Overall, I felt that the program was quite interesting and a stark departure from recent Civil War films of the silver screen. Naturally, the best comparison for this film is Gettysburg (1993). In this History special, there is no Sam Elliott, Martin Sheen, Tom Berenger, or Jeff Daniels. It does not discuss Buford’s cavalry, the death of John Reynolds, or Chamberlain’s defense of Little Round Top. While the elements chosen for this film were not as much a focus of the theatrical movie, I was looking forward to see how the Scott brothers would cover those parts of the battle. There is less rich drama, mostly gritty emotional turmoil that illustrates the sheer horror of the battle and the larger war. It has some solid educational qualities to it, though.
The coverage of the first day centered around the story of the Iron Brigade’s role in the battle and the fighting inside the town. The coverage of the second day revolved around the Wheat Field and Culp’s Hill, while the third day focused on Pickett’s Charge, but lacking the sweeping dramatic panoramic shots of Confederate troops marching out, or Union forces behind the stone wall. The main difference was showing the horrors of the weaponry used against the troops on the charge. The scenes showing the charge lacked some of the power due to a lack of numbers used, but the idea the producers attempted to show seemed to be met.
The film pulled back to cover broader subjects of medicine, civilian involvement, and African Americans as they all related to the battle and war, which was a nice touch. Personal stories relating to soldiers involved did an excellent job of providing an intimate view of the battle, making the viewer feel as if they are next to the person. The live action scenes were one of the most detailed features of the film and truly gripping, with some fairly violent scenes demonstrating the carnage of the Civil War battlefield.
In addition, the film utilized computer generated graphics and images to discuss the technology used in the battle, specifically weapons and the effects on the soldiers, as well as illustrate the lay of the land in and around Gettysburg. This effective blending of graphics and live action adds to the films’ educational qualities.
One thing that separates this production from the theatrical version is a lack of focus on the major players (Generals Lee, Longstreet, Hancock, Buford, and Meade), except for Dan Sickles. Most of the characters focused on in the film are common soldiers, or brigade commanders, placing the battle around the actions involving their own individual units.
The Scott brothers created a production that illustrated a gruesome war, deviating from a largely romanticized and glorified portrayal of the war, even on History. While I hoped to see their portrayal of Joshua Chamberlain, I was generally pleased with the effort. I do hope that this is the beginning of more productions of this nature on other major battles of the war, especially from the Western Theater.
This film is part of a week-long series of programs on History on the war, including a program Tuesday evening called Grant and Lee. In addition, special episodes of Pawn Stars and American Pickers will deal with Civil War items, so be sure to check them out. Finally, thank you all for making today our busiest day with over 350 hits.