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Gettysburg! The town where North and South did chance to meet,
The peaceful hills and meadows that became a battlefield.
Both Yankee blues and rebel grays would not accept retreat
Until the farms of war had offered up their bloody yield.
Although Lee’s troops fought bravely, he was forced to face defeat;
With Pickett’s devastating charge, the battle’s fate was sealed.
Heroism shone amid the guns and cannon fire;
Of note was Colonel Chamberlain on Little Round Top’s heights.
They fought with different reasons but the same innate desire,
To end this brothers’ battle, fought for freedom or for rights.
May this inspire.

Gettysburg is long, and I mean looooooong (thus I went with a short poem, a curtal sonnet). At 4 hours and 14 minutes, it is one of Hollywood’s longest movies, originally conceived as a miniseries but bumped up to feature film status by studio backer Ted Turner (who has a cameo in the finished film). History lovers like me will enjoy this meticulously crafted Civil War epic based on Michael Shaara’s historical novel The Killer Angels. There are so many characters and so much time spent detailing Lee’s strategy that it’s not what I would call a casual watch. I love tales of the Civil War, but even I can only watch it occasionally, considering the time investment necessary to view it in its entirety.

The film is almost too ambitious in trying to present such a well-rounded depiction of the famous battle. The first 40 minutes or so before the first battle scene could have been edited down significantly, and some scenes of the explosions and such go on too long. Two sequences, though, stick out as truly awesome in both scale and excitement: Chamberlain’s stand on the wooded slopes of Little Round Top midway through and Pickett’s disastrous charge near the end. Both have that real cast-of-thousands aspect from the old Cecil B. DeMille epics, which have been replaced in modern films with CGI.

While all the actors do a fine job, from Tom Berenger as Lieutenant General James Longstreet to Martin Sheen as Confederate General Robert E. Lee, again two performances emerge as the best. Richard Jordan (in his last film role) is excellent as Confederate “Lo” Armistead, who regrets having to fight an old friend on the opposite side, and Jeff Daniels gives an Oscar-worthy portrayal of Union Colonel Joshua Chamberlain of the 20th Maine regiment. Their stories are the most interesting, and both give stirring pro-American speeches that make Gettysburg perfect for July 4 viewing (plus the battle was fought from July 1-3, 1863).

One thing I much appreciate is that, despite the 53,000 lives that were lost at the battle of Gettysburg, the film manages to be almost entirely bloodless. Some think war films ought to be more realistic in their portrayal of violence, but this film captures the right balance between being fittingly intense without getting gruesome.

If you are easily bored by long films or have little interest in history, Gettysburg probably isn’t the right film for you, but every now and then I feel it’s important that we remind ourselves of the hardships and horrors of war that went into securing freedom for all and keeping this country together.

Best line: (Brigadier General James Kemper to Pickett) “I gotta hand it to you, George. You certainly do have a talent for trivializin’ the momentous and complicatin’ the obvious. You ever considered runnin’ for Congress?”

Artistry: 8
Characters/Actors: 8
Entertainment: 5
Visual Effects: 9
Originality: 7
Watchability: 2
Other (length): -3
TOTAL: 36 out of 60

Next: #253 – Jumpin’ Jack Flash

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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