To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, Warner has seen fit to release the extended version of 'Gods and Generals' in an expansive digibook edition. This new Extended Director's Cut adds around 60-odd minutes to the movie. While this certainly makes the movie longer, I feel that the Movie Itself review Ken Brown provided when 'Gods and Generals' was first released on Blu-ray still applies here.
Although it quickly disappeared from theaters upon its original release in 1993, 'Gettysburg' earned praise from critics and history teachers alike, and ultimately went on to greater success on VHS and DVD. Ten years later, producer Ted Turner and director Ronald Maxwell returned to the scene of the crime, releasing a prequel to ‘Gettysburg’ starring several of the earlier film’s main cast members.
Based on the novel of the same name by Jeffrey Shaara, 'Gods and Generals' recounts the harrowing military encounters and maneuvers of the Confederate army in the two years preceding the Battle of Gettysburg. The story focuses on two opposing officers -- Union Colonel Joshua Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) and Confederacy Lieutenant Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (Stephen Lang). Chamberlain is a former professor who left his career to enlist, while Jackson is a religious soldier who advanced through the ranks to become one of Robert E. Lee's (Robert Duvall) most-trusted officers. The film follows these men as they try to preserve their integrity and beliefs through the battles of First Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.
I have to confess that it took a tremendous amount of patience on my part to make it all the way through 'Gods and Generals.' While 'Gettysburg' is a stirring Civil War cinema that I'd compare favorably to masterpieces like 'Glory,' this prequel is incredibly flat. Many have complained about the film’s three-and-a-half hour runtime, but that in and of itself was a non-issue for me. Instead, my problems were with the faulty script, uneven pacing, and plodding character development that litters the film from beginning to end.
The dialogue in 'Gods and Generals' should serve as a lesson to budding filmmakers in the dangers of exposition. The conversations seem directed at the audience more than at characters in the film. As a result, character interactions function as debates and lectures on Civil War history, while relationships rarely register as authentic. Most of the dialogue is overwritten, and the exchanges between the actors often feel unnatural and forced.
Making matters worse, the battle scenes aren't heart-wrenching or tense -– instead, they’re often unintentionally laughable. The filmmakers enlisted Civil War re-enactors, and it shows. Battlefields are littered with blank-faced extras who are clearly in no danger whatsoever. If I had to watch one more person double over and slink dramatically to the ground, I myself might have longed for a similar fate.
I wasn't even impressed with the film's visual aesthetic -- overlit and boring, the backgrounds look like dressed sets instead of lived-in locations. The grime on uniforms appears slathered on, costumes look new and barely weathered, and the men don't register as people who have been living outdoors and on the move for years. Ugly matte paintings and transparent CG that looks clumsy and out of place certainly doesn’t help, either.
With all that being said, 'Gods and Generals' isn't a terrible movie per se. It's just a flawed one that seems to crumble under its own ambitions. I admire the level of historical accuracy the filmmakers attempted to bring to the table and the story itself is refreshingly complex (most Civil War films would have us believe that the war was about slavery and nothing else). Still, I'm pretty sure a stronger screenplay, a bigger budget, and a tighter edit could've retained the positives while saving the film from becoming the rambling mess that it is.
Blu-ray Vital Statistics
This is an Extended Director's Cut of 'Gods and Generals' packaged in a digibook from Warner Bros. The entire 280 minutes has been crammed onto a single 50GB Dual-layer Disc. The movie itself is divided into five segments. Two disc hubs – one on the inside of the front cover and one on the inside of the back cover – hold the two discs of this release (disc one is the feature while disc two is used for the supplements). A 47-page booklet has been included that discusses everything from the director, to the actors, to a Civil War timeline that you can follow along with. This release is region free.
The Extended Director's Cut of 'Gods and Generals' clocks in at a gargantuan 280 minutes. This wouldn't be a problem for the format if it had been spread across multiple discs, but it seems that even 50GB discs have their breaking points, as there are some glaring problems with this 1080p/AVC-encoded picture.
The reason why I say this, is that it seems cramming over 4 1/2 hours of movie onto one disc has caused noticeable compression issues throughout its lengthy runtime. Nighttime scenes are home to an abundance of compressed noise that becomes bothersome as soon as you begin to notice it. Banding is a nuisance in skies and other gradients. Ringing is also often apparent during the movie. Colors at times seem flat and lifeless, and other times seem to burst with vibrancy and life. The inconsistency of this video presentation doesn't bode well for the overall picture. Many of the scenes seem soft in nature, harkening back to the feel of 'Gettysburg', so I think it's more of a director's intent than a flaw with the video transfer.
There is evidence of DNR and edge enhancement usage, but it isn't egregious. A discerning eye will be able to pick out the spots that look a little too waxy, and the scenes with light halos, but it isn't something that's going to stick out to the layman viewer.
Overall, 'Gods and Generals' has a decent presentation going for it, but I have to believe that if this extended cut of the film was spread across two or even three more discs that the compression issues would quickly vanish, leaving a much cleaner transfer for us to enjoy.
I was, however, pleased with the way the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix turned out for 'Gods and Generals'. This is indeed the best aspect of this release. The 2007 release featured a lossy Dolby Digital track that never did the movie justice. Needless to say, I was looking forward to what a lossless track would sound like here.
I'm happy to announce that the lossless change was a huge one. It gives 'Gods and Generals' a breath of new life that isn't really provided by its hulking, compressed video presentation. The sounds of the Civil War are given ample room to breath. LFE booms during the battle scenes, while dialogue is always intelligible even during the more raucous battles. Rear channels suck you into the action as they engulf you in the eerie ambiance of war. Whether it be the screams of soldiers fighting for their lives, or the quiet chirping of unseen birds, the clarity of this track is striking.
The mix does feature some high-end brashness as sound effects seem to have a set ceiling before they seem to become slightly muffled. That's really the only complaint I have with this otherwise engrossing mix.
Maxwell's 'Gods and Generals' is a sweeping epic. It wasn't particularly liked by Ken Brown when he reviewed the first Blu-ray release, but 'Gods and Generals' and 'Gettysburg' still provide a fantastic look at the Civil War. Fans should be ecstatic about the copious amounts of time added to this already long war epic for this Extended Director's Cut. Although, it's tough to love the video presentation because the 280 minutes of HD footage seems to have pushed a single Blu-ray disc to its absolute limits. Splitting the movie up onto a couple of discs would have helped tone down many of the compression issues. Fortunately, the audio has undergone a major upgrade to a near demo-worthy lossless mix. I enjoyed the inclusion of a brand new audio commentary and the other extras that came along with this release. This is recommended to anyone, but is a must have for fans of Maxwell's Civil War epics.