By Steve Vivona
There have been very few memorable movies made about the Civil War (even fewer about the American Revolution but thats another story). Ironically it is a subject rife with the inherent drama of brother against brother and the idea of a country torn asunder. Although it is a wonderful film, Glory deals with one facet of the war. For a better perspective on the conflict and what it meant to those who fought it one need look no further than "Gettysburg."
"Gettysburg" is truly an epic. Clocking in at over four hours this film has the opportunity to deal with its complex subject matter and it gives equal time to both sides. It is also brilliant in its attention to historical detail. Thousands of "re-enacters" participated in the battle sequences. These are not mere extras, but men who do this for a living and have immersed themselves in the period.
The film is populated with terrific actors who give earnest performances including Martin Sheen as Robert E. Lee and Tom Berenger as Lt. General James Longstreet. Character actor Richard Jordan gives a particularly strong performance as Brigadier General Armistead (he died shortly after completing the film). Other familiar faces include Jeff Daniels, Sam Eliott, one-time James Bond George Lazenby, C. Thomas Howell, Richard Anderson (Oscar Goldman from "The Six Million Dollar Man"), and Maxwell Caulfield.
Gettysburg was the decisive battle of the Civil War, a war which the Union was losing at that point. The Union soldiers are disenchanted and in need of a decisive victory. All the actors carry a weariness about them and the commanding officers seem to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. This three-day battle cost 53,000 soldiers their lives and helped turn the tide of the war.
While the battle scenes are impressive it is the performances that make Gettysburg a totally engrossing experience. Each character has plenty of time to develop and make his motivations clear to the audience. All the actors has a chace to shine. The 254-minute running time may put people off but the film does not drag in the slightest (Make it a mini-series if you have to. That's the beauty of home video!)
Warner has served up a wonderful DVD presentation for Gettysburg that includes a bevy of extras that will only serve to enhance ones understanding of this important historical event. There are two documentaries present, one dealing with the actual events and one with the making of the film. There is also a short On Location featurette with more behind-the-scenes footage.
Also included is a commentary by the director and many essential members of the film crew. While insightful and interesting viewers need to know it does not run throughout the entire film and there are significant pauses. Rounding out the supplements are trailer TV spots, production notes and a special section with battlefield maps.
The anamorphic transfer is also excellent with a sharp image that is free from grain. The colors are strong and rich especially the lush greens of the Pennsylvania battlefield. I'm really glad to finally see this film on DVD, and still amazed that the entire film and supplements fit on one disc (remember those enormous laserdisc box sets?)