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Gettysburg (Blu-Ray/DVD Combo)

Josh Artis , Anton Blake , Adrian Moat    PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)   Blu-ray

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Product Description


The epic battle of Gettysburg, fought over a three-day period at the beginning of July 1863, was bloody, brutal, and bitter--making it ideally suited to the History Channel's testosterone-fueled documentary approach. Viewers familiar with offerings like Battles B.C., Patton 360, and multiple others will recognize this style: loud and kinetic, flashy and unsubtle, Gettysburg blends reenactments, photos, CGI (used to depict and dissect the weaponry that made the Civil War's body count so high in general, with some 50,000 casualties at Gettysburg alone), Sam Rockwell's macho voice-over narration, actors reading the reminiscences of the participants, and a variety of expert talking heads holding forth. For the most part, it works; historians and Civil War buffs have already noted some of the factual errors, important omissions, and other problems with the material, but those less versed in the details will come away from this 94-minute program (which was executive produced by noted directors Tony and Ridley Scott) with a good deal of information about the confrontation that inspired President Abraham Lincoln's immortal address, referenced near the end of the documentary. Typical of the History Channel, some of this information is delivered in hyperbolic, melodramatic fashion. Gettysburg was "the largest battle ever fought in the Western Hemisphere," while the cannons that blasted away at Gen. Robert E. Lee's men during the fateful attack known as Pickett's Charge was "the largest artillery barrage ever" in that same sphere; numerous other events are the biggest, the most iconic, the most important, and so on. The overheated writing does Gettysburg no favors, but director Adrian Moat and the other filmmakers' decision to focus on a variety of individuals on both sides was a wise one. Thus we learn about characters like Maj. Gen. Dan Sickles of the North, who had killed his wife's lover before the war and successfully used "the first plea of temporary insanity in U.S. history" to win acquittal; Pvt. Amos Humiston, another Yank, who died on the streets of the Pennsylvania town with nothing to identify him except a photo of his three sons; Confederate Lt. Gen. Dick Ewell, who had vowed revenge after losing a leg earlier in the war; Col. James Wallace, a Marylander who was both a Union officer and slave owner; and numerous others. In the end, it's these portraits that help distinguish the program from the many, many others of its ilk. --Sam Graham

Product Description

Studio: A&e Home Video Release Date: 09/20/2011

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Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  36 reviews
90 of 104 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Gettysburg Documentary is Style Over Scope/Detail/Substance May 30 2011
By Captain Hornblower - Published on Amazon.com
Once again, the History Channel has produced a documentary that is par for the course with their productions over the past several years--style and special effects over substance. Like the disappointing production of last year, America: the Story of Us, this documentary on the Battle of Gettysburg is one that oversimplifies the subject, relies on generalities without substantive discussion, and favors computer graphics and big explosions over educational value.

The narration repeats the same general exclamatory statements over and over again. How many times do we have to hear, "this could determine the outcome of the Civil War," or "this would be one of the iconic moments of the War," in the narrator's deep, dramatic tone? It reminded me of the aforementioned America: the Story of Us, when they had to have a commentator say every five minutes or so, "we are a nation of innovators," or "ours is a history of struggle." Such repeated statements are meant to add weight and power to the piece, but instead just make it into overly exaggerated melodrama.

You can see the mark of the modern war film making style in the piece, especially given that Tony and Ridley Scott are the producers behind it. The documentary is obviously trying to give it a Saving Private Ryan feel, with plenty of bullet impact noises, blood and grit, and even the noisy-silence sound of someone suffering shock (reminiscent of several moments with Tom Hanks character in Private Ryan). But alas, this stylistic war film feel is not supported by an informative narrative. This is a documentary, and thus the informative value should be at least as important as the entertainment value.

