Gods and Generals appears in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was an often attractive but still problematic transfer.
The main issue stemmed from definition. Whether due to the presence of almost five hours of content on on Blu-ray Disc, the original photography, or the use of noise reduction techniques, some parts of the film lacked clarity. The image could take on a smeared, smoothed-out appearance that affected different spots in a variety of ways. For instance, a shot at the 13:20 mark showed good definition in the foreground but was positively blurry in the background. More than a few additional sequences showed similar – though less intense – instances of softness.
These instances usually affected interiors, but not always. For example, at the 37:50 mark, a shot of marching soldiers looked smeared and ill-defined. Again, these problems didn’t appear constantly, and much of the film showed nice clarity and delineation. However, the blurry bits created definite distractions.
I noticed no issues with jaggies or shimmering, and edge haloes were absent. Source flaws also failed to become an issue. I saw a couple of tiny specks but nothing else; this was a clean presentation.
Colors acted as a highlight. The movie went with a warm, natural palette that favored blues and reds. These hues appeared vivid and full throughout the film. Blacks were deep and dense, while shadows demonstrated generally nice clarity and definition; a few nighttime shots could be somewhat opaque, but most seemed good. Really, there was a fair amount to like about the presentation, but the smearing and softness were enough of an intrusion to lower my overall grade to a “C+”.
Happily, I found little about which to complain when I examined the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1. As befit a war movie, the soundscape sometimes opened up in a broad manner. Battle sequences used the various channels in a dynamic way, as the various fight elements like gunfire, cannons and the like zipped about the room and engulfed us. These added real power to the proceedings and plopped us firmly amidst the action.
Given the film’s nearly five-hour running time, the action scenes didn’t dominate. This meant a lot of scenes with less vivid audio, but they were still pleasing. The quieter sequences demonstrated a good sense of place and atmosphere; they showed a fine feel for the settings.
At all times, audio quality was solid. Speech appeared concise and distinctive; no edginess or other problems affected the lines. Music seemed vivid and lively, and effects delivered great reproduction. In particular, the various implements of war boasted fine clarity and power; bass response was terrific, as the cannons and other loud elements blasted us. I felt totally pleased with this strong soundtrack.
The disc claims to include two audio commentaries, both from the same participants: director/screenwriter Ronald F. Maxwell, historical consultant/VMI Museum director Keith Gibson, and Virginia Tech Professor James Robertson. I’ll discuss the “extended cut commentary” first and then offer some notes on the shorter track.
This piece sits Maxwell, Gibson and Robertson together for a running, screen-specific affair. They discuss historical notes/background, research and accuracy/liberties, sets and locations, cast, characters and performances, effects and music.
Though the track does touch on some filmmaking topics, it spends the vast majority of its time with historical elements. That’s a good thing, as the commentary delivers nice background about the events and characters.
Unfortunately, the discussion suffers from an awful lot of gaps, as a great deal of dead air occurs. Normally I would cut a lot of slack given the movie’s length; after all, the film runs nearly five hours.
However, the subject matter means that there’s much more than five hours of material to discuss, so the gaps disappoint. The participants are clearly very knowledgeable, so I would think they’d easily be able to chat for extended periods. This makes the empty spaces more prominent and less understandable. There’s still enough good content to keep us with the track, but the dead air can frustrate.
The other commentary fills one hour, 29 minutes and includes Maxwell, Robertson and Gibson. It creates a frustrating affair because it duplicates some of the longer track but doesn’t act solely as an abbreviated version. The two cover the same range of topics, but you’ll find some unique material in the shorter piece.
Which seems annoying. When I compared the two, the longer commentary sometimes lacked information during scenes that offered content in the shorter one. Why would the abbreviated track feature anything not found in the longer one? If it was a totally different commentary, I’d understand the variations, but it’s not; some of the exact same recordings show up in both. It’s weird to have two commentaries that are often – but not always – identical.
Disc One also provides an Introduction from Maxwell and executive producer Ted Turner. In this nine-minute, 44-second piece, we get notes about both men’s interest in the Civil War, aspects of the production and the changes for the extended cut. This is the only place where anyone discusses how the theatrical and extended versions differ, so it’s good to get those details.
The remained supplements appear on a second disc. We launch with The Life of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, a 14-minute, 30-second piece that includes notes from Gibson, Robertson, Gods and Generals author Jeff Shaara, and Stonewall Jackson House executive director Michael Anne Lynn. As expected, the program delivers some basics about Jackson’s life, career and legacy. It’s too short to give us a strong overview, but it acts as a nice little summary.
Next comes the 12-minute, 56-second The Authenticities of the Film. It features remarks from Maxwell, producers Dennis Frye and Ronald G. Smith, stunt coordinator Chris Howell, cinematographer Kees Van Oostrum, military advisor Dana Heim, costume designer Richard LaMotte, and actor Jeff Daniels. Here we learn about attempts to accurately reproduce the film’s period subject matter. We get a lot of good footage from the set and learn a bit of useful material here, though the piece occasionally feels a little self-congratulatory.
For the final featurette, we get Journey to the Past. It lasts 22 minutes, one second and includes notes from Maxwell, Daniels, Turner, executive producer Robert Katz, production designer Michael Hanan, and actors Donzaleigh Abernathy, Robert Duvall, Stephen Lang, Frankie Faison, Kali Rocha, Mira Sorvino, and Kevin Conway. The show looks at cast, characters and perspectives, historical elements, the film’s development, and some production notes. This is really little more than a promotional piece; it sheds a little light on the movie and related areas, but not much, so it’s largely a dud.
After this we locate a Music Video for Bob Dylan’s “Cross the Green Mountain”. Like most videos of this sort, it comes with a fair amount of movie footage, but it also contributes unique shots of Dylan in period garb as he acts out a related story. That makes it more interesting than most.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we find Ron Maxwell’s Invitation to Take the Journey Through Hallowed Ground. It fills 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 essay from Maxwell, a story overview cast/character biographies, a Civil War timeline, a discussion of Civil War weapons and photos. The book finishes the set in a positive manner.
Gods and Generals is a painfully authentic film that goes to great lengths to present both sides of the story in a historically accurate and authentic manner. The Blu-ray provides very good audio and some useful supplements but the image suffers from inconsistencies. This is an interesting historical film but an erratic Blu-ray presentation.
To rate this film visit the original review of GODS AND GENERALS