"A Great Epic"
Ron Maxwell’s epic film GETTYSBURG, based on Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel THE KILLER ANGELS and funded by Ted Turner, dramatically depicts the three most courageous days in American history when North and South were arrayed against each other in the decisive battle fought on the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania plains.
Concentrating on the events of July 1 to July 3, 1863, the movie devotes 45 minutes to the preceding day. General Robert E. Lee believes that he can end the war with a decisive victory over Federal troops by taking Gettysburg, then marching on Washington with an offer to President Lincoln of terms for peace. Lee and his men are weary after three years of fighting a war most of them thought would be over in a month’s time.
In fact, Lee and the Confederate army have the advantage with the Northern troops in disarray and with its constant change of leadership. Some of the Federal commanders lack battle experience, and there are stirrings of rebellion among the troops. Thus, the stage is set for a battle that would see more than 43,000 American soldiers killed (23,000 Northern troops and 20,000 Confederate troops). In fact, there was more bloodshed during the Civil War than all other American wars combined, from the Revolutionary War through Vietnam.
Each day of the battle is seen from various points of view: the first day, through the eyes of Brigadier General John Buford (Sam Elliott) whose actions prevent the South from gaining an early advantage. Elliott epitomizes the professional soldier, doing his job quietly and efficiently.
The Federal point of reference for the second day comes through Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels), a Maine college professor ill-suited for his military role. Chamberlain’s poor preparation for his pivotal role in history is more than compensated for by his wisdom, vision, gallantry, leadership, and thoughtfulness which endeared him to his men, who would do anything for him, including undertake a charge with no ammunition that would result in the capture of most of the attacking Confederate troops. Chamberlain later received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his role in the defense of Little Round Top.
In the decisive battle of Gettysburg, Lee ordered Major General George Pickett (Stephen Lang) and his division to advance across an open field in order to capture the entrenched Union forces in the hills. Even though a heavy barrage of Confederate artillery preceded the charge and softened the enemy forces, Pickett’s division of 15,000 men suffered tremendous losses and the Union forces held their advantage. The next morning, Lee’s remaining army was in full retreat.
The epic movie GETTYSBURG, filmed on the actual battlefield in Pennsylvania, admirably recreates the events of those fateful days, even to the intimate moments between the men on both sides. The excellent acting and directing makes history live again. The scenes re-enacting Pickett’s charge are believed to be the largest period scale sequences filmed in North America since D.W. Griffith’s BIRTH OF A NATION. Ron Maxwell, the director and writer, is a long time friend of ours who has labored for fifteen years to bring GETTYSBURG to the big screen.
The movie overflows with positive references to God and prayer, with the clear inference that God’s will determined what happened at Gettysburg. General Lee prays “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” and quotes from psalm 18, “He teaches my hands to war and my fingers to fight.” The inspiring musical score is made up of many renowned hymns such as “Rock of Ages,” and beloved tunes such as “Old Kentucky Home” and “Carry Me Back to Old Virginia.”
As in any epic movie, there are moments that drag slightly and a little superfluous dialogue. Furthermore, some will debate some of the historical nuances, though the film has been extremely well researched and is as accurate as it can be considering that there are several points of view about the role of different individuals in the war. General Lee could have been a stronger character, though his vulnerability has been mentioned by several historians as the reason he was so respected. Also, there are a surplusage of “damns” and a few exclamatory profanities used by the soldiers.
However, in the final analysis, GETTYSBURG is a magnificent movie, which is destined to become a classic. It accurately presents the battle that turned the tide of the War Between the States and should be viewed by every American. The director was wise in limiting the amount of violence so that the movie could have a broad audience. Lee’s motto: “You could do no more than that, and you should not do any less” aptly sums up this film that will stir hearts and inspire its viewers.
GETTYSBURG is a movie worth watching again and again on the big screen. Ron Maxwell deserves America’s thanks for this mighty contribution to the best in American movies.
(BBB, CCC, Ev, LLL, VV, A, D) Very strong moral worldview, with frequent references to God and His will for our lives and frequent prayers with the theme that whatever happened at Gettysburg was God's will, plus a debate over evolution occurs; over 40 obscenities (almost all are the word “damn”) and eight exclamatory profanities (“Oh God!”) used by the soldiers; much war and fighting violence, but not extremely graphic; no sex; no nudity; alcohol use; smoking; and, nothing else objectionable.
Ron Maxwell's epic film GETTYSBURG, based on Michael Shaara's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel THE KILLER ANGELS, dramatically depicts the three most courageous days in American history when North and South were arrayed against each other in the decisive battle fought on the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania plains. Each day of the battle is seen from various points of view.
The epic movie GETTYSBURG, filmed on the actual battlefield in Pennsylvania, admirably recreates the events of those fateful days, even to the intimate moments between the men on both sides. The excellent acting and directing makes history live again. The movie overflows with positive references to God and prayer, with a clear inspiring musical score. GETTYSBURG is a magnificent movie, should be viewed by every American. The director was wise in limiting the amount of violence so that the movie could have a broad audience. Lee's motto: "You could do no more than that, and you should not do any less" aptly sums up this film that will stir hearts and inspire its viewers. GETTYSBURG is a movie worth watching again and again. Ron Maxwell deserves America's thanks for this mighty movie classic.