Sunday, May 29, 2011


Ronald F. Maxwell, 1993 (8.1*)
Memorial Day WAR-a-thon film #14
Based on Michael Shaara's excellent novel The Killer Angels, about the leaders of the armies that met at Gettysburg. Actually filmed as a tv miniseries, this gives the three-day battle it's proper cinematic homage at nearly four hours. Even though made for tv, and it looks it at times, it's still probably the finest film treatment of Gettysburg to date.

In spite of some well-known actors in pivotal roles, which usually means "all-star ineffective cast", some manage to turn in remarkable performances, especially Jeff Daniels as Col. Joshua Chamberlain, the ex-teacher from Maine, who held Little Big Top in the battle's early fighting, thus saving the high ground for the Union cannons, and who was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, and later served in Congress.

Martin Sheen turns in a credible performance as Gen. Robert E. Lee, with the proper accent, but without any of Lee's charisma. Some of the beards don't look quite real enough, like the one on Tom Berenger, but his performance is a good one so it's a trifling issue, just one of the many tipoffs of lower-budget, tv-level source of the production. Sam Elliott shines as Gen John Buford, the cavalry commander who initiates the battle, as does Richard Jordan (in one of his last roles) as Gen. Lewis Armistead, facing his best friend from earlier days in this battle. Stephen Lang perhaps chews the scenery a bit as Gen. George Pickett, forced by Lee to send his troops across exposed ground in the face of Union cannons.

It was perhaps a war deciding moment in just one huge battle, one that killed over 53,000 men, more than all of Vietnam. The film does a good job attempting this scale, using the help of a historical war re-enactment group. A war-weary Lee is shown saying "I leave this up to God now", which is often a big mistake, one that sacrifices your own war experience and rationale judgment, which had been used to Lee's advantage up to this point, offsetting the greater numbers and better equipment of the Union.

Gods and Generals
Michael Shaara's son Jeff finished his unfinished sequel novel "Gods and Generals" after Michael's death. It was also filmed, with Robert Duvall as Lee, a better choice than Sheen, and is about all the civil war years leading up to Gettysburg.

Bring the Jubilee
For those interested in Gettysburg, read Ward Moore's excellent alternate-history novel called "Bring the Jubilee", about a scholar who agrees to test a time travel machine if they'll send him back to the beginning of the famous battle, so he can see how the South won the battle, and thus the war, keeping the north and south as two separate nations and thus both second-level world powers, still dominated by European empires.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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