As someone who has studied the Battle of Gettysburg, and has taught college classes on the Civil War, I was also appalled by the glaring omissions of important players and events from the story. They fail to discuss in any detail at all how the battle started. Thus, they do not discuss General John Buford's cavalry and their role in holding the high ground for the Union Army when the Confederates arrived. On the second day's engagement, they focus on the assaults on Cemetery Ridge and Culp's Hill, but do not mention the assault on Little Round Top. An all important player like Gouverneur K. Warren, who recognized the significance of (and lack of defenses on) Little Round Top, and called for reinforcements to hold the hill, is omitted. If anyone turned the tide of the battle, it was Warren. This, of course, also leads to the role played by Colonel Strong Vincent's brigade, and the included 20th Maine Regiment of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. The latter is one of the most fascinating characters in the Union Army at Gettysburg, but he also is omitted from the story. On the Confederate side of this engagement, they focus all of their attention on Barksdale's Brigade, but do not mention the roll of John Bell Hood or Colonel William Oates. No play for the Texans or the Alabamians--Mississippi's sons get all the focus of discussion. And for the final day, with Pickett's Charge, they do not even discuss George Pickett himself in any detail. Nor do they mention the roles played by Lewis Armistead, or any of Pickett's brigade commanders. On the Union side, General Winfield Scott Hancock's role in holding the Union center is also overlooked. Given the personal connection between Scott and Armistead (friends before the war), this could have been a wonderful way to put an exclamation point on the brother-against-brother nature of the American Civil War. This may seem like nitpicking, but these people and events are so essential to the story that they should not be overlooked in any complete discussion of the Battle of Gettysburg. At least some of them should have made it into this documentary.

There are some positive points to the documentary, and any fair assessment of the piece requires that these be mentioned. First, the personal stories of some of the common soldiers are compelling, and do convey the emotion that those soldiers must have felt. I felt this was especially true of the story of Amos Humiston, which is one of my favorite stories from the Battle of Gettysburg, and one I have highlighted myself in classes I have taught on the battle. I am glad that he was one character they included in the story. Other positive aspects of the piece are details about certain elements of the battle (weaponry, field medicine, communications). Such details are brought home with good use of expert commentary, and effective use of the aforementioned graphics and imagery. In this case, the stylistic filmmaking is used to great effect.

But what ultimately makes Gettysburg, overall, a failed piece, is that it fails to convey the scope of the battle, an overall narrative of the story of the battle, and favors style over important detail. Thus, its value as an educational piece is limited. Now, I do know the common argument in reply to this--this kind documentary could get young people interested in the topic. My reply to that is that we do not need to reduce a documentary's informative aspects, i.e. "dumb down," the piece just to have more slick production values to get the young people who watch Iron Man interested in history. When we teach history, we should try to make it accessible to the common man, but not by appealing to the lowest common denominator. Rather, we should aspire to the highest quality of substance and story. Gettysburg fails to do so.
36 of 43 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Flashy but Inaccurate Aug. 31 2011
By R. K. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
It's flashy, I grant that. But "ground breaking?" Not hardly. Still, I watched the whole thing, just to see how they did. Answer: not so hot.

Just a few examples of errors: the narrator said the late Stonewall Jackson was General Lee's second in command -- General Longstreet was Lee's second in command; having Ewell on a horse, rather than in the carriage he actually rode after losing his leg; Clara Barton established the Red Cross (only the American Red Cross--the Red Cross was established by Henry Dunant in Geneva, Switzerland in 1863).

Ignoring John Buford's cavalry defense until General Reynolds could get there, nothing about Hood's brigade against Chamberlain on Little Round Top, claiming all of the Confederate cavalry was missing at the beginning (just J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry, the rest were there), claiming General Joseph R. Davis was from Vicksburg (he was from Biloxi), nothing at all about the third day cavalry battle between Custer and Stuart -- the errors and omissions just piled up.

It was not totally bad. The doctor who found his nephew dead the first day, then tended the wounded without sleep; a tip of the hat to the first military intelligence unit, coverage of Culp's Hill -- they were reasonably good. However, this battle was too large to cover in an hour presentation (with commercial breaks), and it shows.

