Saturday, July 9, 2011

Gods and Generals was a good movie

The critics are either stupid, atheist, politically correct, or have never read the original book.  Most of the criticisms leveled at this movie completely miss the point of it as well as everything in the movie that runs counter to said criticisms.

The book and movie is the first part in a Civil War trilogy started by Michael Shaara and finished by his son.  It tells the story of the American Civil War from John Brown's raid to the battle of Chancellorville through the eyes of different people, particularly soldiers and officers of note on both sides of the conflict.  The second book details the battle of Gettysburg, again through many eyes, and the final book finishes up the telling up to the surrender of the Confederates at Appomattox courthouse.

It is true that covering a major portion of a war in one book is different than covering just one battle such as the second book did but Gods and Generals pulls it off really well anyways.  Putting that in film form however and you get a movie more than 4 hours long and people are reintroduced to the intermission.  It can't be helped though and it was limited release to begin with because it was aimed at a target audience who have read the book or would rather see a visual depiction of the Civil War.  Considering this, it was unfortunate that for the theatrical release, it was cut down to a little more than 3 and a half hours, taking out many very interesting scenes which would have added to the story and shown more of the spectacular reenactments of battles.

Another interesting criticism that was leveled at the film was how some of the people talked.  They talked in very poetic fashions, carrying out soliloquies on a whim.  However, considering the education of the people in question, their ages, their background, their societal status, and their time period, I thought it fit in well.  Several were teachers or generals and would be natural speakers.  At times they did seem strained though but that's besides the point.  Jeff Daniels hadn't played his part for a long while now so he was naturally rusty and Robert Duvall replaced Martin Sheen for God knows what reason and he had a hard time filling his shoes in my opinion despite being an exceptional actor in his own right.

The main criticism that I've heard is that the movie was pro-Confederacy.  I'm no fan of the rebellion they carried out, I look at it as such and will not change my view of it.  However, even the worst villains in history have a human side to them which someone will show in a movie and then people will complain about it.  Hell, even Hitler has had several movies made, good movies, which showed a more human side to him.  However, in all of these movies, their craziness is still quite apparent and they are by no means the good guys of the story.

I remember Tora! Tora! Tora! showing the Japanese in a human light with their planning and carrying out of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and it is part of why people originally did not like it but its acting, story, and focus are a million times better than today's Pearl Harbor movie.  Comparable to Pearl Harbor's special effects for its time, the special effects for TTT were great for its time.

In G&G, Jackson and the other generals are shown fighting for their home and their view that the Union was invading them unjustly.  Yes that's a sad thing and you feel for it but any history savvy person should and would know the politics of the time and how even learned people like Lee and Jackson were manipulated emotionally.  Of course the book does talk more about that than the movie, I do find fault in the movie for that, but it is still discussed with some of the main Union characters such as Chamberlain who is a big player in the 2 sequels.

Anyways, Jackson and Lee were big players in the Civil War and these books and movies were to tell their stories as well however they saw it, even if we blatantly disagree with them.  On showing their craziness, Jackson repeatedly asserts that God is most definitely on their side and how if he had the choice, he would take no prisoners.  Lee in the final book is so distraught that God would not give them victory.

That of course leads to the other criticism of religious innuendo.  For God's sake people, no pun intended, the south is where the Bible Belt lays, its where people like Billy Graham came from, where the KKK was formed, and so forth; if the main characters include southern generals, its gonna get a little preachy.  The fact that these people who were supposed to be so learned and level headed ended up leading people to fight for BS reasons about states rights and defending their homes when in reality they were fighting for the foolish actions of slave holding landowners (secession) says a lot.

The final criticism solidifies in the minds of people who didn't read the book or know the history that this is a bad movie is how the Union is portrayed.  The main Generals, Burnside and Hooker, were arrogant and made stupid plans.  Not much was shown of Hooker but the way the Confederates ran through like 10 lines of Union soldiers in like 5 minutes of movie time suggests he might have forgotten they were at war, especially since a lot of the people in that battle were just camping and sitting around.  Burnside sent thousands of troop across an open field where Confederates were perched on an opposite side hill with cannons bearing straight down at them.  People make fun of Pickett's charge but this really took the cake.

It is unfortunate that the top generals at the beginning of the war were mostly politically instated and not very well versed in war where there were more seasoned officers who had experienced the Mexican American war around.  They did show those officers and they showed their frustration too at not being able to flip off their commanding generals at the time.  General Hancock was the man on the Union side as were a few others that I don't remember as well because I read the book a while back and its harder to tell who's who in the movie.  I wish they had shown Hancock's repelling the Confederates near Williamsburg in the Peninsula campaign, that must have been his most epic scene in the book.  Instead, they just show his epic frustration at being commanded by idiots.

On the portrayal of the troops, they were shown at Bull Run better than expected in my opinion considering what I've actually heard about Bull Run.  It was Fredericksburg and Chancellorville that were the saddest and truest though.  When the Union invades Fredericksburg, they ransack the town after having sieged it for some time.  There are generals on scene who try to put a stop to it by force but what's done is done.  That of course did happen in the book though as I remember it, they acted that way because they had lost the battle, not because they had conquered the town but no matter, it is a sad thing to see and to know that they did do that.

They also showed it through the eyes of a rich southern family who lived there in the movie which wasn't in the book, that might have been a little pro-confederate if they didn't own slaves.  Yeah they were treated well, like family actually, but then later they show the mother slave crying and telling General Hancock that she wishes that she and her children could one day die free.  That's about as pro-Confederate as Uncle Tom's Cabin.

One last criticism I remember is that they filmed the battle of Antietam but they don't put it in the final cut.  You can't even find the footage anywhere online; I can't anyways.  It is a shame but again, if people had read the book, they'd remember that it was only talked about after the battle and they didn't talk about the actual battle when it was happening.  The defeat was talked about through Lee who retreated grudgingly and the victory was talked about through Chamberlain whose men were not allowed to take part in the battle because of some scare that they had some sickness or something and they were quarantined.

There was one funny thing that I found kind of annoying.  With the exception of General Armistead who's previous actor in Gettysburg, Richard Jordan, sadly passed away along with his character, I don't know why they changed a number of character's actors.  Tom Berenger and Martin Sheen were awesome as Longstreet and Lee and it was kind of annoying that they changed them no matter how excellent the replacement actors were.

The funny part was Stephen Lang who was Pickett in Gettysburg but played Jackson in G&G.  I tried hard to not think of Pickett looking at him but all I could think of was "Whats happenin' to my boys?!"  He looked like Pickett from Gettysburg with a different beard, it was kind of annoying.  Again, Stephen Lang was good but they should have just kept him as Pickett and someone else as Jackson.  They made Billy Campbell, aka the Rocketeer, Pickett which was ok since in Gettysburg he was some obscure soldier who complained about the war but he wasn't as lively as Stephen Lang was as Pickett, he sat there mostly like scenery as did whoever replaced Tom Berenger as Longstreet.

Overall, reading the book and knowing the history, I liked the movie and think it was good, I would give it 4 out of 5 stars.  I don't give it all 5 stars because I have only the movie Gettysburg to compare it to which was so damn epic.  It was not a pro-Confederacy movie, it was not a religious based movie, it was simply telling the story through many eyes on both sides, many of which were Confederates.  Even the director had stated that he had this plan envisioned that this movie would show the Confederate side more as main characters and when the third movie would have come along, the Union characters would have been more central.  They shouldn't have recast so many people except where they couldn't help it of course; rest in peace Richard Jordan, that guy was awesome; even his name was epic.