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Gettysburg is actually the second part in an intended trilogy that will now probably never be completed in the wake of the dismal box-office for the bloated Gods and Generals. Thankfully it gains more by having a smaller canvas, focussing on one single battle and largely on three actions - Buford's inspired initial defense on the first day, Little Round Top and Pickett's Charge - and by seeing the action from the viewpoint of both sides throughout. The characters are better drawn, the dialogue feels more natural and you get much more of a sense of what a human tragedy the war was. As a British observer on the Confederate side points out, it all boils down to "same people, different dreams."

The problem with most epics devoted to single battles or campaigns (Waterloo, Zulu Dawn, The Battle of Neretva etc) is that without a single dominating personality they often get so bogged down with history or strategy that the human element gets lost, with a succession of stars acting almost like anonymous interchangeable sports commentators only there to explain what's going on for the layman. Gettysburg has its share of characters primarily there for exposition, but by narrowing its focus to a few of them and drawing on their own letters and memoirs it's able to give them a little more depth and personality. Martin Sheen's Lee's increasingly wrong-headed strategy as he consigns more and more men to pointless deaths with a homespun rationale that leads to horrifying casualties contrasts well with Tom Berenger's more cautious Longstreet gradually realising that the tide has turned against them while Jeff Daniels' awkward but sincere Lawrence Chamberlain gives a humane and decent voice to the Union's case. Richard Jordan is genuinely affecting in his last role - his final scene is even more moving with the knowledge that he really was dying at the time - and even George Lazenby even turns up briefly. As a result, there's more involvement in what's happening and more understanding of what's at stake on a personal level to both sides during the battle. Although shot as a TV miniseries before being released theatrically, it actually looks like a feature film, and one that manages to hold the interest over its four hour running time. It's such an impressive piece of work that you can't help but wonder why so many of the same people got it so wrong so often on Gods and Generals.

Excellent extras on the double-sided DVD, but sadly none of the deleted scenes from the 270-minute laserdisc director's cut.
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on 16 January 2003
"Gettysburg" is based on Michael Shaara's novel "The Killer Angels," and both works focus on this crucial battle on July 1-3, 1863 through from the perspective of five key figures: The first day of the battle is dominated by Union Calvary General John Buford (Sam Elliot), who slowed the Confederate advance to preserve the precious high ground for the Federal army. The second day comes down to the efforts of Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) and the 20th Maine, who hold the extreme left end of the Army of the Potomac at a crucial moment in the battle. The third day focuses on the clash of wills between General Robert E. Lee (Martin Sheen) and his veteran commander James "Pete" Longstreet (Tom Berenger), who have been arguing offense versus defense throughout the battle, climaxing in the fatal finality of Pickett's Charge. The focal figure of the Charge is Confederate General Lowell Armistead (Richard Jordan), who must attack the position defended by his best friend Winfield Scott Hancock, made all the more poignant by the fact that this was Jordan's final role; he died from a brain tumor the same year this film was released.
However, it is the character of Chamberlain who emerges as the hero from this film. Chamberlain was featured as well in the celebrated PBS documentary "The Civil War," and the result is that he has become the idealized citizen-soldier or gallant knight of the Union army. The result of his military and political career is almost as fascinating as his defense of Little Round Top, for which he received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Jeff Daniel's performance is certainly the finest of his career to date, and he gets to give an eloquent speech on the Civil War as a fight to make other men free. His interplays with veteran Sergeant "Buster" Kilrain (Kevin Conway) deal with the war on a philosophical level, which is not surprising because the man is a college professor. But in the heat of battle he proves himself, and while we cannot imagine ourselves being Robert E. Lee, we can identify with Chamberlain. The end result is that the best part of the film comes not at the end, but before the intermission.
Every year I watch "Gettysburg" on the four days covered in the film, June 30 and July 1-3 (then on the 4th of July I watch "1776"). Only "Glory" is on this level in terms of depicting Civil War battles. This film touches me with the opening credits, where the photographs of these real soldiers are replaced with those of the actors playing them. This is quite evocative, especially when Randy Edleman's evocative score swells as we see the face and name of George Pickett. Even if you have never seen this movie you have undoubtedly heard Edleman's score, which has been used to advertise several films and for the closing credits of the Olympics broadcast. It should have been nominated for an Oscar.
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This is an outstanding film. Based upon Michael Shaara's Pulitzer Prize winning book, "The Killer Angels", it tells the story of the battle at Gettysburg, which took place over the first three days of July in 1863. For the most part, the film examines that pivotal battle, one of the bloodiest of the war, from the perspective of its commanders.
The viewer will be enthralled by the film's recreation of the battle at Gettysburg, which examines some of the militairy stratagems employed and the reasons for them. It attempts to explain how it was that over fifty thousand (50,000) men lay dead, dying, or injured at its conclusion. It also recreates one of the most amazing routs in history, when Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, defying the odds, held off the Confederates at Little Round Top, part of the high ground that the Union needed to retain at Gettysburg. Chamberlain, who was not a professional soldier but a professor at Bowdoin College in Maine, ultimately received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valor and success in holding the Confederacy at bay at Little Round Top. Jeff Daniels, who plays the role of Chamberlain, is superlative.
The rest of the star-studded cast is likewise marvelous. Tom Berenger as General Longstreet, Martin Sheen as General Robert E. Lee, Richard Jordan as General Lewis Armistead, and Stephen Lang as General Pickett, in particular, all deserve a standing ovation, as does Jeff Daniels. This is a film that attempts to be historically accurate, and it succeeds brilliantly. It does not glamorize war, but shows it in all its heartbreaking reality. It even depicts General Pickett's audacious charge, which saw the loss of an entire division of Confederate soldiers. This is a film entirely about the men who took part in the battle at Gettysburg and the outcome that set the course for the country we know today. Kudos to director Robert F. Maxwell, who directed this film. It is simply a magnificent movie. Bravo!
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on 6 August 2014
I have just upgraded from DVD to Blu-ray and can confirm that the quality of sound and vision is excellent. The film does not not cover the Battle of Gettysburg in its entirety, but the salient features are included in some detail. The initial encounter between Buford's cavalry and the confederates, followed by the battle of Little Round Top and finally the devastating Pickett's charge - which is covered in almost real time. This is an excellent film and a worthy addition to the library of anyone interested in the American Civil War.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 23 June 2012
Based on the 1975 Pulitzer Prize winning book The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. This film is part war, part drama, following the Confederate & Federal armies around the famous 1863 battle at Gettsyburg. We get an insight into the men who were in power at the time, and how they respected each other or didn't as in some cases. As well as the comradery between the leaders & they're men. It opens our eyes to the way battles were fought at the time, where decisions had to be carefully thought out, but again mistakes were made due to the tiredness of the leaders or the incompetence. The battles depicted in the film, were mostly filmed at or close too the original locations of the real life battles, so you get an even greater immersion with the weight of history on the actors & reenactors shoulders.

