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I've rarely been as surprised by the reviews I've read here - or
disagreed with them more - than I was for this film. Most of the ones
here are negative and call this film boring, poorly done and lacking in
I am very easily bored. At just over 2 hours, I found this film captivating. Poorly done? John Lee Hancock's film is one of the most effectively produced I can remember. Not one moment of this film was shot on a sound stage. They took 50 acres in Texas and actually rebuilt the entire city of San Antonio de Behar and the Alamo and shot the entire movie in situ.
But the most amazing aspect of these reviews is the repeated accusation of lack of character development. I came away from this film understanding for the first time who William Barrett Travis, David Crockett, James Bowie and Sam Houston really were. The human underneath the legend as it were. David Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton) has a great line in this movie: "If it were just me, simple David from Tennessee, I might go over that wall one night and take my chances. But this Davy Crockett feller - people are watching him". Lack of character development? I don't think so.
The piece de resistance, though, and the one that made me take fingers to keys and write this review (something I almost never do) was the review which claims there was no tribute given to Tejano assistance in the Texas Revolution. Did this person see the same film I did? Or did he/she take a bathroom break every time Juan Seguin's character was on screen? The PRIMARY thing I learned from this historically accurate-as-possible-when-making-a-movie film was ... ta da .... the involvement of the Tejanos! I had never really considered before that there was a brother-against-brother aspect to the Alamo, but it was very implicit in this film.
Ignore the negative reviews, particularly if you are a history buff, and see this film.
Having kept an eye on this film since before it began production, I
have been amazed at the viciousness of the invective that has been
hurled its way. Reviews, both professional and amateur, have tended to
offer viewpoints whose stunning ignorance have been nearly matched by
their astonishing arrogance. This film has suffered much at the hands
of pencilneck journalists who just couldn't wait to write some
endlessly clever variation on 'forget the Alamo.' Precious few, Roger
Ebert chief among them, seem to have understood the film.
Much of the vitriol is because it is a Disney film; while much is because it has to do with Texas. Both, largely because of their successes, seem to attract critics who allow decency and fairness to fall victim to their vindictiveness. I fear, however, that we live in such a cynical age, that the notion of men voluntarily giving up their lives in defense of freedom is so difficult to comprehend that it is met with derision.
Disney did not help matters with their poor handling of this film's publicity. I attend many movies, and I saw the trailer once. Where was the media blitz, as Touchstone did with Ladder 49? A predatory press gleefully playing up pre-release difficulties was met largely with silence. Disney seemed to have had no faith in the film, or at least no clue as to how to market it. Their loss. Literally. Fortunately, their campaign for the DVD was somewhat better.
As for the film itself, it is the most historically accurate version of the Alamo story though that isn't saying much. For those for whom historical accuracy is a litmus test, there is still much over which to nitpick. But, as is the responsibility of a popular culture interpretation of historical events, director Hancock fully captures the spirit of what was going on at that particular time and in that particular place. Hancock and crew did a stellar job in lovingly recreating the world of 1836 Texians American and European immigrants, as well as native Tejanos uniting in revolt against an oppressive regime in an effort to gain independence, as well as a sovereign government attempting to enforce law and order on its frontiers. The principals, the tempestuous Houston, the celebrated Crockett, the fearsome Bowie, and the young, unproven Travis are portrayed as real humans rather than as demigods. Each has his obstacles to overcome, and each shows significant growth as their fates are played out. For those who make the ultimate sacrifice, their heroism is made all the more real by this emphasis on their humanity. The actors, particularly Thornton in an Oscar-worthy role, as well as Patric, Wilson, and the marvelous Emilio Echevarría as Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, are to be commended for their interpretations of these enigmatic characters. A major bonus of the DVD is the commentary by professional historian Stephen L. Hardin and military adviser Alan C. Huffines -- particularly useful for those who cannot wrap their minds around the differences between popular culture, history, and art.
Hancock has provided us with a thoughtful, intelligent, deliberate, and often subtle film for adults, certainly an explanation for the film's lack of box-office success. Even Burwell's score suffers from these 'shortcomings.' Comparisons to John Wayne's 1960 The Alamo are as inevitable as they are pointless, but anyone expecting that film's heavy-handedness may be disappointed. It is like comparing 2004's The Passion of the Christ to 1961's King of Kings they are not remakes, but variations on a theme, each with their unique points of view, merits, and shortcomings.
