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Blu-ray Reviews

Gods and Generals Extended Director's Cut Blu-ray



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#1 of 3 Cameron Yee

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Posted May 23 2011 - 06:34 PM

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Gods and Generals: Extended Director's Cut
Release Date: May 24, 2011
Studio: Warner Home Video
Packaging/Materials: Two-disc "Digi-Book"
Year: 2002
Rating: NR
Running Time: 4:39:55
MSRP: $34.99

  THE FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES
Video 1080p high definition 2.40:1 Standard definition
Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: German 1.0, Spanish 1.0, Portuguese 2.0, Stereo: English
Subtitles English SDH, Spanish, French, German SDH, Portuguese Spanish


The Feature: 2.5/5

After the favorable response to "Gettysburg," which was adapted from Michael Shaara's novel "The Killer Angels," Writer-Director Ronald F. Maxwell proceeded to apply the same treatment to "Gods and Generals," a novel that explores the Civil War prior to the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg, written by Jeffrey Shaara (Michael's son). Working with a production budget well over double that of the first film (thanks to Executive Producer Ted Turner), the Civil War prequel expanded both the cinematic and historical scope, opting for a 2.40:1 aspect ratio to contain the epic sweep of the conflict, focusing specifically on the Battles of First Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. The film also sought to delve deeper into its characters, zeroing in on Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (Stephen Lang) and, to a lesser extent, Gen. Robert E. Lee (Robert Duvall, taking over for Martin Sheen) and Col. Joshua Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels). On paper at least, all that seemed like the makings of a film at least on par with "Gettysburg," but critical response was, in a word, brutal. On Rotten Tomatoes (RT) the film has a paltry 8% critics rating, with complaints centering around the length/pacing, an overly didactic tone, and a pro-South bias. Though audiences may have had a higher opinion of the movie (judging by the 67% RT audience rating), the box office returns didn't really show it, dashing all hopes for a third film, which would have looked at the events following Gettysburg and been based on another of Shaara's novels "The Last Full Measure."


Despite the rejection by critics and the average moviegoer, the film seemed to develop a sizable cult following, which is understandable given the passionate nature of Civil War reenactors and history buffs. Couple that with the Civil War's 150th anniversary, a revisiting of the film through an extended director's cut makes perfect sense. Given its audience, the director's cut need not even address the complaints leveled by critics, who would likely call the reinstatement of the Battle of Antietam (which yielded the most single-day casualties of the war), a subplot involving John Wilkes Booth, and extended character moments "just more of the same." For those with a different sensibility, the extended version should be a more satisfying experience, though I am curious how they feel about the continuing predominance of the Confederate point-of-view, and now the inclusion of Lincoln's assassin into the mix (both of which were found in the source material). For everyone else, "Gods and Generals" will remain a hard sell regardless of their biases, especially now that the film runs longer than ever. Though it sounds like the narrative structure has been changed up a bit, with there now being five defined parts or episodes with major battles tending to anchor them - Manassas (First Battle of Bull Run), Antietam (Battle of Antietam), Fredericksburg, Moss Neck (Battle of Fredericksburg) and Chancelorsville (Battle of Chancellorsville); however, it isn't enough to make the film more accessible to the general viewer. Battles remain overlong and repetitive; characters' grand speeches and melodramatic platitudes kill the film's pace; and the reverent tone towards the entire conflict wears thin. In all its exhaustive (and exhausting) detail, the film remains a work that will appeal exclusively to the passionate Civil War enthusiast.


Video Quality: 3.5/5

The film is accurately framed at 2.40:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec. The film's noticeably improved production values get a decent, but at times problematic, presentation in high definition. The oddest issue are spots of blurriness or softness. Most of the time this pops up with the too-obvious matte paintings, which look like they were done by Thomas Kincaide, but there are handful of moments where areas of the scene are smeared or blurry, like the director of photography got nostalgic for the old Vaseline-on-the lens trick. It's hard to imagine this is some kind of artifact from the transfer, but then it's hard to understand the point behind this being an intentional part of the film's cinematography.

Other issues are comparatively minor, but worth noting. Night shot contrast can look a little compressed at times, and by the same token daytime scenes can look a little too bright. Compression noise is fleeting but sometimes evident, and though overall sharpness never looks as soft as the matte paintings, there are times when the shot looks like a dupe (which may be the case since this version of the film restores shots previously excised). One consolation is the absence of image enhancement artifacts like edge halos.

That being said, black levels and colors are suitably deep and well rendered and contrast displays the full range of values outside of the aforementioned moments. Considering a four-and-a-half hour film occupies a single BD-50, the image is surprisingly good, but since the second disc is a DVD, wouldn't it have made more sense to split the film over two BDs?