I'll not be buying this one. Save your money and get Ken Burns' The Civil War, and the motion picture Gettysburg (preferably the director's cut). They're far more accurate and emotive.
25 of 33 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Why Not Call it Culp's Hill? July 15 2011
By Lee D. Phillips - Published on Amazon.com
How you can produce a documentary entitled "Gettysburg" and completely ignore the southern flank of the battle is beyond me. Granted, the personal stories of individual soldiers are moving; however, you could demonstrate that true courage, intense fear, incredible suffering, and numbing horror existed in any battle in any time period. The film is mistitled; it is misleading to viewers who wish a comprehensive idea of what specifically occured in those three fateful days.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars As A Hybrid Reality-Based War Movie--Gettysburg Attempts Something Different, But May Upset Historians Sept. 7 2011
By K. Harris - Published on Amazon.com
The History Channel enlisted some big names (Executive Producers Tony Scott and Ridley Scott, Narrator Sam Rockwell) to collaborate on one of the most heavily promoted and anticipated spectacles that the network has ever orchestrated. The resultant "Gettysburg," released to commemorate the anniversary of the Civil War (it's been 150 years), has had many battle aficionados crying foul. Anyone looking for a traditional accounting of the facts of the pivotal event at Gettysburg may indeed be disappointed by this different interpretation. In a continued and concentrated effort to blur the lines between entertainment and documentary, the program serves up a bloody recreation which highlights the lives of eight soldiers (representing both sides of the conflict) and tries to examine history from a more personal perspective. While not "history" per se, these individual accounts have a quiet thoughtfulness that can be effective. But the vivid recreation is filled with carnage, sweeping camera work, and overheated exclamation by Rockwell that overshadows the intimacy. At times, it feels so overproduced that clearly the style component is winning a victory over substance.

For the record, I have nothing against looking at Gettysburg from a different vantage point. If you want a documentary that just relates the facts and details, there are dozens of decent choices in the DVD marketplace. The harshest critics of "Gettysburg" will claim that the show is inaccurate--but I believe incomplete is a better interpretation. By focusing singularly on the soldiers as a narrative hook, the documentary aspect of the interviews can be hit-or-miss. In detailing specific movements (between live action segments), lively graphics are employed but information is still somewhat limited. By no means is this a comprehensive dissection of the battle, nor was it intended to be. This was designed for a more visceral response putting you in the action. I do agree, however, that much of the detailing in the recreation could have been better researched. If you're going to go all out, get simple observable details right (canteens and uniforms, equipment). And the South Africa location doesn't read as particularly authentic.

It all boils down to expectations. I didn't hate this production as much as some of the more vocal purists did. And while I don't disagree with their primary reservations, I think the show offers a unique and different perspective. I personally don't want to sit through yet another dry scholarly accounting of the events--the facts aren't changing! The problem comes that the History Channel itself determines viewer expectation. Their brand should stand for accuracy and completeness in things historical--especially documentaries! In an effort to drive ratings, though, the network is clearly at a crossroads with its ever expanding slate of non-history related reality programming. "Gettysburg" was a big and bold (and perhaps controversial) attempt to revitalize their brand. I suspect it will entertain new viewers who aren't students of the Civil War. But it certainly left itself open to criticism from those with a more intimate knowledge of history. If you see this as a history based war movie (which I claim it strives to be) as opposed to a standard documentary, the program isn't all bad. About 2 1/2 stars for the elements that work. KGHarris, 9/11.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing Nov. 27 2011
By Michael Hines - Published on Amazon.com
As a Civil War buff and reenactor for about 30 years I was looking forward to seeing this program when I saw the previews. Unfortunately it proved to be a disappointment. I liked the style of the film but the historical inaccuracies ruined it for me. I don't know who they had advising them but the "soldiers" weren't even wearing their equipment properly. While it wasn't a documentary the movie "Gettysburg" directed by Ron Maxwell is much more historically correct, if you can overlook the fact that some of us reenactors used in that film were a bit old and too well fed.

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