392 of 427 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars They don't make movies like this anymore!
...The fact is that "Gods and Generals", which covers the first two years of the war and is the prequel to "Gettysburg", is a great movie. It is painstakingly accurate, wonderfully filmed and scripted, and the acting was suburb. Stephen Lang deserves an Oscar for his brilliant portrayal of Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson. Robert Duvall is also excellent as Gen. Robert E. Lee...
Published on June 6, 2003 by Benbogali
97 of 121 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Gods and Generals Too Long - Wish it had Better Editing
This DVD is a faithful screen adaptation of the book "Gods and Generals", by Jeffrey Shaara. It deals with the very beginnings of the American Civil War and progresses through the battle of Chancellorsville. The book (and movie) are part of a three-part trilogy on the Civil War. The movie is produced by Ted Turner, who makes a small cameo appearance as a southern...
Published on July 31, 2005 by kone
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392 of 427 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars They don't make movies like this anymore!,
...The fact is that "Gods and Generals", which covers the first two years of the war and is the prequel to "Gettysburg", is a great movie. It is painstakingly accurate, wonderfully filmed and scripted, and the acting was suburb. Stephen Lang deserves an Oscar for his brilliant portrayal of Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson. Robert Duvall is also excellent as Gen. Robert E. Lee. Jeff Daniels, who played Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in "Gettysburg", reprises his role in G&G, as do other actors from "Gettysburg".
If you're expecting something like "Saving Private Ryan", you'll be disappointed. It's not that kind of a movie. "Gods and Generals" is part documentary, part drama, with the right mix of both to make it both highly entertaining and historically intriguing. As you listen to the characters, you almost believe that they're from the period and places in which the story is set.
What stuck in the craw of the critics is that this movie didn't present the Confederates as fire-breathing, racist, slavery-defending apes, and the Federals as saintly freedom-fighters. It would be simplistic and wrong to characterize the war as a struggle between good and evil. The vast majority of the Confederate soldiers didn't own slaves and didn't fight for the right to keep slaves. A lot of the Union soldiers, probably most, weren't fighting to free the slaves. There were flawed men on both sides of the war, as well as deeply moral men.
You can debate all you want about how much slavery was an issue in the Civil War, but as to this movie, all points of view were well represented through the characters: Lt. Col. Chamberlain of the 20th Maine, a professor-turned-soldier who was sympathetic to the plight of the black slaves; Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, a man of outstanding military service in the Federal army prior to the Civil War and a most beloved commander, who chose to defend his home state of Virginia against what he saw as an unlawful invasion by the North; Gen. Stonewall Jackson, a fearless and deeply religious man, devoted husband and a brilliant military tactician who loved the Union, but was fiercely loyal to Virginia; Martha, the house slave, who bravely turns away looting Union soldiers from her masters' home during the seige in Fredericksburg, but later takes in the Union's wounded, and who yearns to be free; Jim Lewis, Gen. Jackson's black cook, who prays that one day all of this family will be free. Unforgettable characters, all of them.
If you are uncomfortable with religious overtones and poetic dialogue (sorry, but that's how people were back the), don't buy this DVD. If you don't care at all about American history, skip this one. If you can't watch any historical movie without the filter of 21st century values or political correctness, this movie isn't for you. If you have a short attention span, forget it. This movie clocks in at about 3:37.
If you are interested in the Civil War, or just curious and want to learn about it, if you're tired of all the [stuff] coming out of Hollywood these days, and you're willing to let a movie make you think for a change, if you can put your 21st century frame of mind on hold, I think you'll enjoy this DVD. No matter what the critics are saying, "Gods and Generals" will stand the test of time.
133 of 143 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extended Cut turns mud into Gold,
This review is from: Gods and Generals (Two-Disc Extended Director's Cut in Blu-ray Book Packaging) (Blu-ray)
The theatrical release of the film was just one giant mess of a film. Great acting, sets, cinematography, and of course historically accurate, but still a mess. A search on rottentomatoes.com shows the film to have about an 8% rating which makes someone wonder 'did Uwe Boll direct this?' Plenty of people will hate it because the only slaves depicted in it are the exceptionally well-treated ones. Even watching it again, some of those scenes do still bother me as well, but a new viewer needs to take in account this film about the civil war is NOT focused on the issue of slavery. Of course, the theatrical version isn't focused on anything at all and the was the biggest problem with it.
