Starring: Jeff Daniels,
Stephen Lang, Robert Duvall
Director: Ronald F. Maxwell
Release Date: 7.15.03
A sweeping epic charting the early years of the Civil War and how
campaigns unfolded from Manassas to the battle of
Fredericksburg, this prequel to the film Gettysburg
explores the motivations of the combatants and examines the lies
of those who waited at home.
Maxwell returns to the Civil War genre with Gods and Generals,
an almost four-hour epic-like film chronicling the events before
Aside from General Robert E. Lee’s (Robert Duvall) plotting of
military strategies, "Stonewall" Jackson’s (Stephen Lang)
minute-long prayers and army leadership, and Joshua L.
Chamberlain’s preaching about the evils of slavery, Gods and
Generals also features recreations of random early Civil War
battles. Each of the battles, from
Fredericksburg to Chancellorsville, lead to the events of
Gettysburg. The in-between is mostly historical filler and
authentic jargon to create an unforgettable story of the Civil
War. What results from most of this is a slow-moving, generally
would serve well as a history lesson type or educational video
than a big-budget epic, mainly because that’s what the film
is—an education of the past. That’s fine, of course, and is
generally appreciated, but why bother the viewer with some truly
unnecessary scenes? Following the Confederate and
Union armies, plus the hard fighting men of the Civil War, is
great. Seeing them in training and battle is exciting,
generally. Witnessing the sadness and sorrow of these soldiers
leaving their homes is heartfelt, but to what extent are such
Beyond the emotional attachment, these scenes
do not need to exist. But when these scenes do not elicit much
emotion or drama, what is the point, ultimately? I understand
Maxwell’s direction to feature as many sides of the Civil War as
possible, but there comes a point when too much is too much.
Consider the amount of characters in the film. Some are
memorable, others are not. Keeping track of most of them is hard
to do, and at some point in the film I disconnected with them.
of Gods and Generals buries itself in the story
somewhere, and with so much going on at different times and
places, it becomes lost. Basically, the lack of focus is what
drags this film below average. There is no doubt the script, by
Ronald F. Maxwell, from the novel by Jeffrey M. Shaara, is
authentic in detail and fact. The problem begins when too much
information takes over and the drama doesn’t emerge when it
In terms of acting, Gods and Generals features a
stellar cast and talent. The production is grand in scale and
features some amazing battle recreations. I can’t count the
number of extras playing the soldiers, but it must be a lot, and
most look pretty convincing—with thanks to the costume
department. Authenticity is the film’s only true success, while
the focus and drama do not come through.
Ultimately, Gods and
Generals is a tragic account of the early battles and
politics of the Civil War, but most of it is boring and overly
Gods and Generals in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colors
are pretty accurate and alive, while color detail looks fine.
The print is in pretty good condition as there are no major
problems to report, and there are is hardly any evidence of
grain and dirt. The transfer looks pretty fine, and compressions
problems do not occur—the film is spread over sides A and B of
the disc, designating this release as a “flipper The film makes
great use of the widescreen format, especially during the battle
scenes. Dark tones and black levels are not perfect, but look
decent. .” I will not get into the breaking point or
intermission process here, because why bother. Since the video
presentation for Gods and Generals looks accurate and
generally very good, the presentation of the film itself is just
Warner Bros. presents Gods
and Generals in English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound.
Surround usage is evident in most of the battle scenes, and
there are quite a few of them in the film. These make for a fun
auditory experience. Rear speakers are also active during the
well orchestrated film score by John Frizzell and Randy Edelman.
However, most of the soundtrack concentrates on the front
speakers. Dialog scenes are clear and easy to understand.
Overall, the audio presentation sounds generally pretty decent,
notably during the battle scenes there is some good surround
sound going on.
is an introduction by Ted Turner in anamorphic widescreen.
Basically, he gives his thoughts and reasons for making this
film. Worth noting at this point is that this release does not
contain the extended version director Ronald F. Maxwell
indicated in past reports, but perhaps such a version will be
released at another time and date.
Scene-Specific Commentary – The back cover of the DVD lists this
as a “feature-length commentary,” but it is not. In fact, only
about 90 minutes worth of scene-specific commentary is provided
for the 219-minute cut of the film—on both sides A and B. The
commentary jumps scene to scene wherever it occurs, and it
appears to be in an altogether separate section of the DVD.
Providing their comments are writer/director Ronald F. Maxwell,
Col. Keith Gibson (director of Military Institute Museum Operations),
and James I. Robinson (a
professor at Virginia Tech).
The comments are generally educational and informative, but do
not pertain to everybody—after all, if you don’t like the film
you’re not very likely to get much out of this commentary.
Overall, this approximately 90-minute commentary track (if you
add it all up) is pretty decent.
are three featurettes or documentaries. The first documentary,
entitled Journey to the Past, runs approximately 22
minutes and reflects on the African-American slave experience
during the time the film is set. In The Life of Thomas
which runs about 14 minutes, Jeff Shaara, novelist of "Gods and
Generals," discusses this complex military man. Lastly, The
Authenticities of the Film chronicles the film’s meticulous
recreations of actual events, such as battle and courtroom
scenes, for example, clocking in at about 13 minutes.
out the extras on side B are two music videos, one for "Cross the
Green Mountain," by Bob Dylan, and "Going Home," by Mary Fahl.
Also included is the film’s Theatrical Trailer, which makes the
film look better than it is. CD-ROM features include the
original website, extensive production and historical notes,
interactive activities, civil war links, and more. Warner Bros.
continues its use of the snapper case with this release.
select to view the film with optional English, French, and
Spanish subtitles. The DVD’s menus are interactive, but not
animated. The 219-minute feature is organized into fifty-two
chapters over sides A and B.
is too long and boring to sustain the attention of the viewer.
With so much information about politics, beliefs, and battles,
the film still lacks focus, despite being an authentic account
of the times. Warner Bros. presents the film in a very nice
video presentation, while the audio transfer is also good, but
not remarkable. The extras provide some interesting background
about the film, but overall their tendency is to give the viewer
a history lesson instead of a making-of. For the sake of the
film’s historical accuracy and authenticity, this disc could
make an OK rental, though only if history is your major or
general interest, Gods and Generals "might" appeal to
(not an average)