Gettysburg Blu-ray review

            Ronald F. Maxwell’s historical war film Gettysburg was praised for being exactly that; a historical film. The film is built upon historical details, often at the expense of good filmmaking. It feels more like an essay than it does a piece of entertainment, but the exhaustive effort to show historical accuracy is impressive nonetheless. I do not, however, recommend watching this 4 ½ hour director’s cut anytime in the evening. Or rather, it should not be started in the evening, because no matter what it will probably be night by the time it has finished.

            The length of the film might not feel so weary, were it not for the endless monologues given by various characters. The endless discussions of war are tiresome after time, seeming determined to show sentiments of both sides, though there seems to be some leaning towards the southern perspective of the war. It is subtle, and not nearly so outright as it would later become in Maxwell’s follow-up prequel, Gods and Generals. Remaining tied to the details leading up to and including the battle of Gettysburg, the military minds of each side, with specific focus on General Robert E. Lee (Martin Sheen), Lietutenant General James Longstreet (Tom Berenger) and Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels).

            The film utilized over 5,000 extras for the battle sequences, and Maxwell chose to use actual Civil War reenactors. This was a clever move, though it does make for some rather inexperienced and unconvincing acting by the background actors. This is slightly more noticeable with the clarity of high definition, but there is much more good than bad to come from this Blu-ray release. For every bad reenactor, there is a spectacular moment captured in high definition as well. There is also a second DVD disc of extras in this spectacular 14-page, 2-disc collector’s book, released in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

            The special features on the Blu-ray include a commentary track with Maxwell, cinematographer Kees Van Oostrum, Pulitzer Prize-winning author James M. McPherson and military historian Craig Symonds. The DVD disc has three featurettes, battlefield maps and a theatrical trailer.

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