I initially saw it when it first came out on DVD and expected 'Gettysburg' and what I found instead was a horrendously uneven and unfocused plot. Every scene was either dragged out too long, or rushed, and the transitioning always felt random. With this new extended cut, the movie gains an extra hour. That's right, a near four hour movie is now a near five hour movie. Now I'm a sucker for extended cuts even when the original was mediocre at best. My personal favorites are Dances with Wolves (another hour of greatness), and Kingdom of Heaven (fixes EVERYTHING, except the mis-casted Orlando Bloom). An example of a terrible one is Alexander: Final Cut (Jesus would have trouble raising THAT from the dead).
Gods and Generals is now officially the one movie that benefits more than any other film by having an extended cut. With the added hour and re-edit of the entire movie beginning to end, the pacing of the whole film is restored. Viewers ignorant of the civil war will understand whats going on much better. The characters gain more depth with the added scenes on and off the battlefield. There's a subplot about John Wilkes Booth that adds thematically to the film in a way that's subtle and yet profound, especially towards the end (no, JWB is not portrayed as a 'hero').
In short, a well-intentioned yet disastrous film becomes (I am NOT joking) a cinematic masterpiece. If you at least appreciated what the Theatrical release was trying to accomplish you'll enjoy this new extended cut. You may not be ecstatic about it as I am, but you'll at least agree that it's a solid improvement.
Theatrical Release: 4/10
77 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Work - Only certain types can appreciate it,
This is not your typical movie - One has to expect that. I actually like it, because it is not Hollywood and not slick and polished, but more like about how things really were in the war. Acting of Stonewall Jackson was excellently done and well portrayed in the movie. The level of detail was tremendous, but if you just want a regular fast paced, low detail, low frills movie, then you will hate it...I have watched movies less than half this length and been bored stiff. This is a very complete movie with truth that makes its mark and wish more historical dramas/war movies had this detail, because sometimes it is so hard to beleive what really happened in the past unless you see and understand the smallest details.
63 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Movie...Wish I could see the longer version,
Gods and Generals is an excellent movie. Unfortunately, it doesn't fit the current demographic of target moviegoers (teenagers), and convinced Ted Turner to basically forget ever releasing the third part of the trilogy (The Last Full Measure). Also too bad is the fact that the supposed six hour cut might never be released, as I suspect some criticisms of the movie may be answered by this version.
Contrary to many people's opinion, this movie is not Southern propoganda. No Dixie propaganda piece would have Chamberlain's discussion about the war with his brother in it. It is just telling the story from the point of view of southerners. As this movie is the story of Stonewall Jackson, the Last Full Measure would likely be the story of Ulysses S. Grant, and would amazingly seem too biased to the North.
Despite this, I could have used a little more mention of why northerners joined the war. Showing men from Illinois and Massachusetts as well as Virginia going off to war would have been a nice addition to the movie. I suspect the six hour version has more Chamberlain and Hancock, which is why this version must be released.
Please buy this movie, and buy it as a gift for someone else. Despite being almost four hours long, it is a very smooth flowing time. Hopefully, Shaara and Maxwell will convince Turner to move forward with "The Last Full Measure". Good sales returns on the DVD of "Gods and Generals" will definitely help.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extended director's cut rescues a troubled epic.,
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This review is from: Gods and Generals (Two-Disc Extended Director's Cut in Blu-ray Book Packaging) (Blu-ray)
Fanny Chamberlain: "Mr. Booth, tell me, do you think of your character as the hero or the villain of this play?"
John Wilkes Booth: "It is for the audience to decide who is hero and who is villain. We simply play the parts allotted us."
-- Dialogue from extended director's cut of "Gods and Generals."
Beyond the tableaus of warfare, the non-compliant anecdotes on slavery, the depictions of the home front, and the clever subplots about future presidential assassins, at its core "Gods and Generals" is a twofold character study, intensely specific in its focus. The studied men in question, Thomas Jonathan Jackson (Stephen Lang) and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels), were both officers, academicians, religious zealots, in their thirties, devoted to their wives, were never known to have met face to face, and were willing to go to war and kill one another for their opposing views of patriotism, freedom, and divine will. Seeing the movie again, I was reminded of how superbly nuanced the performances are by Lang and Daniels. Taken together, they comprise the key to understanding this sprawling masterwork.
