Several years ago I visited the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. You know actually being there and seeing the layout of the landscape made the history of the battle come alive in a way you don’t get from reading about it in history books. You did feel like you were standing on sacred ground and could almost envision the countless soldiers who fought there.
The second best way to experience it is by watching the four hour mammoth film based on that three day battle.
We don’t see very many ‘Television Event’s’ anymore (or at least ones that actually live up to the name) Ted Turner backed the production with intentions of it being a film shown on his cable channel TNT, but after seeing some of the footage decided to release it theatrically.
With a cast consisting of Martin Sheen, Jeff Daniels, Sam Elliott, C. Thomas Howell, Donal Logue, Stephen Lang, George Lazenby, Richard Jordan and Tom Berenger (who it’s said it is his favorite film he’s done), along with thousands of Civil War re-enactors, the film recounts the bloodiest battle fought on US soil. It not only restages the battles, but allows you to understand how seemingly a series of random events led up to the meeting between the Confederate and the Union armies in the small farm town.
The film is not perfect. At times the characters feel like they’re speaking in soliloquies and speeches, rather than just talking. It’s like award show sound bytes, but they’re minor quibbles and don’t really hurt the commendable intentions the film set out to achieve – documenting this historic event.
The recreations with all the extras accompanied by Randy Edelman’s rousing score succeeds as one of the best films about the Civil War. I especially love Jeff Daniels performance. As he tries to maintain a calm and optimistic command of his troops, even though he knows things are getting worse and worse and alternatives are disappearing – that scene is one of the best performances I’ve ever seen him give.