I agree with Robert on the order in which to watch the films. While I am a fan of both, Gettysburg is far better, IMO. It follows only the battle of Gettysburg, and follows the source book almost verbatim. Any background info about the war up to that point is provided in conversations between the main characters.
Gods and Generals covers several years and several major battles and is thus more disjointed. Character development suffers as well. As a history buff, I enjoy Gods and Generals as an accurate film with impressive sequences. However, compared to Gettysburg, it leaves me a bit cold. I started watching it the night after finishing the 3-day Gettysburg-a-thon. It was not nearly as compelling as Gettysburg was right from the start.
Posted by Ray H:
The Union, however, is only really represented by Colonel Chamberlain. Another great man, but his lower rank prevents us from seeing much of the Union coordination.
Remember in Gettysburg, Union Gen. John Buford is given some fairly significant screen time as the man who knew the entire Rebel army was coming, and who picked such defensible ground. Robert is right that the top commanders in the Union army at that time were not the key players at Gettysburg. We also briefly glimpse Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren at the start of the Little Round Top sequence. He was the man who, at the last minute decided that troops should be placed on Little Round Top. In the film, he is shown standing in the exact pose of the statue of him that stands on Little Round Top:
I do agree that Gods and Generals is too Confederate-heavy. The novel by Jeff Shaara had 4 major characters: Lee, Jackson, Chamberlain and Hancock. The film decided to concentrate primarily on Jackson, and to a lesser extent, Chamberlain. Lee is only a supporting part, and Hancock gets even less attention than he did in Gettysburg. Instead of including more scenes from the novel, writer/director Ronald Maxwell supplied more actual scenes from history. Some of the scenes are right out of the novel, but many of the Jackson scenes were provided by Maxwell. It's been years since I read Gods and Generals, and I have read several non-fiction books on the Civil War since, but I don't believe the novel included such scenes as Jackson's farewell to the Stonewall Brigade (an unnecessary scene, IMO) and the whole bit about the northern/southern Irish brigades fighting each other at Fredericksburg (I could be mistaken, but I don't think those scenes were in the book). Also, several characters were added to the film that were not in the book. I think Jeff Shaara essentially disassociated himself from the film.
At least the extended cut adds more of Chamberlain to the movie. The theatrical release was maybe an 80/20 mix of Jackson/Chamberlain. It's at least 70/30 in the longer version. In spite of its flaws, I still enjoy watching G & G. Because I am so familiar with the story, my mind fills in the parts that are left out. And there some impressive set pices that make the movie worthwhile in spite of its flaws; and Stephen Lang is impressive as Jackson. However, people who are not well-versed in the Civil War may find it tedious.