On the subject of the extended Blu-ray, I'm happy to report that it sounds terrific. Visually it is very pleasing, though some of the restored footage does not match the quality of the other scenes. Occasionally it shows a slightly reddish tint and softness that may indicate the wear n' tear those particular scenes were subject to. Also, it must be said that the CGI remains absolutely atrocious. The "plate" shots during the battle of Antietam are far worse than the much-maligned Fredericksburg scenes. I rather wish Maxwell had eschewed these establishing overviews and left us with the characters looking off-screen. Leave it to our imaginations and call it avant-garde rather than mar your film with Windows 95 graphics.
Fortunately, what matters most is that the new footage significantly redresses the irritating ellipses in the 2003 theatrical cut.
First, a note of caution to fans of the book: this very much remains Ron Maxwell's - not Jeff Shaara's - "Gods and Generals." In other words, those who were aghast at the loose adaptation of Shaara's novel in the shorter version may not extract much redeeming value from its expansion. For my own money, the filmmaker's divergences are not without merit.
The dialogue is not stilted or preachy. It is written and performed so as to give a feel for the psychological, as well as spiritual, world these people might have inhabited. It is not the type of realism we get from our usual diet of history via Hollywood, but there is a kind of subtle theatricality here that is no less dramatically valid. It is also better understood in the restored context of our "Greek chorus," John Wilkes Booth (Chris Conner, brilliant), as he performs Shakespeare at key intervals. The historical/literary parallels Maxwell mines from these scenes are rich and numerous.
Yes, Virginia, the lion's share remains with Jackson and the Confederacy, but Chamberlain and the Union no longer seem as if they'd been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the middle of their counterpart's biography. Chamberlain's perspective is reintegrated enough so that Maxwell finally brings into sharp relief the ethical paradoxes that were always germane to his two films.
An hour of footage is finessed back into an already lengthy running time, yet the rhythm and pacing are so much improved that the experience feels shorter. People and plot strands are properly introduced, narrative/symbolic patterns fully emerge, and the aforementioned moral/political dynamics are enhanced. These adjustments bolster the storytelling and generate a steady forward momentum that vanquishes the stifling effect of the theatrical release. By comparison, that edition has been shown up all the more for what it was: a potentially great work, whittled into a lopsided journey through disconnected vignettes. Now at 280 minutes the potential is realized. Even with the neat and handy tactic of dividing it into five easily digestible segments, the venture maintains a dreamlike progression through its two-year span. We journey from Manassas to Chancellorsville, always aware of our current place in the story while not fully comprehending what comes before and after. I believe this was always part of the filmmakers' aesthetic intent, but this is the first time that it really works.
Despite some glaring technical flaws, "Gods and Generals" and "Gettysburg" have been two of the most influential films in my life for inspiring a love of history as well as drama. For newcomers, please keep in mind that these movies spotlight small portions of a vast canvas that is the American Civil War. It follows a handful of real people and examines their exploits in microcosm, without editorializing. A reasonable case can be made that Maxwell strives so hard not to demonize any of his characters that he pushes the tone too far towards sentimentality. Even if this were the case, it would be sentiment born out of a refreshingly humanistic - as opposed to tiresomely cynical - consideration of the subject matter. And yet, the less savory aspects of Thomas Jackson's personality are not lost on the filmmakers.
Quibbles may be had with the styling of the score, the performances, the structure, or the cinematography, but the effort which imbues all of these, in trying to evoke a time and place, is never less than admirable. The fashionable argument that Maxwell and Ted Turner have done nothing more than to perpetuate a southern hagiography is ridiculous. At best, such arguments are disingenuous.
