July 1, 2006

gettysburg …is one of my all-time favorite movies, and in my view, one of the most underrated. Adapted from one of my all-time favorite books, The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara, this is truly one amazing movie. Because writer-director Ronald Maxwell kept the screenplay as faithful to Shaara’s novel as one possible could given the subject matter, the movie and its excellent cast brings to life the characters from Shaara’s pages in a way “dry” history never could. And, because it was filmed on-site at Gettysburg National Military Park with the help of literally hundreds of Civil War re-enactors from chapters all across the U.S., the film has an authenticity and feel unique to its genre.

There is much to like about this film. From the first powerful strains of Randy Edelman’s soundtrack behind a montage of original photos that morph into the film’s characters, to the film’s close (featuring the opening montage in reverse order as the backdrop to the brief historical postcript provided for each major character), the film never lets go of Shaara’s concept that the battle of Gettysburg – like all wars in and of themselves – was waged by flawed human beings treading a very fine line between life and death, national hero and tragic figure.

While the film was not the box-office blockbuster Ted Turner had hoped it to be, Oscar-worthy performances abound. Martin Sheen (as General Robert E. Lee) delivers one of his finest performances; his Lee strikes the right balance between courtly Southern gentleman and fierce, aggressive warrior. Jeff Daniels (Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain) and Tom Berenger (Confederate General James Longstreet) deliver the performances of their careers, and the late Richard Jordan’s (in his last role) performance as Confederate General Lewis Armistead is emotionally-charged, even heart-wrenching.

We originally got Gettysburg on VHS (2 tapes), and are glad we did, for, while the video and sound transfer from VHS to DVD is impressive, there are a number of scenes that were trimmed in order for it to fit on a single DVD. The actor who seems to have taken the greatest hit was John Rothman (as Union general John Reynolds); while granted, his role in the film is limited to a handful of scenes, his work was impressive, and it was disappointing to see them not make the DVD version. Perhaps I’ll bring the VHS tapes to a video place and see if they can convert them digitally in total.

Forgive the occasional phony beard (Tom Berenger has the worst of the bunch!) and find yourself Gettysburg. 143 years ago this weekend, the bloodiest battle ever to take place on American soil took place in the soft, rolling farmland of southern Pennsylvania. Gettysburg the movie delivers an honest portrayal of the battle and its combatants, and serves as a powerful reminder of the sacrifices, honor, recklessness, and heroism made by those who fought that battle over those three terrible days.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 20:07 | Comment (1)
1 Comment »
  1. I haven’t seen it in a while but Martin Sheen’s Robert E Lee dressing down Jeb Stuart was OK but a bit too short. What happened in real life at that moment between the two is something I’ve always been interested in.

    Comment by Rob — July 1, 2006 @ 10:00 pm


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