The coming of the sesquicentennial has transformed me from an assiduous student of the Civil War into a budding fanatic.
The 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg is still two years away. But you might be tempted to lay your hands on the Martin Sheen-Tom Berenger-Jeff Daniels “Gettysburg” movie of 1993.
I would strongly caution you.
Not because the movie is too violent. (It is violent, but what do you expect?) Not because it is biased, because it isn’t. Not because spending four hours learning about the battle of Gettysburg isn’t a good idea; it is a good idea.
The battle of Gettysburg endlessly fascinates. But “Gettysburg” endlessly runs on.
Watching Martin Sheen attempt to impersonate General Robert E. Lee is a fate worse than death by bayonet. I would prefer to see Britney Spears clad in butternut debating tactical matters with Old Pete Longstreet ad nauseum.
And the movie possesses no narrative unity. It just plods through events.
It plods through them with stunning verisimilitude. I guess that illuminates an important truth: There is a big difference between the pace of an exciting weekend battle re-enactment and the pace of a watchable movie.
Making “Gettysburg” may have been the thrill of a lifetime for all the re-enactors involved. I do not begrudge them one minute of the fun they had. It’s just that the movie version of a Civil War re-enactment is really boring.
The battle itself is immortal, as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently captured it. Realistic as “Gettysburg” is, such immortality has eluded its grasp altogether.
Here is the only truly captivating scene:
“Gettysburg” aside, let’s give Ted Turner credit for “Gods and Generals.” When “Gods and Generals” ended after almost four hours, I wanted it to go on for another four hours. “Gods and Generals” rocks.