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Blood And Glory: The Civil War In Color

A&E Video // Unrated // October 6, 2015
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Randy Miller III | posted February 19, 2016 | E-mail the Author

Originally aired as a four-part mini-series on The History Channel last April, Blood and Glory: The Civil War in Color (2015) offers a look at one of America's most brutal conflicts with one crucial twist: more than 500 original wartime photographs were digitally scanned and colorized for this production, creating a more dramatic and accessible experience for newer and seasoned audiences alike. This doesn't mark the first time someone's attempted to bring the 150 year-old war to life in this manner, but it's the most visually ambitious to date. Grouped together as two larger halves for this home video release (both versions running for 169 minutes total), Blood and Glory's summary of the war itself is hardly exhaustive but hits most of the major areas in modest detail. It's fairly effective as a whole, though not without one tonal overlap that hinders most war-related documentaries: a combination of hushed reverence for the slaughtered with a thinly-veiled fetish for the weaponry and destruction on display.

Featured participants include a few first-party descendants (including those of Frederick Douglass, General Ulysses S. Grant, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis); retired U.S. Army Generals David Petraeus and Colin Powell; former U,S. Senator Carol Moseley-Braun; scholars Allen Guelzo, James Oakes and George Rable; and Civil War historians Richard Dreyfuss and Ben Stein. Their time is divided neatly during Blood and Glory, though the scholars and historians usually do more of the general "heavy lifting" while those with a more personal connection offer broad recollections and personal anecdotes. Like most documentaries of this type, Blood and Glory strikes a good balance between historical research, educated guesses, and how certain elements of the conflict can still be felt today.

Not surprisingly, though, the main attraction of Blood and Glory: The Civil War in Color is...well, the colorized photos, and they mostly deliver the goods. Often fading in from true black-and-white or sepia-toned originals, these range from mediocre in quality (think of a colorized movie from 20-30 years ago) to outstanding. The best of the bunch show events from the Civil War in a completely new light, as I'd imagine it might have felt to see original photos the first time around; after all, photography as a medium was still in its infancy during the 1860s with reliable color film several decades away. They blend well with the interview clips, reenacted footage (which were either newly shot for this mini-series or cribbed from another History Channel doc - it's not specified) and CGI, creating an experience that feels a little more seamless as Blood and Glory progresses. Still, the conflict itself remains front and center: there's no breakdown of the technology and processes used to colorize these original photos, which would have been appreciated as either a small segment of the main feature...or at least an extra on Lionsgate's Blu-ray edition.

Which brings me to my only nagging complaint: there's really nothing here beyond the main feature and, considering the subject matter and "gimmicks" involved, this makes Blood and Glory a tougher recommendation to those who already caught it the first time around. As a whole, this is a reasonably compelling and well-done production, full of excellent visuals and a solid condensation of the brutal conflict's key areas...and if that's something you'll watch at least two or three times, go for it. But I wouldn't blame new viewers for sticking with a rental, either.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of Blood and Glory: The Civil War in Color looks very good with a few small reservations. Recent interviews are clean and crisp with good image detail, while vintage photographs (presented in color and black-and-white, obviously) are quite a bit rougher around the edges. Dirt and debris are extremely common but not overly distracting, as are other types of print damage and deterioration from the 150 year-old source material. Unfortunately, this footage is universally cropped to fill the 16x9 frame, which means that their native flaws are amplified even further. Otherwise, this is a fairly strong effort that, minor (and mostly forgivable) problems aside, flows nicely and doesn't feel as jarring in transition as most documentaries of this type.

DISCLAIMER: This review's compressed screen captures are strictly decorative and do not represent DVD's native 480p resolution.

The default DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track serves up the level of quality you'd expect from any historical documentary with a decent budget. New interviews sound crisp and clear; the sound effects and William Pearson's additional music cues are mixed fairly well and rarely fight for attention. That said, the surround channels and LFE can be a little overcooked at times: battle scenes and other dramatic moments are often punctuated strongly whether it's actually needed or not. But considering the source, this is a perfectly good presentation that adds plenty of...*ahem*...color to the proceedings. Optional English (SDH) or Spanish subtitles are included during the main feature.

Menu Design, Presentation, & Packaging

The plain-wrap menu designs don't take advantage of Blood and Glory's deep library of visuals, but at least they're easy to navigate and load quickly (with a built-in "resume" function, which is always nice). Individual chapter selection menus, as well as a set-up interface for the optional English (SDH) or Spanish subtitles, are included for both parts. This two-disc release arrives in a multi-hubbed keepcase and includes a separate Digital Copy redemption code.

Bonus Features

Extras are limited to a handful of Featurettes (8 clips, 16 minutes total) that turn out to be nothing more than clips from the main feature. Some great moments ("The H.L. Hunley Death Trap", "Sherman's March to Savannah") are included here, which might make them effective hooks for new viewers...but it's a stretch to even call these "extras", really.

Final Thoughts

Normally I'd take issue with any historical documentary that uses as many gimmicks as Blood and Glory: The Civil War in Color...but considering the sheer volume of works about the subject, it's kind of nice to see something a little different. Obviously, the 500+ newly colorized photos are the main attraction; paired with re-enactment footage, CGI, and recent interviews, they fit snugly without feeling too out of place. So while Blood and Glory isn't the most comprehensive or informative Civil War production, it's at least an enjoyable diversion that offers something of a unique perspective. Lionsgate's Blu-ray serves up predictably good video and audio, but the bonus features are sorely lacking; if any home video release demanded a photo gallery, it's this one. Recommended to all interested parties.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.
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