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Gods and Generals

Warner Bros. // PG-13 // July 15, 2003
List Price: $27.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Shannon Nutt | posted July 11, 2003 | E-mail the Author

At a lumbering 219 minutes, there's a really good Civil War movie hiding within Gods and Generals, although you'll have to sit through some extended speeches and battle scenes to get to it. Not quite as entertaining as 1993's Gettysburg (both of which were directed by Ronald F. Maxwell), this film concentrates more on the Confederacy – particularly the life (and death) of General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (played wonderfully by Stephen Lang).

The movie opens with Robert E. Lee (Robert Duvall, in what amounts to an extended cameo) turning down President Lincoln's offer to command the Union forces (Lincoln doesn't appear in this version of the film – although he does pop up in the trailer!) – instead stating that Virginia is his home and he must remain loyal to that state. This beginning marks a thread that runs throughout the film…mainly that the Confederacy was not fighting to preserve the institution of slavery, but instead to defend the individual rights of the states to determine their own destiny. As one who majored in history in my college days, I can tell you that this is quite an accurate depiction – and if this movie fails in terms of drama and entertainment, it certainly doesn't fail in terms of accuracy. I also enjoyed Duvall's portrayal of Lee – particularly over that of Martin Sheen, who played him in Gettysburg. Sheen portrayed Lee as somewhat stubborn and indecisive, while Duvall plays him as intelligent, yet cautious.

But the real reason to see this film is for Lang's performance as Stonewall Jackson. The movie isn't afraid to show its characters as highly moral and religious people (which Jackson was), and also isn't afraid to suggest the irony that existed between those who were so moral continuing to support an institution (slavery) that was so obviously wrong. But as the film reminds us again and again, despite what we have learned in high school, the Civil War was not about slavery – although by the conclusion, that certainly became the rallying cry for the Union Army. Some may condemn this film for attempting to make Jackson a noble, highly religious man…but in the end, that is the kind of person he truly was, and it was refreshing to finally see a Civil War film which tried to explain some of the real reasons the Confederacy fought against the Union – rather than automatically portray them as "evil-minded" slave owners.


Gods and Generals is presented in anamorphic widescreen, and the transfer is near perfect. A lot of the battle scenes take place in daylight, against a clear white and blue sky, yet you'll be hard pressed to find any grain, pixilation or other problems with the picture. Be warned though, this is a "flipper" disc – meaning half of the movie is on one side of the DVD and half is on the other side. The theatrical version (which I saw) did indeed contain an intermission, but the biggest problem here is that the end of side one does not occur at the same place the intermission did in the movie theater! Instead, it occurs about 15 to 20 minutes earlier and at an abrupt point in the movie. Whomever put this DVD together, they didn't do a very good job of selecting a breaking point to flip the DVD over.

Although I was hoping for a DTS track, the 5.1 Dolby offered here is quite spectacular, although you won't notice just how great it is until you get to the first major battle sequence. With bullets and explosions whizzing around your speaker setup, neighbors will think a Civil War reenactment is going on in your living room! A nice, aggressive track without being too overbearing, I really enjoyed the audio reproduction on this DVD!

Before we talk about what is on the DVD, let's talk about what isn't. The DVD is not the promised extended version of the film that director Ronald F. Maxwell said he would be putting out on DVD (I'm assuming that a longer version may be available at sometime in the future?). This is the original 219-minute version that played in theaters, with no additions or subtractions – unless you count the intermission period, which has been deleted from this version.

Side A contains the first half of the film, a Chapter Selection (also on Side B), and about 40 minutes worth of scene-specific Commentary from Ronald F. Maxwell, James Robertson (a professor at Virginia Tech) and Keith Gibson (the director of Military Institute Museum Operations). There's also about this much commentary on Side B, so basically viewers will get about 90-minutes worth of commentary for the 219-minute film. The commentary sections jump from scene to scene where the commentary occurs, and actually appear to be an entirely separate section on the disc – meaning these portions of the movie have been reproduced twice. The commentary itself is quite informative and educational, but be forewarned that this isn't a feature-length commentary track (as has been stated in reviews elsewhere on the web).

Side A also contains an Introduction By Ted Turner that is anamorphic widescreen and explains why he chose to make this movie. Viewers will also get two Music Videos (both full frame) - a pretty good song entitled "Cross The Green Mountain" from Bob Dylan; and a not so good one (in this reviewer's opinion, of course) by Mary Fahl entitled "Going Home". An anamorphic version of the Theatrical Trailer fills out Side A.

Side B contains the aforementioned Chapter Selection and Commentary, plus a roughly 22-minute Journey To The Past featurette, which is shown in the full-frame format and appears to be a special that ran on television to promote the release of the movie. Also on Side B is a featurette entitled The Authenticities of the Film which is shown full frame, runs about 13 mintues and details how accurate the movie is to what really happened. Additionally, there's an anamorphic widescreen featurette entitled The Life of Stonewall Jackson which is a little over 14 minutes and includes comments from the writer of the book "Gods and Generals", Jeff Shaara. Side B also contains a promotional commercial for the state of Virginia, which also runs at the end of the movie.


Despite what you've read or heard from other critics, Gods and Generals isn't that bad of a movie – and should actually play much better on the home video format than it did in the theaters, basically because it has more the look and the feel of a good made for television mini-series than a big-budget theatrical release.

It's certainly a must-have for any student of history or any Civil War buffs out there, and while – being a student of history myself – I probably admire the movie more for its historical accuracy than its entertainment value, I'm still giving this one a recommendation for all those DVD Talk readers out there. Enjoy!
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