) is a short advertisement for historical tourism in the state of Virginia. Two music videos, Cross the Green Mountain (480p, 3:13) by Bob Dylan and Going Home (480p, 3:58) by Mary Fahl are included. Finally, the film's theatrical trailer (480p, 1:40) finishes off the supplements.
Gods and Generals Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Gods and Generals is not anywhere near as good as Gettysburg or Glory, but sprawling, epic Civil War films are hard to come by and as such, Gods and Generals cannot be ignored as an important entry into the annals of war films. This is a controversial and divisive film, but then again so is the Civil War as a whole, even more than 140 years after the final shots were fired. As always for such a controversial film, it's best to watch the movie, read up on the events depicted in the film from several sources, and decide for yourself how fair and accurate it is. If you choose to do so, this Blu-ray edition of Gods and Generals is clearly the way to go. It sports a solid picture quality and great audio, both on top of a fairly good serving of extras. Recommended.
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