This is not a thoughtless Hollywood concoction. It is not tainted by the hermetically sealed mythology of "Gone with the Wind," nor the glossy, apolitical antics of "Cold Mountain." It does not portend our own generation's definition of some Greater Truth. It considers nothing more or less than the thoughts and feelings of certain individuals (primarily Virginians) who endured a period of terrible strife. We must always draw our own conclusions and these films allow for that, but is it not truth enough that people such as those portrayed here - North and South, black and white, men and women - were among thousands who lived, loved, suffered, and died for as many reasons, all of which could have meant more to them than mere words and abstractions easily espoused by us today? Or should all historical fiction be propelled only by the conventions of vengeance, deceit, romance, and easily classifiable human vagaries?
It is wrong to expect all dramatic works of a historical bent to preach anything as morally narcissistic as one great, reductive truth; that would regard one group as morally bankrupt and evil while brandishing another group as a totem with which the audience is encouraged to vicariously identify itself, to reinforce unearned feelings of moral superiority. Alas, that is the conditioning we've been subjected to by decades of popular entertainment.
What any historical film should strive for is the illumination of its subject to whatever extent possible and, above all else, to be great entertainment. It is this last quality of "Gods and Generals" that is most easily debated, and I can only speak for myself when I say I find it immensely entertaining. Especially the director's cut.
Our understanding of any historical epoch must not hinge upon one film, but be augmented by additional reading and viewing. Within the scope of these two mammoth works, Ron Maxwell has shown us tangible glimpses of a bygone generation. He leaves it to the rest of us to fill in the gaps, with that same voracious appetite for the pursuit of knowledge and understanding as must have gone into researching and making these movies.*
These new Blu-ray books are (very obviously) highly recommended.
* FYI, Maxwell and Warner: the extended cut contains an egregious error. One of the captions during the Antietam sequence identifies the date of that battle as September 19th instead of the 17th. You might consider addressing this embarrassment upon future video releases. Cheers.
87 of 105 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great civil war classic!!,
God and generals is a very good and interesting movie which is part one of a trilogy based on the civil war. Stephan Lang did an excellent job as general Sonewall Jackson his performance gives me a better look as what the real Thomas Stonewall Jackson must have been as a leader of the confederate army. Robert Duvall made a great Robert E. Lee a better performance than Martin Sheen in Gettysburg. Jeff Daniels returns as Lt. Chamberlain a roll which stands out in Gettysburg and continues to shine in Gods and Generals. The battle scenes in this were a lot clearer and had more of a punch than the battles in the film Gettysburg. The battles that really stood out in this movie were Fredericksburg when the two Irish Birgades on opposing sides were shooting and killing each other. Between the music score and the way the battle was filmed it really has a powerful impact. The battle of Chancellorsville the films final battle really stood out when you see all these confederates coming out of the woods without making a sound made my heart race. I enjoyed Gettysburg and it makes a very good sequal to gods and generals but between the two Gods and Generals had the most impact on me. If you have an interest in the civil war these movies along with Glory opens your mind and gives you a strong image to what it was like actually being there. The things I wish they had in Gods and Generals is the battle of Antietam the bloodiest day in the civil war, and the rebel yell I've read that it was used by Stonewall Jackson just before he advanced his troops to attack. I look foward to seeing The Last Full Measure keeping Robert Duvall as Robert E. Lee and bringing Jeff Daniels, and Stephan Lang back. Overall an enjoyable historic experience.
39 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Warning! Explicit Bible reading,
"Gods and Generals" could have used some tighter editing, just as many of the professional and online reviewers say. But some of their more hostile comments tell more about the reviewers than about the picture. World magazine writer Gene Edward Veith gigged them nicely with this mock content advisory:
"Warning! This movie contains explicit Bible reading. Scenes contain graphic depictions of prayer. The language may not be suitable for viewers offended by nonprofane references to Jesus. Viewers are strongly cautioned due to intense moralizing, violently affectionate marriages, and gratuitous displays of selfless behavior."
It's hard to portray piety well on-screen, and Hollywood these days scarcely ever tries to do so. But Stephen Lang pulls it off. His Jackson is stern, warm, charismatic and convincing. I had long imagined a film about Stonewall, and this is almost all I could have desired.
