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Ronald F. Maxwell
Tom Berenger, Martin Sheen, Stephen Lang, Jeff Daniels, Richard Jordan, Andrew Prine, Cooper Huckabee, Patrick Gorman, Bo Brinkman
Writing Credits:
Michael Shaara (novel), Ronald F. Maxwell

Same Land. Same God. Different Dreams.

Marking the 150th-anniversary commemoration of the Civil War, Ronald F. Maxwell’s acclaimed film now arrives in a Director’s Cut featuring 17 minutes of compelling additional footage. Filmed at actual battle locations and full of authentic details, this rousing and soulful movie plunges you into the heat of the bloodiest battle fought on American soil. History comes alive with intense and spirited battles as well as the dilemmas, motivations and fears of the leaders. Tom Berenger, Jeff Daniels, Martin Sheen and Stephen Lang star in this magnificent epic based on Michael Shaara's Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Killer Angels".

Box Office:
$25 million.
Domestic Gross
$10.769 million.

Rated PG

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
German Monaural
Portuguese Dolby Stereo 2.0
Spanish Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 271 min.
Price: $34.99
Release Date: 5/24/2011

Disc One:
• Audio Commentary with Director/Screenwriter Ronald F. Maxwell, Cinematographer Kees Van Oostrum, Author James McPherson and Military Historian Craig Symonds
Disc Two:
• “The Making of Gettysburg” Featurette
• “On Location” Featurette
• “The Battle of Gettysburg” Featurette
• Battlefield Maps
• Theatrical Trailer
• “Ron Maxwell’s Invitation to Take the Journey Through Hallowed Ground”

• Hardcover Book


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Gettysburg [Blu-Ray] (1993)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 1, 2011)

In the summer of 1863 – more than two years into the Civil War - the Confederate Army took the offensive. Rather than fight on their own territory, the Rebels moved north and crossed into Pennsylvania. A major battle began at Gettysburg and lasted three days.

1993’s Gettysburg shows a little of the build-up to the battle but mostly concentrates on the specifics of those three days. It focuses on the efforts of a few participants and their charges. On the Confederate side, we see the work of commanding officer General Robert E. Lee (Martin Sheen) as well as Lieutenant General James Longstreet (Tom Berenger), a leader who offers fateful advice during the Gettysburg campaign. We also spend extensive time with Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels), a Union officer who leads the 20th Maine, a force whose actions helped carry the day for their side.

Across the materials attached to this Blu-ray, you’ll find much comment on how much research and effort at authenticity went into the creation of Gettysburg. We learn about the years of preparation and toil behind its development as well as all the pains exerted to make sure that the film represented the most accurate depiction of the material possible.

Authenticity is all well and good, but if the movie itself bores, historical accuracy won’t save it. I worried that Gettysburg would concern itself so heavily with realism and the “facts” that it would forget to tell a good story with interesting characters.

To my relief, Gettysburg remembered all of that and delivered a strong examination of the subject matter. I don’t know how well it will work for those unfamiliar with the Civil War, though, as it provides little background. A preface throws out some basics that lead in to the July 1863 fight, but it doesn’t do much; it essentially assumes that you have at least rudimentary comprehension of the War’s course of events.

I suspect that even if you go into Gettysburg fairly blind, it won’t matter to a tremendous degree. It builds its characters and the specifics of the battles in a logical, natural way that should be fine for neophytes and buffs alike. No, it doesn’t waste much time before it launches us into war, but it still manages to develop the circumstances and participants in a satisfying manner.

I like the bifurcated nature of the film, as Gettysburg gives fairly equal play to both Union and Confederate. Actually, I suspect that if you compared screentime, the Rebels would probably receive a little more attention; that seems somewhat inevitable since it involves a towering figure like Lee but not a counterpart of similar stature on the Union. That’s not a complaint – just an observation that if the two sides lack some balance, this would be the likely reason.

