Having not watched it for quite a while, I was struck by the epic sweep. Last week I watched the Blu-ray of Zulu Dawn. A month or so ago, I saw Cleopatra in a theater. There is nothing comparable to epics like these with thousands of real people recreating historic events. No, the battle scenes in Gettysburg do not feature the gore of a Saving Private Ryan, and every cannon explosion was in slow motion with guys flying through the air. But seeing the movement of huge bands of troops was mighty impressive. Seeing Pickett's men emerge from the woods and form up was as impressive to me as the charge itself. So many movies today are CGI dominated. Epics like Gettysburg with real people in real locations just pack a wallop that CGI cannot provide.
Another thing the film (and book) does very well is to put the viewer on one side at a time. It tends to concentrate on one side so that you get wrapped up with that side and you are not conficted as you watch the events unfold; then it switches. It does not cut back and forth during a battle sequence. So, at the beginning of the fighting, it concentrates on Buford's choice to stand and fight. We are with Buford and his cavalry; the Confederates attacking are nameless guys we don't get caught up with. When the film switches to the rebs forming up to attack, we are with the Confederates as they try to ascertain where the yanks are and attempt to dislodge them. We are with the Confederates when Longstreet and Hood plan the attack on Little Round Top, but the attack/defense itself is seen exclusively from the Union side. When I saw the film theatrically in 1993, there was an intermission right after the 20th Maine's charge. The second half began with Longstreet visiting the gravely wounded Hood. It kept Chamberlain's succes and Hood's defeat separate so that we could experience and be a part of both individually. So, throughout the film, we are allowed to be on each side and we tend to hope for the best for whichever side we're with at the time. The film (and book) by doing this really gives us a sense of the tragic brother against brother nature of the Civil War, probably more than any other Civil War film.
Also, I doubt I am the only one who, after the film was over, felt compelled to watch the 20th Maine's charge again. The movements and camera angles are superb in that scene with Randy Edelman's sweeping score in the background. Truly stirring stuff!