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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
What a wonderful film! I did wonder, at first, if the acres of very obviously fake beards and moustaches might spoil it, but the slightly comic effect wears off after a short while (but ratchets up again massively for a moment, when Jeb Stuart finally appears, in disc 2).
I really wanted to watch some ACW movies after watching the fabulous Ken Burns ACW documentary series. This proved to be, pretty much, exactly the kind of thing I was after. Some pan this film for its script and direction, and I will admit that there's perhaps an air of over-reverence, but, all things considered, in the end I enjoyed it a lot.
Gettysburg, often described as the pivotal battle of the ACW, occurring midway through the conflict, and marking the 'high tide' of Lee's incursion into the North, gets a properly lavish two-disc treatment, totalling more than four hours (the standard release being approx 4 hrs 15 mins, whilst the director's cut adds about 15 mins more).
Despite a very impressive roster of stars, not all the casting works for me, Martin Sheen as Robert E. Lee being the chief concern. It's a challenging role, given the reverence Lee is generally accorded, but Sheen ends up seeming almost away with the fairies, especially set against Tom Berenger's cautious and grounded Gen. Longstreet. Having said this, it's not that big a deal: Sheen is a good actor, and does a good job, it's just that the film's portrayal of this character doesn't quite chime with my minds' eye view of Lee.
But, despite this caveat, the casting and acting are, overall, pretty solid, with Jeff Brifges as Joshua Chamberlain, in particular, being pitch perfect, as inspiring in the role as one suspects Chamberlain was in the legendary action of Little Round Top, a fight that made his name and helped, like his 'textbook manoeuvre', swing the fortunes of the battle and the war, like the hinge of a gate, in favour of the Union.
On first watching (about which more later) I wasnt 100% convinced. But on second viewing, I decided the whole thing is great. Disc one focusses on the build-up and Little Round Top, whilst disc two is based around Pickett's charge and the battle's end. I accidentally watched disc two first, when I got the film out (via Lovefilm), before finding disc one! I then watched the whole thing starting on disc one... much better!
I can see why some criticise various aspects of this production, in particular the almost laughable fake facial hair. Mind you, when the credits roll and the actors are placed side by side with vintage photos of the actual protagonists, you'll see that the real follicular action was as scary as what the make-up dept. were required to reproduce. But, personally speaking, I found this a moving and well executed reconstruction - the uniforms and equipt are very well done, and decent numbers of extras make for a convincing massed troops effect - of a fascinating and bloody key episode from the ACW.
Perhaps the greatest battle ever fought on American soil, a battle which changed American history forever, brought to the screen by Turner Entertainment gets a worthy DVD release. Released on a single disc which is a flipper, it is supplemented by extras which are worthy of the price alone. There is a very good documentary The Making of Gettysburg which should be seen by all movie enthusiasts and historians alike. It can be seen how much actual work and detail went into the making of this extraordinary picture. Also allows the viewer to develop a greater understanding of the events of the battle and the effect it had not only on the two armies involved, but also on the United States as a whole. The movie itself has already been well reviewed, therefore it needs no further comment from me. Suffice to say, it is a good buy indeed, and should not be missed.
How many times have you read a book and loved it, that you go to see the movie and love it as well? Not often, generally it's the other way around. To Kill a Mockingbird comes to mind. I so love Harper Lee's book, yet the film version catches my heart in the same way. Gettysburg gets on that short list.
Michael Shaara's Pulitzer Prize Winning "Killer Angels" took the pivotal 3-day battle of the Civil War - Gettysburg and gave you the pathos, the sheer frustration, the anger of a battle that slaughter so many. He gave you Lee, who did not want to fight there, a General who time and again defied all battlefield codes of do not divide your forces in the face of the enemy, who proved a defencive army could defeat a superior offence thrust. He was forced to fight where he did not want - in an offencive battle (same mistake that cost William Wallace Falkirk!). For the first, Lee was forced fight with the loss of Jackson; with Stuart bent of rubbing the face of his father-in-law and the whole union army in the fact he could right around them, leaving Lee open with no screening, no intelligence as to where the Union army was; to one general who could not follow his orders; to Longstreet 'his old warhorse' who followed them to the letter sending men into a suicidal charge knowing he was sending them to their death.
Martin Sheen brings this Lee alive, so it's amazing to learn he was the 4th choice for the role. Tom Berringer is brilliant as Longstreet, with wonderful performances by Sam Elliot a Brig. Gen. John Buford, Jeff Daniels as Col Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the mesmerising Kevin Conway as Sgt. 'Buster' Kilrain his long suffering aid, John Diehl (Miami Vice) giving the impassioned speech as representatives of Maine soldier who just want to go home, William Morgan Sheppard as Maj. Gen. Isaac R. Trimble, Stephen Lang (Manhunter) as Pickett and most especially the dying Richard Jordon as Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Armistead. His speech to Longstreet is just so painful on two levels. I have always loved Jordon's work watching him from being introduced in films to this his final role. He was a brilliant actor, one I so miss, and his genius shines in his final hour, just as it was Armistead's final hour. It just does not get any more poignant than that.
Also, there are neat cameos of Ken Burns as Hancock's aid and Ted Turner (the film's money-bank)as Col. Waller T. Patton (uncredited).
Gods and General is the prequel to this, written by Shaara's song Jeff. Ronald F. Maxwell is the director of both films, with Jeff Daniels reprising his role as Chamberlain, as well are C. Thomas Howell as his "don't call me Lawrence" brother and Kevin Conway as his Sergeant. Stephan Lang is in this film as well, but not as Pickett, but playing Stonewall Jackson - Bill Campbell will play Pickett. Robert Duvall, the incomparable as Lee (wonder if he was 1,2 or 3 choice for Gettysburg??) and Bruce Boxleitner (????) taking over a Longstreet (I shall withhold opinions on that casting change).
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.
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.