I wrote in an earlier post about the movie soundtrack to "Gettysburg" the epic movie made by Ted Turner's studios in the early nineties. When the movie came out, I was very excited that a realistic, feature length movie was being made about this epic battle.
I remember going to see the movie with my wife, who was not all that excited about sitting through a five hour Civil War film, but who gamefully came along. We settled in for the movie, and when the opening credits rolled, it was enough to take a Civil War buff's breath away. There on the screen appeared the pictures of the great generals and the actors who played them, behind which played the powerful opening theme. For a student of the war, it was a powerful moment.
The movie itself did not disappoint. It was well scripted, reasonably historically correct, and had a good mix of action and dialogue. Martin Sheen's portrayal of Robert E. Lee was surprisingly good. Sheen replaced the producer's first choice, Robert Duvall, who was unavailable for the role due to a conflict. Duvall subsequently portayed Lee in the less impressive "prequel," "Of God's and Generals."
Tom Berengers portrayal of General James Longstreet was equally good. He captured the essence of the powerful commander of Lee's First Corps, known as his "war horse." Other portayals, including Steven Lang as General George Pickett were also good. I thought Sam Elliott as Union Cavalry General Buford was a waste of Mr. Elliott's talent and persona. He would have been better used as a Confederate General with that western drawl of his.
The movie was probably overlong by about an hour. There were certain segments that could have been left out, but no major complaints. Jeff Daniels' portrayal of Union General Joshua Chamberlain was also impressive and believable. He did a remarkable job of depicting this exceptional officer's contribution to the battle, and reflected his outstanding personal character.
The battle scenes were realistic enough, though there was very little gore on display. On the one hand that was merciful in itself, but not completely true to life. During Pickett's Charge, when the Confederate troops were hit by Union grapeshot at point blank range, they only appeared to be thrown backwards. In life they would be be torn to pieces. Most people would understand that, and the reason for keeping the bloody parts to a minimum.
My major complaint with the film was that the Confederate re-enactors were almost all too fat. Real Confederates of the day were almost universally lean, from poor and insufficient rations and continual marching. None were grossly overweight as some of the re-neactors used were. I suppose budget constraints were the reason for using these guys, but it did not help the realism of the film.
All in all this was a very impressive movie and one which is a must see for any student of the Civil War. Just realize that even the best depictions of historical events fall woefully short of the real thing.