In any case, the movie feels reasonably neutral. Apparently Gene Siskel though it was “bloated Southern propaganda”, but I don’t see it that way. The film usually leaves politics out of it; we get a few short chats about the causes of the war, but it mostly sticks with personal notes about the participants and actual war planning/execution.

Perhaps Siskel saw Gettysburg as propaganda because it doesn’t take sides. In no way does the film seem to endorse the Confederate cause, but it also doesn’t go out of its way to condemn the Rebels either. It views the participants as military men doing their jobs; political opinions remain in the background, and when they appear, we hear equally from both sides.

Gettysburg excels at its main job: a depiction of the events that transpired from late June to early July. It balances strategy development and actual warfare in a satisfying way; we hear enough about the battle plans to make sense of the skirmishes themselves, but we’re not bogged down in interminable planning sessions.

The film also manages to humanize the characters well and not portray them as stock figures. It’s easy to let military officers devolve into one-dimensional cartoons, but the film ensures that we learn a lot of personal information about them and care for them as people.

Overall, the acting seems good, though I admit I’m not wild about Sheen as Lee. He seems fine, but he can be a little wooden, and he’s played a few too many Northerners for me to easily buy him as a Southern legend.

Sheen isn’t bad, though, and the others perform more than ably. I especially like Stephen Lang’s ebullient turn as Major General George Pickett, as he lends a flashy air to the role but doesn’t make him a preening goof. I suspect Lang stands out to me because I watched 2003’s prequel Gods and Generals first, and he also appears in that film – as a different character. In Generals, Lang plays Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, a radically different personality. Lang handles both admirably, and it’s amazing to see how well he handles such disparate characters.

Add to that strong battle sequences and Gettysburg delivers a compelling depiction of an extremely important part of American history. The battles marked a turning point in the Civil War, and the film brings home the drama.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B/ Bonus B

Gettysburg appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. I found the movie to present a satisfactory but not terrific transfer.

Sharpness was decent much of the time. Some wider shots demonstrated bouts of softness, and the image could be a smidgen blocky on occasion, but it usually showed good clarity and accuracy. No issues with shimmering or jaggies occurred, and only a little light edge enhancement was visible. Source flaws remained absent; the image could be oddly grainy in some shots, but no actual print defects emerged.

Colors favored a subdued natural palette. The movie usually stayed with earthy tones, though of course, the uniforms meant a lot of blues and grays. Hues appeared acceptable; they weren’t exactly strong, but they seemed reasonably full. Blacks were a bit inky, and shadows tended to appear somewhat dense; in particular, nighttime shots looked a little opaque. The image consistently remained watchable but it remained fairly average.

At least the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Gettysburg showed more life, though one shouldn’t expect Saving Private Ryan level auditory mayhem here. Gettysburg hit screens when Dolby Digital and DTS were just entering the market; Dolby Surround was the norm before that.

I don’t know what kind of mix Gettysburg originally boasted, but the soundfield had something of a “Dolby Surround” feel to it. The track used the surrounds in an effective way, though not as actively as one would expect from a newer mix. The back channels added goood reinforcement to the battles but didn’t demonstrate as much unique material as one might anticipate, and split-surround information was infrequent. The surrounds still had a lot to do, however, and they contributed a nice layer of involvement to the warfare.

The forward channels worked well, too. Music demonstrated nice stereo imaging, and the elements of battle spread nicely across the speakers. These combined into a solid package, though again, I suspect a more modern track would’ve created a more compelling presentation; the mix was positive but not excellent.

Audio quality appeared good. Speech was consistently concise and distinctive, without edginess or other issues. Music showed fairly nice range and heft, and effects were positive. Bass could be somewhat boomy and the effects didn’t create an intense impression, but they were clear and acceptably accurate. All of this ended up as a “B” soundtrack.

On Disc One, we get an audio commentary from director/screenwriter Ronald F. Maxwell, cinematographer Kees Van Oostrum, author James McPherson and military historian Craig Symonds. All sit separately for this scene-specific track. They discuss various aspects of shooting the film as well as many historical elements related to the Civil War and the events depicted in the movie.

