Gods and Generals Blu-ray review

            After the successful praise of Ronald F. Maxwell’s historical war film Gettysburg, the filmmaker returned almost a decade later with the prequel Gods and Generals. The film is built upon historical details, often at the expense of good filmmaking. At 4 hours and 40 minutes Gods and Generals feels more like an essay than it does a piece of entertainment, but the exhaustive effort to show historical accuracy is impressive nonetheless. It is even more impressive in high definition, as the film’s strong point seems to be the visuals.

            There are many improvements made to the filmmaking in Gods in Generals. The beards have improved a great deal since Berenger’s atrocity, which looks even more ridiculous in high definition. And the cinematography is greatly improved in Gods in Generals, though the director of photography is the same as Gettysburg. Perhaps this is due to budget, or a decade of experience, but the visuals in Gods and Generals is much improved. Unfortunately, the script grows even more wearisome than its predecessor.

            The film by Maxwell, adapted from the book by Jeffrey M. Shaara seems annoyingly one-sided at times. The depiction of black characters, especially slaves is insulting. Although I am certain that there were some slaves who felt a kinship for their owners, the fact that none are shown to be gracious of the northern army is detestable. Slavery is avoided altogether in the discussions of war, from the very beginning when General Robert E. Lee (Robert Duvall this time around) refuses to head up the northern army. His reasoning for choosing the south was the same as many other southern soldiers we hear in the film. How dare the northern army try and take their freedom? They never happen to mention that the freedom they want is a freedom to enslave others, people they view as less than human, without rights.

            The film is broken up into five parts, each taking on a historical account of a specific battle or moment in the war. The battles are much improved from Gettysburg, though there is still a tendency to sanitize the violence of war. It doesn’t help the way large groups of soldier reenactors all fall over together as the cannonballs strike in front of them. It is more like watching an odd bowling game than it is a depiction of war, but Maxwell’s focus is more on military minds than the bloody carnage they sacrifice for the cause.

            The film utilized many 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 48-page, 2-disc collector’s book, released in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

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