Gettysburg (1993) movie review
Released in 1993 from writer/director Rom Maxwell and based on the novel “The Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara, Gettysburg is the retelling of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. The film tells both sides of the battle, focusing on several important figures, which turned out to be a major turning point in the American Civil War. I know, I know, I haven’t done MiB: International, Toy Story is coming up, I need to go watch the original Child’s Play. So why am I doing Gettysburg? Well yesterday was Father’s Day, and in honor of that, I thought I would review my own dad’s favorite film! At least I think it is. He also loved Perfect Storm and Wrath of Khan, but Gettysburg is four and a half hours, and he watches it once a year. You HAVE to love a movie this long very much to sit through it as many times as he has…
Don’t worry, I love it too! Honestly, don’t let that run time deter you either. I’ve seen the film a good ten times now, and until I looked it up for this review, I had no idea it was that long! If you haven’t seen or heard of Gettysburg, honestly, I highly recommend it! Sure it almost feels like it was made specifically for history buffs, but even if you love a good war movie, or just a really compelling historical drama, please give this under-seen gem a shot! While it does hold an 80% critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes, that is literally twenty ratings. So go watch Gettysburg with your dad! Odds are he’ll like it more than you, but it just needs to be seen by more people at this point.
Now, being even longer than Gone with the Wind, Gettysburg is a taxing movie. Honestly, Return of the King is a taxing movie, and that’s one of the greatest movies ever made. So I get why Gettysburg isn’t exactly a casual watch. That said, I have seen few movies manage to balance its pacing with a run time this long. It’s not only a miracle that the film stays interesting, it rarely drags! When it does, it’s only because they really should have left a few things on the editing room floor. I totally get it. They have such good footage with such a large scope and such committed actors that it has to be hard to cut anything! That said, my biggest problem with the film is probably that there is definitely some trimming they could have done. Not even minor characters, just in some of the drawn out sequences where the audience gets the picture enough to move on. Still, the fact that the scenes where characters stand and talk are just as interesting and compelling as the battles is downright impressive, and a true accomplishment for the goal of this film.
Gettysburg is more than a near-perfect recreation of the battle, it is a story that aims to tell the stories of the people involved. Now since the film uses the people who were involved, they had to work with as much accuracy as they could. So the fact that they pull off telling such compelling character arcs and themes from both sides of the conflict in several perspectives is just incredible! Now I won’t lie, the film’s interest does lie most heavily with the supporting cast, trickling downward until you can’t remember the names of the minor characters. But that’s how it should be with movies AND that’s how it is with history. Gettysburg isn’t trying to make you remember the scout’s name (Harrison. From memory.), it’s trying to show the effect one scout or one colonel can have on the outcome of a battle that changed a war that changed a country! That weight carries itself in the entire film, and the audience knowing the outcome doesn’t make it any less captivating.
Gettysburg was a massive project when it was in production, and in true Civil War fashion, it was brought together by teamwork from not only its cast and crew, but a tremendous amount of volunteer re-enactors who worked on the film. With this, the film does carry a History channel docu-drama quality to it, opting for realism over cinematic. While I appreciate this choice, I think it is one of the reasons the film is so overlooked. When you compare it to 1989’s Glory, nothing in the visual quality really stands out. Glory is able to balance this perfectly dramatic look and epic tone with a compelling story, something that has aged very well. While the films have their differences, I think Gettysburg’s direction was often more focused on simply capturing what was on the screen. This goes for the realistic sound design as well, which works perfectly for the tone they set, but often feels a little held back from the impact this film could have had with its production quality.
One major redeeming factor about the filmmaking is Randy Edelman’s score. His thematic and perfectly moving score captures the tone and themes just so darn well that it’s way too much to talk about here. Just look up at least the title on YouTube. It’s good stuff. Speaking of good stuff, the major driving force in this film is the commitment of the lead actors. While almost every single actor in this film gives it so much they almost overact, it never stands out. While this could be because the performances play so well off of each other, it is also because you can just feel the emotion and passion in the characters! Tom Berenger’s reserved Longstreet, Martin Sheen’s perfectly decisive Lee, Stephen Lang’s off-the-wall Pickett, Sam Elliot playing himself as Buford, and show-stealer Jeff Daniel as the thoughtful but stern Chamberlain, and so many more all do such an incredible job delivering on characters that you didn’t even know about before the film. Honestly, it’s just a shame that the sequel played musical chairs with its cast. Actually it’s a shame that the sequel to this film was made.
But forget the sequel and go watch Gettysburg! It’s not perfect, and it could use a trim here and there. Overall too, the film isn’t a technical masterpiece or anything. However Gettysburg is downright impressive nonetheless. The dedication and drive of the entire production leads to an all-around emotionally compelling film that will have you engaged throughout. It helps that the film is so accurate you don’t have to worry about being invested in something or someone who didn’t exist. No, with Gettysburg, you get to take in every aspect of the war all from one battle, as you see through the determination of the cast and crew the determination and dedication of those who fought and died in the Battle of Gettysburg. It’s really a good film, and one that just needs to be seen. 8/10
-review by Ryan Prince
So Gettysburg? Have you seen it? What did you think? Feel free to leave a like or a comment below and let us know! And while you are at it, what’s your dad’s favorite movie?