Gods and Generals (2003)

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‘Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.’

Gods and Generals is one monstrous movie, and not for those with only a few minutes to spare or those of unblaringly Unionist feelings. Gods and Generals is perhaps the ultimate film epic of the American Civil War. It runs in the newly released Extended Director’s Cut, coming out next week from WB (on May 24th), at a whopping four hours plus. Not for the faint of heart.

Often, and justly so, criticized for being inaccurate historically at times and providing a “slightly” slanted view of the War of Northern Aggression, Gods and Generals is not the film Gettysburg is. Nor perhaps Glory although that may be debatable as I was never as smitten with Glory as most. For those who haven’t seen it, “slightly” is a gross overstatement. There are few films more pro-Confederate.

For a student of history there really are few good films of the Civil War and this is a joy to watch even given the length of the beast. It serves as a prequel of sorts to the previously mentioned Gettysburg and sports many of the same leading actors.

Jeff Daniels is still Lawrence Chamberlain and many of the lesser Generals also return in their same roles. Some of the key players are different though. Stephen Lang, who for my money is the star of Gettysburg with his powerful General George Pickett and his “money” line of “General Lee, Sir. I have….no division,” is back, but not as Pickett.

No, this time he is General Thomas Jackson and again he is the power of the film, although this time the action clearly revolves around him. Robert Duvall replaces Martin Sheen as General Lee, but somehow seems to be playing it as Martin Sheen playing General Lee. That’s a push in my book as both are splendid.

Gods and Generals goes through the death of Jackson after being shot by his own men in error, just a few short months before Gettysburg will pick up.  There really seems to be little of the Union perspective, and except for some interspersed scene with Chamberlain, it is the story of Johnny Reb.

Technically the film is wondrous, although there are several purely abysmal matte paintings in to remind you that this is a film and it all wasn’t filmed on location, in many places using the actual battlefields involved historically.

WB has again pushed out a phenomenal product in terms of packaging. The video quality is sharp – but not as sharp as the best blu-rays and special detail appears to have been given to the numerous flags- if that is even possible. Note the title screens where every stitch is clearly discernable. Overall good video quality, but not great compared with current films.

The sound track is quite good and again not among the best, but an improvement over previous releases.

And to the critics? Yes, it is long. So what? That definitely doesn’t necessitate poor quality. It isn’t paced for most I agree, but I’d watch two more hours if they’d be of similar quality.

A vehemently pro-South perspective? Well, remember this really chronicles two leading Southerners, “Stonewall” Jackson and, to a lesser extent, R. E. Lee. What did you expect?

I grudgingly will admit that at times the dialogue is a bit pedantic and perhaps historically inaccurate. Hearing these great Generals speak of Ancient Rome and Shakespeare immediately after directing brigades in battle is a bit much, but it serves a purpose, which I, for one, think was intended.

These were cultured men, especially Jackson and Lee, around whom much of the film revolves. Although Jackson’s overall quirkiness is only hinted at, you get a good picture of the man. Jackson, among other oddities held a firm belief in predestination and that one of his arms was physically longer than the other. To offset this perceived imbalance, Jackson often held the longer arm up.

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