Among the thousands of Civil War re-enactment players, you have some of Hollywood's best known & not so well known names leading the way as the famous leaders. A middle aged Martin Sheen (The West Wing) is given powdered hair & beard to play the much older Confederate General, Robert E.Lee, which he does with aplomb. He gets over the charm & sophistication of the General, but also captures the fear & haunting he faces for his decisions. Tom Berenger (Platoon) plays Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, who works closely with Lee & is his most reliable & experienced General, given the death of General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, some time earlier. Although the two don't always see eye to eye, Longstreet eventually bows to Lee's whims.

Stephen Lang who has a smaller yet none the less important role here, plays the eccentric Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett. Lang gets his rewards though, as he will later appear in a prequel to this film Gods and Generals as the aforementioned Stonewall Jackson. That film depicts the rise of the Confederacy just prior to this battle, while Gettysburg is where the tide was turned in a, Frederiksberg, style defeat that the Confederacy could ill afford, compared to the Union. Jeff Daniels (Arachnophobia) plays the Union Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, and is the stand out performer of the film really. C.Thomas Howell (The Hitcher) plays his brother Thomas & Kevin Conway (Invincible) as his plain speaking sargent. Richard Jordan (Logan's Run) gives a stirring performance in what was sadly his last, as Confederate General Armistead. And Sam Elliot as Union cavalry General Buford.

In conclusion, your not going to get a 100% historical re-enactment in every area of the film, which some viewers seem to blindly expect. The film is about or just over 4 hours long, which is a helluva long time to commit to one viewing, that would be the main gripe for me. But if your an American Civil War enthusiast, then simply this has to be on your shelf, it's as close to the period you can get, the, Saving Private Ryan of the American Civil War if you will. Recommended.
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on 25 February 2011
Gettysburg is a very good film about the largest and bloodiest battle of the US Civil War. It is interesting and well acted but suffers from two minor flaws. Firstly, it is increadibly long with a large cast of characters and multiple stories which at times takes away from the pace of the central narrative. Secondly, the film makers do seem to have over-romanticised the reasons the ordinary soldiers give for why they are fighting. Overall though it is still a very good film.
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on 9 December 2010
This is an amazing film in all respects full of action as you would expect but
filmed with great attention to detail. The acting is very good and although it is
an action film it also has its emotional scenes. The film score is excellent.
I had not studied the American Civil War in any great depth but this motion picture
has made me want to know more.Well acted,well filmed brilliant musical score 5 stars.
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on 10 April 2000
"Gettysburg" by Ronald Maxwell is a film that should take place on the shelf of everyone that is interested in American civil war's military history. The characters are accurately represented (Tom Berenger's performance is quite awesome, Martin Sheen plays an interesting Robert E Lee). The battle scenes are more than realistic (given that many roles are played by American Reenactors who are used to shooting with cap'n ball revolvers or muzzleloading muskets). I would just say that the film might appear too long to people who are not enough familiar to this period, given that a strong knowledge of the civil war is needed to enjoy all the film.
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on 7 December 2001
This is not only a excellent battle reconstruction video, it is also a serious drama and seeks to analysis why and how the various people involved in it reacted to the situation they faced. At one level it is a very good historical reconstruction of two of the main events of the Battle of Gettysburg, Roundtop and Picket's charge. At another level it is an examination of the lives of the people involved, at all levels, and what happened at a critical turning point in the American Civil War. Well acted and produced, for those who are interested in history, or military history this film is a must. Not only is ther dedicated historical reconstruction there isd a sense of time, place and history that is evaocative.Buy it.
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This is an epic film concerning the three days of Gettysburg but like Wagner while it has some marvellous moments it has some dreadful quarter-hours. The entire cast seem to miss no chances to prose interminably. Doubtless seeking not to annoy audiences of either a Union or a Confederate persuasion both sides come over as very nice chaps (a very civil war indeed, as it was described to me). This certainly makes the point that friends and familes were divided by the war but makes it a little bland.

The services of re-enactors permit the film to have a grandeur of sheer numbers but as a result one might think that ACW armies were composed of old and very rotund men. Whereas something more like the cast of THE GRAPES OF WRATH is required.

However, all that aside the combat sequences are simply breathtaking. The feel of combat (standing up and slugging away) is admirably dealt with as Buford defeats Heth. The battle on the Second Day involving the 20th Maine is amongst the most exciting and realistic war films I have seen, and finally the grandstand finish of Pickett's Charge knocks one's socks off. Although GETTYSBURG can come in for some ribbing (Gettysbeard, anyone?) its central core is impressive enough to merit a 5.
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