I looked forward to seeing GODS AND GENERALS as I had recently read and enjoyed Shaara's book of the same title. I was greatly disappointed that the film was not true to the book's format or balance. The book is a series of chronological vignettes of four Civil War commanders -- two Federal, two Confederate -- Lee, Jackson, Chamberlain and Hancock. Moving from one character to another (with occasional overlap), Shaara has ample time to develop each character and narrate the War's impact on each (social, spiritual, psychological, professional, family, etc.). This is also a very balanced approach, at roughly 50% union and 50% rebel.
In the movie, to begin with, Hancock completely disappears, leaving Chamberlain as the sole and primary union representative. Chamberlain has always been of interest to me as I once lived in the state of Maine, so there was still hope. Unfortunately, Chamberlain's role is rather meager, and with few memorable scenes or lines.
Insteads, the film focuses at least 75% of the time on Stonewall Jackson, with a few cameos of Robert E. Lee and an appearance or two by Chamberlain. Nothing wrong with that -- Stonewall is a near-mythical figure in American history, and well-deserving of the attention. But that's not what GODS AND GENERALS (the book) was about. In other words, if you want to do a biopic of Stonewall, go for it, but don't call it GODS AND GENERALS.
With nearly the entire movie being told from the Confederate perspective, the propaganda is inevitable. Certainly the rebs have the right to rally their troops in the name of "fending off an invasion," as convoluted as that sounds historically (i.e. maintaining their "freedom" so they can keep the institution of slavery). However, the North is never given the on-screen opportunity to clearly define its mission -- Is it to preserve the union? Free the slaves? Cash in on the Southern economy? Certainly, the South fought valiantly, and given equal numbers and resources they would have certainly prevailed (they already had the better field commanders). It's worth honoring that, but not at the expense of the truth.
That the film is ridiculously long is readily apparent. Countless scenes could have been shortened or omitted. And since the characters of Lee and Chamberlain aren't really developed, anyway, those scenes could have been completely left out and the movie renamed STONEWALL.
Watching the DVD, I had hopes that perhaps the experience could be salvaged by the "extras" on the disc. Alas, I was disappointed there, also. In one feature we have Donzaleigh Abernathy (an African-American) insisting that the CW was about "freeing the slaves," with Ronald Maxwell countering that, well, it wasn't, really, but, well, sorta, kinda, and then offering the brilliant historical insight that "had it not been for slavery, we would not have had the Civil War." Thanks for clearing that up, Ron. I had always thought we slaughtered thousands of our countrymen because of candy bars or something.
The only extra feature worth my time was the 14-minute biography of Stonewall Jackson. Unfortunately, this, too was marred by the completely inexplicable and inexcusable shaking camera during the various interviews. Good grief. Ted Turner spent $60 million and he couldn't get a tripod? Really a disappointment and really not worth seeing, once or again. Had they at least followed the format of the book, they could have done something good if not great.
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