Judge David Johnson is somewhere in between a god and a general. Like a gunnery sergeant that can walk on water.
War is hell with facial hair.
Over 200 minutes worth of Civil War buff wet dream grist in HD. Can you handle it?!?
Facts of the Case
In the prequel to Gettysburg, writer and director Ronald Maxwell unspools a big-ass historical retelling of the nitty-gritty of the Civil War that feeds right into the sequel. Three men take center stage: Colonel Joshua Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels, Dumb and Dumber), "Stonewall" Jackson (Stephen Lang) and Robert E. Lee (Robert Duvall).
As the events and major battles of this period of North vs. South tomfoolery unfold, we see how it affects these three historical heavy-hitters, as well as the men that served under them. And the beards! Oh, the beards!
It's low-hanging fruit, but I'm going to pick it: Gods and Generals is prohibitively long and at times proves to be lethally boring. Clocking in at a stunning three hours and 39 minutes, the film seizes on its epic genre-labeling and runs with it full-tilt, or, rather, lumbers forward awkwardly, cradling a musket while getting shot at.
In an attempt to mitigate its imposing runtime, Maxwell and company have tossed in three major Civil War engagements to spruce up the pacing and get some action on screen. And while these battles are staged with a certain panache and benefit from having hundreds of hundreds of professional Civil War re-enactors (I'm assuming, of course, but that seems like the logical route to fill a battlefield), for me, the cannon-fodder never gabbed and grooved me. It was like watching a History Channel special with a bigger budget and on a grander scale. I can't really point to any specific stylistic choices from Maxwell that led to uninspiring on-screen combat, but I know I was unmoved and that these explosion-laden interludes were far from the antidote I was craving for the slow proceedings.
And while I'll give kudos to Maxwell for painstakingly recreating the era to very last scuffed Confederate uniform, the historical minutiae and characters and locales and quotes—so vast in scope in the vast in scope runtime—contributed to the overall feeling that I wasn't so much watching big-screen entertainment, but viewing a social studies textbook. It's a great-to-look-at textbook, no doubt, but, ultimately, sterile and methodical.
Everyone gives it their all, blasting out sweet Civil War quotables with a variety of pseudo-Southern/New England accents, most while hefting beards that demand to be taken seriously. My least favorite, surprisingly, was Duvall, much ballyhooed at Robert E. Lee, whose role in the War, as far as I can tell, was to sit on his horse and bloviate.
If this movie is up your alley, and your Civil War buffitude shudders at the prospect at seeing all the battlefield carnage and tent dialogue in high definition, I am here to tell you that this is the disc for you. Transferred in a 1080p 2.40:1 widescreen, the video quality is top-notch. The details pop off the screen and those huge, sweeping shots of the battles and the locales look stunning. One downside of the dramatically increased clarity is the transparency of visual effect work, which had been utilized to recreate cities and insert pyrotechnics. The 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus mix sounds great. John Frizzell and Randy Edelman composed an appropriately majestic score with lots of choir work and it comes across beautifully in the mix. Battle sounds are adequately distributed to the surrounds.
Side A includes an introduction from Ted Turner and a fact-rich commentary from Maxwell and historical advisors Col. Keith Gibson and James I. Roberston, Sr. On the flipside are three well-done documentaries—"Journey to the Past: An African-American Slave Experience in the Film's Era," "The Life of 'Stonewall' Jackson" and "The Authenticities of the Film"—and two music videos. DVD-ROM content is also available.
Only the hardcore need apply for this massive dose of Civil War shenanigans. Battles that aren't as thrilling as they need to be buttress a lot of history. The HD DVD looks and sounds pristine.
Wha? Huh? Sorry, the bench was napping.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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