The film's biggest fault is that, even if one didn't know that it was cut by about a third by negative test audience reactions, it is still apparent that it suffers from these cuts. This is a complex, epic story that demands epic treatment. I abhor criticizing a film for what it is not rather than what it is, but I join many others in sincerely hoping that a director's cut DVD will be forthcoming, so we can see Hancock's vision as it was intended. Where do I cast my vote?
John Lee Hancock's THE ALAMO is often sluggish, mired in his effort to
provide 'detail' in an attempt at honesty, and it is nearly 90 minutes
before action fans get their money's worth (and they do; the Alamo's
siege and 'last stand' are mesmerizing), but all that being said, the
film is a remarkable re-evaluation of one of America's best-known
While each of the story's principals (David Crockett, James Bowie, William Barret Travis, Sam Houston, and Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana) are de-mythologized, it is Crockett (brilliantly conceived by Billy Bob Thornton) who captures and holds your attention. Neither the folksy backwoodsman (as portrayed previously by Fess Parker and Arthur Hunnicutt), nor the hero answering an oppressed people's call for help (John Wayne's 'take' on Crockett), Thornton's Crockett is a well-dressed country 'sophisticate', who plays the violin and the political game in Washington very well. As the film opens, he attends a Washington production of "The Lion of the West", based on his fictional exploits, with a leading man dressed in what we today consider the 'Official Crockett Uniform' of buckskins and a coonskin cap. The character on stage, and the legends surrounding him which would ultimately incorporate the Alamo as it's final act, is the 'DAVY Crockett' we all know, but the 'real' David Crockett, according to Hancock, is an opportunist who sees political rebirth in Texas, and arrives hoping the battle is already over. Thornton is masterful, showing Crockett's ambition, his fear of having to 'live up' to the legends surrounding him, and his gradual emergence into a true hero, who would defy Santa Ana with his last breath.
The other leads aren't given as much screen time for character development, with the exception of Dennis Quaid's Sam Houston, a heavy-drinking pragmatist with a political agenda and ambitions of his own. Patrick Wilson's Travis is a failure as a father and husband, hoping to rebuild his life and reputation in Texas; Jason Patric's Bowie is a glowering, unsavory adventurer/businessman, involved in slave trafficking, and terminally ill during the siege (Hooker does, however, bow to legend, allowing the dying Bowie a chance to fire his pistols at the Mexicans before being overwhelmed). Emilio Echevarría, the first Mexican to ever play Santa Ana in an American film, has gotten bad press for his portrayal of the leader as a loud-mouthed, insensitive, lecherous egotist, but from all accounts, that WAS what the real Santa Ana was like.
While the slow pacing of most of the film is a problem, the film's final half hour appears rushed, as the Alamo's fall jumps quickly into Sam Houston's victory over Santa Ana, at San Jacinto (an event that occurred after a momentous six weeks of defeat and tragedy barely touched upon by Hancock). While it is understandable that the film makers wanted an 'upbeat' ending, it comes across as jarring, nonetheless.
If you like your heroes and history 'bigger than life', the 2004 ALAMO will disappoint, and you should stick to John Wayne's version. If, however, you want a new perspective, and are willing to dispense with the preconceptions of the past, this film has a LOT to offer!
Being in my fifties, i was brought up on John Waynes ALAMO. Waynes Alamo is indeed a timeless piece of movie history and will ALWAYS be my favourite film, but this new ALAMO is a completely different kettle of fish.This is thoughtful and realistic, the characters are believable and honest, and the battle scenes moving. You cannot compare the two films, one is a Hollywood masterpiece, the other a work of modern day honesty. Thornton as Davy Crockett i though was a throughly believable person, and totally different to Waynes version. I was greatly surprised by the lack of success of the film at the box office and the poor reviews, nevertheless i would count this amongest my favourites. Full marks for the attempt at realism, and no false heroics, Crocketts admission that he was no hero, or grand person gave the whole film a feeling of warmth and beauty, it was a pleasure to watch.
I really don't understand the mostly venomous reviews for this film. It was the most historically accurate film ever made on the subject and the acting, for the most part,was exemplary; although, I must admit it is far from my favorite performance by Quaid. But Thornton, Patric, and Wilson were tremendous; I cannot imagine anyone else playing those 3 roles as well as they did! It is a sad commentary on the preferences of our society in general when a film this good and on this type of subject does so poorly. I hate to pose this question, but could it be due to a Texas/war backlash due to our current administration and the Iraq situation? Or as a movie-going public, do we prefer to be "dumbed-down" these days? Anyway, I highly recommend this film!
