An epic star-studded re-telling of one of the most famous land battles in history which took place in 1863 during the American Civil War. Over 50,000 men died during the three day battle.
Thanks to generous funding from media mogul Ted Turner, first-time director Ronald F Maxwell was able to make an almost word-for-word adaptation of Michael Shaara's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Killer Angels
. Running over four hours, Gettysburg
(1993) splits into two convenient parts for TV viewing (although a 70mm print was given limited theatrical release). This story of three bloody days of conflict in July, 1863 (an unimaginable 50,000 casualties), is divided equally between Union and Confederate forces. On the Union side, Jeff Daniels is the quietly heroic Colonel Joshua Chamberlain; Sam Elliott is utterly convincing as General Buford, the Union cavalryman who holds the Confederate army at bay on the first day. Martin Sheen plays an oddly subdued and vacillating General Lee--a controversial portrait of the legendary Confederate chief--while Tom Berenger, despite being almost hidden underneath an enormous authentically period-style beard, is strong and authoritative as General Longstreet (whose opposition to Lee's plans gave many in the Confederacy a reason to blame him for the disaster at Gettysburg). Chamberlain's last-ditch defence of Little Round Top, which prevented the Union forces from being flanked on the second day of battle, forms the climax to the first half; the heartbreaking Pickett's Charge--the Confederates' disastrous frontal assault on the entrenched Union lines on the third day--is the movie's greatest set piece and one of the most compelling reasons to endure a little too much stodgy dialogue (lifted directly from the novel) and an apparently over-reverential attitude to the subject-matter. But much of this movie was made in and around the actual battle site, so it's only to be expected that the cast and crew tread carefully, as if literally under the watchful eyes of the men whose lives they are re-enacting. And re-enactment is the key: with a cast of thousands in splendidly detailed period costumes, cannonades galore and massed ranks of musketry, the sheer scale of the military spectacle is endlessly impressive. If as a piece of filmmaking it has many faults, as an historical re-enactment Gettysburg
is unsurpassed--even by the epic Waterloo
(1970), which drafted in a large chunk of the Russian army as Napoleonic extras. --Mark Walker