Audio Quality: 4.5/5
Dialogue in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is clear and intelligible, though some dialogue can get lost in the cacophony of battle. Surround channels provide balanced and seamless support for the score, as well as enveloping directional and environmental effects. Canon fire now has suitable "oomph" thanks to the presence of some well-implemented LFE and bass activity shows good depth and fullness with the film's orchestral score.


Special Features: 3/5

The extras carry over the audio commentary and the majority of video pieces from the theatrical cut Blu-ray, released in 2007. New for this release are a 10-minute introduction that describes the differences between the theatrical and director's cut, and additional audio commentary for the restored scenes. The most in-depth content comes from said commentary tracks, but will be a daunting task for all but the most devoted history enthusiasts.




[Disc One]


Introduction by Executive Producer Ted Turner and Director/Screenwriter Ronald F. Maxwell (9:44, HD) goes over the additions to the extended cut and includes some reflections by the two men on the filmmaking experience.


Commentary by Director-Screenwriter Ronald F. Maxwell and Historical Advisors Col. Keith Gibson and James I. Robertson, Jr. is offered for both the theatrical and extended versions. The theatrical commentary is scene-specific, and amounts to almost 90 minutes in length. This is a relief after the poor implementation of the commentary on the "Gettysburg Director's Cut" Blu-ray, which spread scene-specific material over the entire course of the film, creating wide gaps between contributions. As for the commentary itself, the three men have an easygoing manner and offer some truly interesting historical information for the dramatized events. Even though the commentary by itself is practically a feature film, it proves to be the most easily digestible of the commentary options.


Despite suggestions to the contrary, the commentary for the extended cut is not entirely new as it re-uses material from the theatrical version commentary. Unfortunately the track also runs the entire length of the film, recreating the same "long gaps" problem found on "Gettysburg." Knowing the major addition to the extended version is the Battle of Antietam, it would have helped to have some a descriptive scene selection menu for viewers to access the new material. As it is, it's a special feature that requires a particularly high commitment and interest from viewers.


[Disc Two (DVD)]

The Life of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (14:31, SD) provides key insights into Jackson's life, including his early military service, his deep religious faith, his personal tragedies, and of course his leadership during the Civil War.

The Authenticities of the Film (12:56, SD) looks at how the filmmakers re-created Fredericksburg using areas in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, as well as how they staged the battle sequences.

Gods and Generals: A Journey to the Past (22:02, SD) is a 2003 promotional piece produced for broadcast. About a third of it explores the civil rights issues mentioned in the movie, with the rest touching on the supporting characters and the use of living history actors as extras. Donzaleigh Abernathy, who played the slave Martha, hosts the program.

Cross the Green Mountain (3:15, SD) is a music video for Bob Dylan's song for the soundtrack.

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.


Theatrical Trailer (1:43, 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: 2.5/5
Video Quality: 3.5/5
Audio Quality: 4.5/5
Special Features: 3/5
Overall Score (not an average): 3/5



Warner Home Video turns in a decent video presentation and a more dynamic audio experience for a Civil War film that will appeal exclusively to the Civil War buff. The special features offer a solid amount of historical information, bound up mostly in the audio commentaries, but the new additions for this release ultimately don't add much to what was already available in previous editions. Still, fans of the film - and enthusiasts who haven't yet seen it - will likely appreciate the extended cut. It's for these individuals alone that the release is recommended.


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#2 of 3 JoeDoakes

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Posted May 24 2011 - 01:56 AM

The rotton tomatoes critics reviews are absurd, and they reveal a lot more about the biases of the critics themselves than those of this film.  In fact, although the film spends a lot more time concentrating on the Southern generals than those of the North (who, in the early days of the war, were largely composed of forgettable mediocrities), it does not have a pro-South bias.  However, if your idea of a realistic portrayal of a Southern general is Kenneth Branaugh in Wild Wild West, I can see why you would think so.  The highlight of the film is Stephen Lang's portrayal of Stonewall Jackson.  Lang does a really outstanding job.  Although one doesn't have to be have a passionate interest in the Civil War to enjoy this film, one probably does have some interest in it.  The film is about the men and events of the early days of the War.  If you have no interest in that, you are unlikely to want to tackle the film's length.  Finally, I do think that this is the kind of film most suited to home viewing, as it is probably best digested in pieces like a television miniseries.  It sounds as if the new Director's Cut will aid the experience of the film significantly.



#3 of 3 Aaron Silverman

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Posted May 24 2011 - 06:16 AM

Bear in mind that the RT score is simply the percentage of reviewers who gave the film a better-than-average rating. This is certainly not in the bottom 8% of all films, although it does have serious problems.


As for a pro-South bias, I don't think it's so much that as it is the nostalgic "lost cause" tone, which is kind of hackneyed (been a while since I've seen it, though). I'm curious to see whether the extended cut fleshes things out better or simply makes the film even more disjointed and dull.



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