Length: 122 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p
Languages: English, French, Portuguese Dolby TrueHD 5.1; Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
In the lead was a Massachusetts regiment, all-Negro except for its officers, who were mostly Boston bluebloods, including its young colonel, Robert Gould Shaw, whose mother had wept for joy at the sight of her boy leading black men forth to war…Here in the East, on Morris Island just outside Charleston harbor, as formerly in the West, at Milliken’s Bend and Port Hudson, Negro troops proved that they could stop bullets and shell fragments was well as white men. - Civil War historian Shelby Foote
Let me state this as plainly as possible - Glory is one of the great Civil War films. Superbly directed by Edward Zwick, Glory emphasizes the bravery of the black soldiers of the Union Army’s 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment without sanitizing the horrors of war. Indeed, the film opens with Captain Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick) witnessing human slaughter up close and personal at the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest single-day battle in American History. After recovering from a neck wound, Shaw returns to his home in Boston, where he is introduced to the famous black abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Unbeknownst to Shaw, his father’s friend, Massachusetts Governor John Andrew, had decided to offer Shaw the command of the state’s first all-black regiment. The Shaw family reveres Ralph Waldo Emerson and is fervently abolitionist, so the young (26 years old) Captain apparently feels that he has to accept the assignment.
Whatever reservations Shaw may have about the suitability of black soldiers is soon dwarfed by the indifference of the Union Army. The Battle of Antietam, which was nominally a Union victory, gave President Abraham Lincoln the political cover that he needed to emancipate all slaves in the Confederate states. The immediate effect was mostly symbolic, but a decision was made to recruit black soldiers into the Union Army. However, as the 54th begins training, it becomes evident to Gould that the Army has no plans to send his regiment into combat. Gould has difficulty getting basic supplies for his soldiers. They have to drill and train in civilian clothes and many of the recruits have no shoes. However, Gould, who has been promoted to Colonel, is no fool, and he has influence through his father’s relationship with Governor Andrew. Before long Gould procures uniforms, shoes and weapons for his men.
As portrayed in the film, Gould’s sympathy for the plight of blacks is more practical than academic. In his youth he had befriended Thomas Searles (Andre Braugher), who had demonstrated to him that black men were capable of being intelligent and well-educated. Most of the 54th’s recruits, however, are former slaves who have had little education. Gould and his second-in-command, Major Cabot Forbes (Cary Elwes), learn to rely upon recruit John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman) to understand the feelings and needs of the troops. Among the soldiers is the volatile Private Trip (Denzel Washington, in an Academy Award-winning performance), a former slave who leads a protest when it is announced that the black soldiers will be paid less than their white counterparts.
Gould and his regiment are deployed to South Carolina, where they encounter more resistance to the idea of sending them into combat. During an encounter with the racist Colonel Montgomery (Cliff De Young), Gould recognizes that the Union Army has decided that black soldiers are useful only as common laborers. He writes to his father, asking him to intercede with Governor Andrew and President Lincoln, but before he gets a response he is able to use his cunning and guile to get his regiment sent into action. At long last, the black soldiers of the 54th will get the opportunity to prove that they are the equals of the white soldiers on both sides of the conflict.
Although technically this Blu-ray release is not a 20th Anniversary edition, it has been two decades since Glory was made and it holds up extremely well. It is a riveting war film with several intense and realistic battle scenes. The exceptional cast includes unbilled cameos by Jane Alexander as Shaw’s mother and Raymond St. Jacques as Frederick Douglass. The contributions of black soldiers to the Union cause have been largely overlooked by historians over the years, so Glory performed a valuable service by making the public aware of this fascinating story.
The 1.85:1 1080p transfer is very pleasing and is a distinct improvement over the Special Edition DVD which was released in 2001. This is not to say that it is perfect. The image is a bit soft at times, but I have seen this film enough times to know that the softness is present in the original film elements and is not a reflection on the transfer. However, Sony has retained an appropriate level of film grain, there is no hint of excessive DNR, and the result is satisfyingly film-like. Colors and flesh tones are solid and accurate. Black levels are strong and shadow detail is excellent, important factors considering that much of the action (including the climactic battle scene) takes place at night or under less-than-optimum lighting conditions. The print is clean and free of damage. Overall I am very content with the way that Glory is presented in this Blu-ray disc.
The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is outstanding. Fans of Glory have always been enthusiastic about James Horner’s wonderful score and the superb contributions of The Boys Choir of Harlem. The musical soundstage is expansive and moving. The surround channels are used effectively, not only during the battle scenes but also in providing ambient sound in quieter scenes. Your subwoofer will get a workout delivering the thunderous sounds of exploding shells. Dialogue is mostly delivered via the center channel, and every word is clear and entirely intelligible.
The Blu-ray release of Glory contains only one exclusive supplement, a “virtual battlefield” which is actually an interactive map that highlights most of the significant battles of the Civil War. The most important battles, such as Gettysburg, include video segments in which two Civil War historians provide some exposition. This supplement also includes brief biographies of Shaw and Robert E. Lee.
The remaining supplements have been carried over from the standard-definition Special Edition:
Director Edward Zwick provides a generally insightful commentary track.
“The Voices of Glory” is an interesting featurette in which actors reads excerpts from letters written by soldiers of the 54th.
“The True Story of Glory Continues” is a featurette narrated by Morgan Freeman. It goes over some of the ground covered by the film and then goes into some detail about the exploits of the 54th through the end of the Civil War.
There also is a worthwhile “making of” featurette.
Finally, there are two deleted scenes which can be viewed alone or with commentary by director Zwick. One scene, which involves Denzel Washington’s character killing a Confederate soldier, is well-done but Zwick ultimately concluded that it was superfluous. Another scene, of a conversation between Shaw and Major Forbes, did not please Zwick at all and he made a quick decision to cut it. Zwick makes the interesting observation that cutting a weak scene only serves to make the preceding and succeeding scenes stronger.
The disc is secured in a standard Blu-ray keepcase.
The Final Analysis
Glory is considered by many to be the best Civil War film ever made. It certainly is a must-see for anyone interested in the Civil War, but also for anyone who simply wants to see great actors perform their craft. Finally, it is an important chapter in the history of race relations in our country. Watch this film and then reflect upon the fact that two world wars and nearly 100 years passed before the armed forces of the United States were integrated. That is an amazing and disturbing fact, and Glory is a wonderful and powerful motion picture.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: June 2, 2009