Despite what some people says, this new version of the Alamo still packs a punch. For those of us who are taken by the saga of the Alamo, you will not be disappointed. The acting in no way lessens the impact or the bravery of these men who chose to, for what ever reason, stay and pay the ultimate price for their beliefs. Billy Bob Thorton's portrayal of David Crockett is nothing short of brilliant. It is by far the best portrayal of David Crockett I have ever seen. Some of the characters seem a little thin but not enough to to ruin the experience. Go with your gut on this one. I don't think you will be disappointed. I believe an honest effort was made to tell the tragic story of these brave men.
I saw this movie on opening day with high expectations. I am somewhat
of an Alamo buff and wanted to see the event portrayed better than ever
before. And it certainly was. The historical aspect was perfect. I've
read up on the Alamo before, and all the details were accurate: the
clothing, guns, uniforms,the way the battle unfolded, and even the
weather. The acting, especially Billy Bob Thornton's, was excellent.
Almost Oscar worthy. The casting was just as good. Each actor fits
their rolls with almost uncanny perfection. Although Hancock isn't
quite Spielberg, he is exceptional because he did a good job on the
film, and he put a LOT of care into it. (no props, stage lighting, a 50
acre set, not to mention historically perfect)
The Alamo is no doubt a controversial film. Those who slam it seem to revert to the fact that it should have been directed by Ron Howard, and been more gory, glamorized, and shouldn't have been so compressed (the original version was over 3 hours). More Hollywood, is basically what they're saying. It's these same people who compare it to John Wayne's version, saying it should have focused on artistic merits rather than history. Personally, I don't know if these people would know the whole PURPOSE of the Alamo if it ran over them with a steamroller. Hancock's vision was to make an Alamo that actually had some history to it. He wanted to tell the story right for once. The way I see it, The Alamo has as many if not more artistic merits of John Wayne's version, but adds historical accuracy and tells it true, without sacrifcing the drama.
The acting, casting, and directing are great, the historical value superb, and the battles (especailly on widescreen) are breathtaking. Sure, it would have been better with more scenes and blood, but this is the best Alamo movie I've ever seen, and a good film anyway. Not perfect, but pretty darn close. 9/10 Stars.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was definitely part of the Baby Boomer Davy Crockett phenomena. Heck,
I actually won a contest of Davy Crockett look alike when I was four
years old in Newark NJ, and as I look back, I believe that wonderful
and completely fictional television series by Disney, helped to trigger
my interest in history, which has been my career now for over thirty
years, starting as a middle school teacher and now a college professor,
along with a number of books published.
I eagerly looked forward to this film's release and I regret now, that for one of the few times in my life I listened to critics who absolutely trashed a film so that I never went to see it on the wide screen. Made the same mistake with Blade Runner when it first came out!
So it was wait until Starz picked it up and frankly, I was blown away. I actually went out the next day and rented the wide screen DVD version to check it out more closely and will definitely buy it, I love it that much.
This is the best of all the attempts to tell the story of the Alamo. Sure, I grew up on the Crockett and Alamo legend, but I also got a healthy dose of cynicism about the whole thing when examining it from the Mexican perspective, particularly in relationship to the slavery issue and the promises made and broken by Houston and Austin to the Mexican government. This film, though it dances more than a little around those issues still at least touches on them.
But what really caught me was the attention to historical accuracy in relationship to the battle itself. I'll claim that for the first time every, a film captured the "feel" and truthful presentation of late 18th and early to mid 19th century linear warfare. Other films always make it look absurd, but here you see how it did work, manuevering masses of troops up to then deliver terrifying volley fire at close range then charge with the bayonet.
The weapons and how they were used was dead on perfect, right down to the use of canister by the artillery and regardless of what one critic said about shells, they were indeed used and the incident with Travis and the spurting fuse was perfect. Formations, volley fire, skirmishers, the awesome and terrifying Mexican pioneer troops, whoever was responsible for the setting and staging of this battle did a brilliant job. The set was perfect as well, down to the finest detail. The cinematography as well, especially the stunning scene from a high angle shot, the charges coming in from all sides at once, the defenders getting overwhelmed.
I'd rate this movie up with Zulu as a film about a small determined garrison standing against impossible odds, which is a great archetypal story.
In contrast, "Patriot" which drew so much critical acclaim was absolutely gut tearing, in a nauseating sense, when it came to any semblance of historical accuracy regarding battle and every year now I have to deprogram my students regarding its retched attempt at showing what Revolutionary period warfare looked like. For that matter I'll put Gettysburg and of course Gods and Generals in the same miserable league.
