Gettysburg: Director's Cut Release Date: May 24, 2011 Studio: Warner Home Video Packaging/Materials: Two-disc "Digi-Book" Year: 1993 Rating: NR Running Time: 4:31:14 MSRP: $34.99 THE FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES Video 1080p high definition 1.85:1 Standard definition Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: German 1.0, Spanish 1.0, Portuguese 2.0, Dolby Digital: English 2.0 Subtitles English SDH, Spanish, French, German SDH, Portuguese Spanish, Portuguese The Feature: 4.5/5 If a four-and-a-half hour film about the Civil War conjures up painful memories of history reading assignments, don't worry. Director Ronald F. Maxwell's historically faithful recounting of the "biggest and bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil" - adapted from Michael Shaara's novel "The Killer Angels" - is the ultimate anti-textbook, and not because it's a "SparkNotes" shortcut to understanding the events. Like all good historical resources - be it a well-curated museum, insightful oral history, or Pulitzer Prize-winning book - it makes history come alive. Of course the film doesn't (and can't) cover all the details of the pivotal battle that took place outside the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in July of 1863, but it presents the major points in a way that makes the conflict clear on both a logistical and contextual level. The film also breathes life into historical figures like Lt. General Longstreet (Tom Berenger), General Lee (Martin Sheen), and Colonel Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels), giving them a humanity and depth that even Ken Burn's celebrated Civil War documentary wasn't able to provide. Not to say the film doesn't overindulge at times - particularly with the addition of nine minutes for the Director's Cut. Some shots in the final battle scene are noticeably recycled, and the director seems to think that making Pickett's Charge run out in what feels like real time properly communicates its significance. Still, "Gettysburg" as a whole does an amazing job with pacing over a gargantuan length, making it an exhaustive piece that never tires one out. More importantly, it makes a person appreciate the bravery of men on both sides of the divide, something that is admittedly easy to take for granted when 150 years have passed since it all began. Video Quality: 3.5/5 Presented in 1080p with the AVC codec, the transfer approximates the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio by filling the entire 16:9 frame. Overall picture quality is a mixed bag. At its worst the image is soft and oversaturated, with muddy black levels and weak contrast. At its best it has great color depth, sharpness (though not without some telltale edge halos), and a beautifully film-like quality. As disappointing as this may be, the variability suggests most of the issues are inherent to the source elements, meaning this is probably the best the film can look short of spreading it across two discs. Audio Quality: 3.5/5 Dialogue in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is generally clear and intelligible, though some military orders can get lost in the cacophony of canon fire. Surrounds offer some light support for the score and the occasional directional and atmospheric effect, but on the whole it's front-loaded mix that also has a reasonably wide and balanced sound stage. Bass activity is particularly aggressive during the final act, but frequencies never troll down to the LFE ranges, making for a "boomy" but not exactly seat rumbling experience. Special Features: 4/5 Not surprisingly, the extras focus almost entirely on fleshing out the rest of Gettysburg's battle history. Items from the theatrical cut DVD appear to have been carried over in their entirety. Commentary by Director-Screenwriter Ronald F. Maxwell, Cinematographer Kees Van Oostrum, Author James M. McPherson, and Military Historian Craig Symonds provides further historical details and analysis that the film can't practically provide, in addition to technical information about the production. Unlike its appearance on DVD, which was scene-specific, the commentary runs for the entire length of the film, creating some significant gaps between comments. Though the information proves insightful and helpful, I would have preferred maintaining the scene-specific implementation of the track. The Making of Gettysburg (52:06, SD) is a documentary from 1993 that includes interviews with the cast, crew and historians discussing the film's characters, a look at the use of Civil War re-enactors to recreate the battle, and additional history and analysis of the event. Narrated by Martin Sheen. The Battle of Gettysburg (29:37, SD) is an Oscar-nominated documentary from 1955, directed by Herman Hoffman and narrated by Leslie Nielsen. The piece doesn't tell us anything we haven't heard already - and the footage being limited to shots of war monuments and Pennsylvania scenery gets a bit tiresome - but it provides a thorough encapsulation of the events. On Location (5:31, SD) is a series of video clips taken during filming of the climactic battle sequence. Maps of the Battlefield (7:36, SD) provides an overview of the battle's military strategies, narrated by military historian Craig Symonds. Ron Maxwell's Invitation to Take the Journey Through Hallowed Ground (7:01, SD) is a promotional piece for the "Journey Through Hallowed Ground" historical tour that goes from Gettysburg to Monticello. Original Theatrical Trailer (2:50, SD) Collectible Book integrated into the packaging includes numerous production stills, cast and crew biographies, information about the historical figures portrayed, historical trivia, and an essay about the film. Recap The Feature: 4.5/5 Video Quality: 3.5/5 Audio Quality: 3.5/5 Special Features: 4/5 Overall Score (not an average): 4/5 Warner Home Video turns in a decent presentation of an exhaustive cinematic recounting of the Battle of Gettysburg. The special features carry over items from past editions, and offer additional historical analysis and context for those still hungry for information. Recommending a purchase for those who have the theatrical cut on DVD is a tough call, though I can only assume the Blu-ray - despite its limitations - beats even the best standard definition transfer (plus this is the first appearance of the longer director's cut on current optical disc formats). For first time purchasers it is of course the obvious choice between the two releases.