I had envisioned Ed Harris in the role, as he bears a strong resemblance to Jackson, but I don't think Harris could have outdone Lang or even equalled him. If you doubt Lang's acting chops, just watch him play Pickett in "Gettysburg." What a contrast to Lang's Jackson! Each portrayal has a life of its own. Lang's performance outdoes even the great Robert Duvall, who here and there lets the hint of a "Lonesome Dove" mannerism slip into his portrayal of Lee.
"Gods and Generals" is especially welcome in that it contains none of the puerile nonsense that spoiled the recent would-be epics "Pearl Harbor" and "The Patriot." Plodding it may be, but it should at least get credit for its maturity.
Here's what I missed in "Gods and Generals" and hope to see in the 6-hour DVD:
* Some sense of how Jackson and Lee earned their immense reputations, in the Valley and Peninsula campaigns and at Second Manassas.
* Some more attention to the Federal commanders, who were the tragicomic foils for Lee's and Jackson's brilliance. In the movie, that parade of bunglers and blowhards is represented only by Burnside. I understand the DVD will include Antietam, so we may meet McClellan there, but I want to see Pope and Hooker huff, puff and fall on their faces, too.
* Speaking of bunglers and blowhards, a hard look at the secessionist firebrands who brought the war on might have mollified those critics who found the Southern cause way too idealized in this picture. Especially on the issue of slavery and race, a contrast could have been drawn between Jackson and someone like Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, who prattled about the "great truth" of white superiority. The South's bigotry resided in its politicians, not in men like Jackson. (One critic doubted that Jackson would ever have called the free black cook he hired "Mr. Lewis," as he does in the movie. But "Tom Fool" Jackson was known in pre-war Lexington for tipping his hat to black men on the street. Said he: "I could not be less polite to a Negro than he is to me.")
I look forward eagerly to seeing the conclusion of Mr. Maxwell's Civil War trilogy. In the role of U.S. Grant, the Union general who finally took Lee's measure, I'd suggest Russell Crowe. Like Grant, Crowe looks a bit surly, "as if he were about to drive his forehead through a brick wall."
And if Crowe isn't available, just call on Lang again. Embodying Jackson, Pickett AND Grant --- now, THAT would be an acting trifecta!
41 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Finest Film Ever Made About The American Civil War,
"Gods and Generals" easily surpasses it's predecessor "Gettysburg" and lays claim to the distinction of being the finest film ever made dealing with the Civil War. Although Ken Burns PBS documentary "The Civil War" is the gold standard for documentaries, "G&G" will capture the audience's attention and imagination from the very beginning to the final curtain like no other film has done before.
Here are, IMHO, the "pros":
Authentic period sets
Impressive performances delivered by Stephen Lang (Jackson), Jeff Daniels (Chamberlain), Robert Duvall (R.E. Lee), Kevin Conway (Sgt. 'Buster' Kilrain), Sean Pratt (Dr. Hunter McGuire)
Outstanding special visual effects, including
Computer Generated Imagery
Superb soundtrack score by John Frizzell, including the hauntingly beautiful "Going Home" by Mary Fahl, and Appalachia echoing "Cross The Green Mountain" by Bob Dylan
Re-enactors demonstrated higher authenticity standards than in film "Gettysburg".
Now for the "cons":
Minor special effects shortcomings. (Ironically, as CGI becomes more frequently used in Cinema, and as viewing audiences become more and more sophisticated, CGI use becomes all the more obvious. However, this more of an industry wide criticism rather than a direct negative criticism of the movie itself.)
Deleted battles - Antietam/Sharpsburg (will be included in the Director's cut version when released)
Some deviation's from Jeff Shaara's book, albeit in retrospect, they do not detract from the overall storyline.
Definitely destined to become a classic in it's own right. Powerful imagery grabbed me from the very beginning (which included the fluttering of many well known regimental flags) and continues throughout. The sequence at 1st Manassas where Jackson successfully shores up the faltering Confederate battle line imbues the film with the cacophony of sounds and confusion of battle (similar to Saving Private Ryan) and immerses the audience into the middle of the fray as a participant, rather than from the perspective of a "mere" spectator, and continues throughout the film.
The Battle of Fredricksburg, Marye's Height segment is faithfully recreated as the audience witnesses regiment after regiment being committed piecemeal fashion in the hopeless Federal endeavor. Stirringly poignant in this sequence is the Irish Brigade advancing up the heights only to be met by Cobb's 24th Georgia, also made up of mostly Irish immigrants. Also, the horrifying aftermath of Marye's Heights, in human terms, is conveyed with chilling effect.