I do not understand why so many critics are trashing the acting and casting. Bill Bob Thorton and Jason Patric are superb. I was awed by Thorton's approach to the legendary Crockett character. Much of what was and still is believed about Crockett is all myth (and yeah even admitting that breaks this Baby Boomer's heart). Crockett was a character created by American theater and the first of the nickel and dime novels of the 1820-30s. He was something like a Schwartznegger cult character for his time, even while still alive, but his exploits were all legend. Thus the stunningly truthful scene of him confessing what really happened in a fight against Indians, the incredible acting when he kills, almost by accident, a Mexican soldier and you immediately sense that this is the FIRST man he has ever actually killed and he is horrified by it. . .and how in the end (SPOILERS AHEAD) he is trapped by his own legend into becoming a hero regardless of his fears. A historian that I studied under in graduate school wrote about the Alamo and was the first to tell me that Crockett, according to Mexican sources, survived the fall of the garrison and was executed after wards. I remember not wanting to believe it (Baby Boomer here, remember, Davy Crockett went down swinging). The debate varies, did he willingly surrender and beg for his life, was he wounded, overwhelmed and then executed. . .we will never know, but the screenplay does address it, and does it well.
A fictional scene undoubtedly, but still profoundly moving, Crockett playing the violin during sunset of the final night of siege. A beautiful scene that is haunting.
In closing, my thumbs up as a historian for this work. It is not a film that many would care for, no love interest, no ridiculous heroics, no Mel Gibson trying to do a Daniel Day Lewis, then sweeping off the girl in the low cut bodice after slaughtering a plentitude of foes, just a gritty, straight forward war story that is profoundly moving.
Only negative. The perpetual scowl of Quaid as Houston. Though his big final scene, the Battle of San Jacinto, is darn good as well, especially when done through the POV of Sequin, and the terrible dilemma faced by Mexican-Texans fighting on the Anglo side.
After writing a phd dissertation and spending months doing research on
the Alamo at The DRT library and across Texas, I became convinced that
I might not live long enough to see a theatrical release that would
finally do the history justice. The IMAX Alamo film is very good along
historical lines, but due to budget limitations not to mention
physiological IMAX constraints, it did not capture the scope and depth
of the event. But make no mistake about it - this Alamo film does both.
The Alamo's major participants are three dimensional flesh and blood
mirror images of those one will find in their diaries, letters, books
and first hand accounts of those who knew them. Even the Mexican
dictator, Antonio Lopez Miguel De Santa Anna, is no longer a cardboard
demon - he anticipates what Mexico will become without the stern hand
that must come down to crush "the American pirates." Also, for the
first time, the Tejanos who fought against their brothers and sisters
in the Texas cause are well represented. The battle sequences culled
from Santa Anna's own battle plans and the accounts of those who
carried them out and those who survived, leave no nuance to the
imagination and vividly demonstrate that even a chaotic retreat can
turn into an unmanageable enemy force, overwhelming the west and north
walls of the Alamo. The bloodbath, fury, chaos and desperation pulls
the viewer into the center of a swirling vortex of courage and carnage.
Patrick Wilson is his superb as Colonel William Barret Travis, the
defacto commandante of the doomed fortress. For once, the multi
emotional Travis is captured with all of the guilt ridden memories of
his humiliating trial in Alabama, and the indecision that plagues his
early confrontations with his sceptical Texan force. The ennui and
angst of command did take a toll. But Travis' courage and conviction
converge in a heart wrenching moment in front of his command, making
the case for death with purpose. Jason Patric makes one wicked Jim
Bowie and the fact that the Congress of the U.S is still trying to
unravel some of his land swindles initiated almost two centuries ago
underscores his portrayal. Bowie's legendary prowess in brawling,
bilking and beating those around him is well known and Patrick's every
move makes you instantly and consistently aware that Bowie was every
bit the bad ass. But Bowie was also a romantic of epic proportions and
flashbacks to his tragic marriage to Ursula Verimendi give a poignant
underpinning to his deadliness. Billy Bob Thornton steals the show as
David Crockett - but then - how could he miss? As Dennis Quaid said;
"Billy Bob is David Crockett - A hillbilly actor playing a hillbilly
actor." Thornton's performance is staggering. A self proclaimed over
achiever and withering self critic, Thornton understands the very human
David Crockett of his autobiography and letters, juxtaposed with the
Davy Crockett of legends. It is a harrowing performance - particularly
when Crockett realizes the Alamo is doomed. "David Crockett might drop
over these walls and take his chances," he confides to Bowie. But Davy
Crockett, the legend cannot. "People expect things," he tells Bowie.