As I mentioned, this is a scene-specific commentary, which means statements don’t come as a constant companion. The track originally appeared on the film’s DVD, and it’s unclear if it skipped the many gaps or if it forced you to sit through the whole movie to get the sparse comments.

Whatever the case was with the DVD, the Blu-ray definitely makes you watch all 271 minutes of Gettysburg to find those occasional notes. That makes it a poorly executed extra, as it becomes a serious chore to listen to the commentary.

When the speakers provide information, they deliver good notes. We get a smattering of nice insights related to the production, and the historical elements add depth to our understanding of the movie and the real events.

Unfortunately, the acres of dead air will mean that only a few hardy souls will sit through this endurance test. The track provides some weird choices in addition to the blank spaces. On occasion, a speaker will get cut off in mid-sentence and his notes will resume a few minutes later. Why? This makes a slow track even less cohesive. With more efficient presentation, the commentary would’ve satisfied, but the unfortunate decision to force listeners to go through 4 and a half hours of film to hear maybe 90 minutes of commentary makes this a disappointment.

Three featurettes show up on Disc Two, which is a DVD, not a Blu-ray. The Making of Gettysburg goes for 52 minutes, three seconds and offers notes from Maxwell, executive producers Robert Katz and Moctesuma Esparza, filmmaker Ken Burns, historian/novelist Shelby Foote, special effects coordinator Matt Vogel, production designer Cary White, reenactor corps commander Michael Kraus, property master Kelly Farrah, assistant property master Dr. Ray Giron, makeup supervisor Allan Apone, military choreographer Dale Fetzer, historical advisor Brian Pohanka, and actors Jeff Daniels, Stephen Lang, Sam Elliott, Martin Sheen, Tom Berenger, C. Thomas Howell, and Andrew Prine.

Like the commentary, “Making” mixes notes about the production and the historical events that inspired it. Unlike the commentary, it does so in an efficient, pleasing manner. The program inevitably repeats some info from the commentary, but it remains more satisfying since it moves at a good pace and suffers from no real lulls. “Making” delivers a solid recap of both historical and filmmaking areas.

On Location runs five minutes, 31 seconds as it shows what it describes: footage from the set. We get basic images from the shoot without any commentary or additional information. I’d have liked a little perspective, but it’s still interesting to see the documentation of the battle sequences.

Finally, The Battle of Gettysburg fills 29 minutes, 35 seconds. Narrated by Leslie Nielsen, it provides a 1955 Cinemascope recap of the events at Gettysburg. It does so with shots of the territory circa 1955 as well as various artistic elements; no reenactment occurs. This is an interesting archival piece, though unfortunately, it lacks anamorphic enhancement, so the Cinemascope photography gets crammed into a small window.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find some Battlefield Maps. This feature occupies seven minutes, 36 seconds as it lets us see fairly detailed charts of the territory along with commentary from Symonds that explains the maps. The piece allows us to get a nice overview of the tactics and methods involved in the battles.

Next we find Ron Maxwell’s Invitation to Take the Journey Through Hallowed Ground. It lasts seven minutes, one second, and acts as a pitch for the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership. It really isn’t anything more than a long advertisement.

For this release, the package comes in a hardcover book. It includes an introduction from Maxwell, historical and production notes, cast/character biographies, a Civil War timeline, “Gettysburg By the Numbers” and photos. The book adds a nice finish to the set.

A sprawling, detailed examination of a pivotal moment in American history, Gettysburg brings the battles to life. It mixes warfare with character moments in a satisfying manner to turn into a nice historical drama. The Blu-ray provides average visuals, good audio and a reasonably nice set of supplements marred mainly by poor implementation of an audio commentary. For the most part, the Blu-ray gives us a positive presentation of an involving historical drama.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.875 Stars Number of Votes: 8
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