Maxwell also does a superb job in combining the audio/visual elements for Jackson's flank march at Chancellorsville. By taking John Frizzell's "VMI Will Be Heard From Today" score and blending it with the visual swiftness of of the surging Rebel tide, Maxwell places the audience on the precipice of an irresistible wave about to crash into Oliver Howard's XI Corps.
Stephen Lang is outstanding as the fervently spiritual General Jackson, which in my opinion should earn him at least a "nod" from the Motion Picture Academy.
I could go on an on, but suffice it to say, you won't be disappointed. It appears the Civil War living history and reenacting community has their very own "Patriot" and "Saving Private Ryan" in "Gods and Generals".
48 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gods & Generals,
Gods & Generals is a film of epic proportions, but this film proves that epic proportions does not equate to an epic film. I enjoyed the film and much of the acting was superb, but as a whole, it did not meet the mark set by its sequel of 1993, "Gettysburg."
The center-piece of this film is General Stonewall Jackson and the faith-filled romance with his wife, who he affectionately refers to as his "esposita."
Stephen Lang's performance as the devout Christian and fearless general is stupendous. You soon forget you're watching a performance and begin to think of yourself as a voyeur in his life. The film's greatest strength is the emotional bond the viewer develops with his character.
Sadly, this connection falters with the rest of the historic characters. They are interesting to be sure, but the film fails to create the bond with the viewer and these other historic figures.
Some scenes will be a total loss to those who are not students of history or the Civil War. Relationships are not explained between some soldiers and generals... you are told they "have their differences," but are never told why, making the mention of them inconsequential to the average movie goer.
The battle scenes are as close to non-violent as battlescenes can get. You hear the ripping of the wind as the musket balls fly through the air and you see body after body fall, but you don't see body parts explode... just explosions of dirt as cannon-balls fly and a body gets thrown in the air. The sound and music allow the viewer to be intensely involved in the battle, without the added gore. This is both a plus and a minus. It makes it a family-friendly film - no foul language and a modicum of violence. In reality, of course, the Civil War was a bloody, violent war and those seeking a "Saving Private Ryan" level of realism will not be satisfied in that department.
With such a stellar cast and a beautiful backdrop, the producers really dropped the ball in the CGI department. The computer graphics used to simulate the towns and battlescenes were simply awful, especially by today's standards.
The bird's eye views of villages/towns looked like blurry (very blurry) Thomas Kinkaid paintings... to add "realism" they added painted animated flocking birds that looked as though they were cut from a 1930's Bela Lagosi "Dracula" movie. Very, very, very crude animation that was unnecessary and distracting. The explosions from afar on the battlefields were also very sub-par. They looked like the default explosion effect available in Adobe After Effects version 1.0. Just crude and unbelievable - they were not the same shade, color or tone of the surrounding scenes and no attempt was made to blend the effects w/ the previously filmed action.
In addition to the very poor CGI effects, the use and re-use of the same scenes was obvious to the viewer. In one part of the movie, you would see villagers fleeing down a d particular path. Thirty minutes later, you'd meet a new character and then see them for the second time running down the same path in the same scene. Because the camera angle had not changed, it was very obvious they were identical scenes. This happened a number of times during battle scenes as well where the same exact canon would cause the same exact explosion where the same unknown actor would fly through the air to his death.
These goof-ups not-withstanding, this is a truly enjoyable film and safe for families to view. Civil War buffs will be swept away by the historic accuracy, on-location filming and historic buildings and uniforms.
Non-historians who view the film will probably be distracted by the wooden acting of "Seventh Heaven" star Jeremy London or the cheesy animation previously cited, but should still find the overall movie-going experience to be a positive one.
36 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Through the Eyes of a People From a Different Time and Place,
My God!? 539 reviews? It would seem that a lot of folks who didn't like this movie brought their own political views to the table. Should you bother to buy this movie? It depends what you're looking for and depends on whether or not you'd like to know how things really were, or if you'd prefer the politically correct pabulum that's being pedaled in our society today.