"I've been on these walls all my life." There is a palor and sadness
that is worked beautifully by the modest film score. The photography
paints Greek tragedy. These were and are real people. Many, many fans
of the John Wayne ALAMO miss the overblown (but fun) saintliness of the
celluloid 60's epic.For some, THE ALAMO 2004 is filled with defenders
who were too human, historical facts be damned. But when Micajah Autrey
and David die, I couldn't help but feel the pain of retrospection they
both felt at that horrible moment. Add to this a wealth of metaphysical
angst that is a subscript of this masterpiece. Tejano Catholic Voodoo
guarantees the time, place and purpose of Bowie's demise. "Did it
matter?" a dying Bowie asks a doomed Travis. "Buck's" face is a mask of
hope and despair. These men will die not knowing if giving their lives
will matter to anyone but themselves. Director John Lee Hancock does a
marvelous job with subtleties that encompass great portions of Travis,
Bowie and Crockett 's personality in particular. Did Crockett
intentionally hit Santa Anna's epaulet? A second viewing revealed a
gold reflection in the pupil of David's eye as he fires. How did
Crockett die? He dies going down swinging inside the Alamo Church - but
you never see his body. He dies a second time as one who refused to
surrender. But you never see his body. ...And in the beginning of the
film as you see the bodies of the defenders being carted away, you see
Bowie and Travis, but not Crockett's. The last scene of the film is not
a replay of the Crockett fiddle scene. There he is, playing over a
nighttime San Antonio, alone - with no one in sight - and Billy Bob's
"David" satisfied and almost bemused face in the final scene. What a
gorgeous shot and a perfect way of tipping the hat to legend as well as
a establishing while questioning the nature of immortality.
When history is relevance and universal, what more could we ask? I feel for the people who made this movie. In this climate of blind nationalism - embracing history not despite of its flaws but because of them will not garner the recognition this film so richly deserves. There are those that truly appreciate your efforts and applaud you for THE ALAMO fim I've waited to see all of my life. This one like the real battle, will be remembered. Thank you so much!
This film was the first one to portray the character of the Texas
participants which viewers have long sought. John Lee Hancock has build
some credibility for himself over avoiding some overindulgence in using
Limited use of special effects and reliance on good scripting and acting enhanced the film to its' optimum. There was not much that could be done better.
The creation of the set near Wimberly Texas, forty miles north of San Antonio, permitted excellent views of Texas scenery that most settlers would have seen.
One unfortunate miscarriage of this film, was on the subject of Native American participation during this battle what went uncredited. Sam Houston did have Native Americans under his command during the siege at San Jacinto. This Texas feels that more work needs to be done to credit Native Americans for their contribution.
Some untold truths left off the film are worthy of mention:
1. Once Santa Anna was captured, his constitutional power to act as a head of state was lost, thus introducing a complication for the recognition of Texas as an sovereign nation.
2. Sam Houston did have an additional reason to spare Santa Anna's life. Both were Masons and the code of conduct forbids taking the life of another Mason. Masons still routinely hold high political offices today throughout the United States.
3. The decision to acquire recognition of Texas as a nation required an acting head of state to preside, so the United States was chosen. At this most opportune time when recognition was given, a deal was struck for a land purchase from Mexico, for territory west and north of Texas.
4. Santa Anna was dictator four different times.
5. Santa Anna was married several times and his last wife was 16 years old. After Santa Anna was deposed from his dictatorship for this final time, he went into recluse humiliated to live a modest life with his young wife, who paid people NOT to laugh and taunt him in the streets of their home village. Santa Anna died a pauper.
6. The decision for Texas to be annexed into the United States has long been debated as pre-conceived, but it was clear that trade agreements and currency exchange was never going to be favorable to Texas as a nation with few alliances. In order to improve it's standard of living, a choice was made to either accept annexation into the United States or be part of Mexico again.
The Alamo is one of several missions along the Olmos Creek/San Antonio river. Most are still standing today and can be visited.
The Daughters of the Texas Revolution were responsible for restoring the Alamo into it's current condition. Developers nearly snuffed the existence of the entire Alamo before DTR intervened and secured funding for a purchase and restoral of about one-third of the original mission.
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