Gettysburg, released in 1993, and Gods and Generals, released in 2003 were produced by Ronald F. Maxwell. His stupendous productions have proved that American filmmakers are still capable of historical epics and an authentic respect for the past. Gettysburg takes place during the battle by that same name. Martin Sheen is an effective Robert E. Lee and Tom Berenger is a near perfect James Longstreet. Sam Elliott as the Union general John Buford and Jeff Daniels as the Union colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain are also nearly perfect. (Interestingly, both Elliott and Daniels are Southern-born.) Any weaknesses in Gettysburg result from its reliance on Michael Shaara’s novel The Killer Angels which leads to some poorly imagined and inauthentic dialogue and the omission of some important parts of the battle. The film exists in 254-minute and 271-minute versions.
Many Southerners objected to Martin Sheen’s portrayal of Lee in Gettysburg, largely because of Sheen’s personal history, it would appear. For this reviewer Sheen is a much more believable Lee than Robert Duvall in Gods and Generals. Duvall’s Lee is too old, too much of a redneck, and has the wrong accent.
Gods and Generals is the prequel to Gettysburg and based on a Jeff Shaara novel of the same title. It centers around the Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville campaigns and is dominated by memorable portrayal of Stonewall Jackson by Stephen Lang.
One reviewer encourages people to first view Gods and Generals before taking a look at Gettysburg because in is in Gods and Generals that one gets a valid sense of why the Confederates and Federals were fighting such an horrific war. Getting a sense of the cause of the thing. In Gods and Generals one understands that Confederates were defending Virginia from Federal attack, defending the right of State Secession. There the aggressor appears to be the North. In Gettysburg one is led to believe that the Confederates were attempting to conquer the Northern States, that they were the aggressor. The early 1861 Confederate cannon duel at Fort Sumter, in the face of a fleet of Federal transports and warships just outside of Charleston Harbor, did not make Confederates aggressors. That fight, which killed no one, was nothing more than Abe Lincoln’s “First Shot Strategy,” his prelude to calling up troops. So view Gods and Generals first and encourage others to view it.
Since the release of Gods and Generals Maxwell has been seeking funding for the final film of his War between the States trilogy, to be called “The Last Full Measure.” At this time he has not been successful.
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