WHO SHOULD NOT SEE THIS MOVIE:
If you are looking for thrills, spills, chills, and the mindless Hollywood drivel that passes for entertainment these days, then skip this movie. Stick to "Dude Where's My Car" or the "Matrix" or better yet,"The Dominatrix".
If you have the attention span of a fruit fly and you're running low on your Ritalin, then skip this movie. The people of the 19th century, for all their shortcomings, had better attention spans than we do. No "time outs", no video games, no Reality TV. Life itself was the reality and they had little time to be bored. Words meant something to them. Those words will mean little to you because you've never learned to listen.
If you are the type who wrings his or her hands whining and pontificating about "chattel slavery", then please skip this movie. You'll give yourself carpal tunnel and a nervous breakdown to boot. You'll also give the rest of us a headache with your incessant, self-righteous reviews. You obviously know little about history, because if you did, you would not be engaging in "presentism", that is, the judging the people of the past by contemporary standards. Slavery has been around since the dawn of time. Everyone's had it, including the Africans. Get over it already.
And finally, if you're the super-patriot, chest thumping, "I'm a PROUD American and the Confederates were all Traitors" type, then skip this movie. You obviously never read William Rawle's "A View of the Constitution", which was required reading at West Point before the war. You obviously are not aware that 16,000 Confederate soldiers are buried in Arlington National Cemetery with the full blessing of the United States Government. And despite your professed love for America, you just can't seem to get it through your head that the America you know was born in a crucible of blood we call "The Civil War".
WHO SHOULD SEE THIS MOVIE:
Want to know how southerners of this period saw the war? Do you want to gain that understanding without having to read a hundred books and invest years of your life doing it? Then see this movie! It's that simple. Ron Maxwell does a rather masterful job of portraying what was, and of giving us the opportunity to see it through the eyes of the people who lived it.
The DVD has a few perks added on. The music videos by Mary Fahl, who is absolutely gorgeous, and Bob Dylan were superb! There are some interesting clips on the DVD that ended up on the cutting room floor. And there's a discussion of the movie by a couple of historians at the end of the film.
Yes, the film is full of religious references. Jackson was devoutly religious and old Massa' Robert wasn't far behind. Religion played an important part in these men's lives and in the lives of the men they led. To fail to understand the south's affinity for religion is to fail to understand the south.
The slavery question is conspicuously underplayed? Read the letters and diaries of southern soldiers. You'll not find much mention of it. For that matter, you won't find it much in the diaries and letters of the northern soldiers either. What you will find a strong emphasis on is the concept of "home". Today the word "home" is most often a building that we purchase and live in until it appreciates in value. Then we sell it and move to a more upscale "home". There was a time when the word "home" meant something quite different. You fought for it, and you died for it if necessary.
And no, you don't need a repeat of "Saving Private Ryan". To be sure, the wounds inflicted by weapons of this period caused the same kind of trauma to the human body, but bloody stumps that were once legs and intestines strewn on the ground are not present in this movie. It simply isn't necessary. If you pay attention you'll see that there is plenty of gut wrenching in this movie, but it's the emotional kind. I have to admit that I found myself with a lump in my throat watching the Irish Yanks and the Irish Rebs slaughter each other up on Marye's Heights.
If I'd level one criticism, it would be the so-called "special effects", or CGI. There are a couple of shots of Fredericksburg and of the Union troops advancing on Marye's Heights that resemble a bad video game.
And finally, yes, there were a few fat reenactors, both in blue as well as gray. It goes with the territory I suppose. The average civil war soldier was 24 years old, weighed 140-150lbs and stood 5'6" tall. He could walk 18 miles in a day and there were no McDonald's, no KofC, and no Wendy's around! The average civil war reenactor is twice the age of the soldier he represents, generally has a job and a family and like most of us who are getting up in years, he's fighting his own personal "battle of the bulge". But several times a year, he gives up his spare time to join others who share his passion. Together, they attempt to give us a glimpse into what was. Thousands of such people gave of themselves and their free time so that this movie could be made. As a sometimes reenactor myself I salute their efforts and their self sacrifice.
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Gods and Generals [Blu-ray] by Ronald F. Maxwell (Blu-ray - 2007)