Gods and Generals (film)

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Gods and Generals
Gods and generals poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRonald F. Maxwell
Screenplay byRonald F. Maxwell
Based onGods and Generals
by Jeff Shaara
Produced byMoctesuma Esparza
Robert Katz
Mace Neufield
Robert Rehme
StarringJeff Daniels
Stephen Lang
Robert Duvall
Mira Sorvino
Kevin Conway
C. Thomas Howell
Frankie Faison
CinematographyKees Van Oostrum
Edited byCorky Ehlers
Music byJohn Frizzell
Randy Edelman
Production
company
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • February 21, 2003 (2003-02-21)
Running time
219 minutes
280 minutes
(Director’s cut)
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$56 million
Box office$12.8 million[1]

Gods and Generals is a 2003 American period war drama film written and directed by Ronald F. Maxwell.[2] It is an adaptation of the 1996 novel of the same name by Jeffrey Shaara[3] and prequel to Maxwell's 1993 film Gettysburg. Most of the film was personally financed by media mogul Ted Turner.[4] The film follows the story of Stonewall Jackson from the beginning of the American Civil War to his death at the Battle of Chancellorsville.[5]

It stars Stephen Lang as Stonewall Jackson, Jeff Daniels as Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Chamberlain and Robert Duvall as General Robert E. Lee.[6]

Originally running over five hours in length, the film was cut by an hour and a half for its 2003 theatrical release, with the full "Extended Director's Cut" being released eight years later in 2011.[7] The film was both a critical and commercial failure at the box office. Although film critics and historians complimented its performances and historically accurate details such as costumes, they criticized its length, pacing, screenplay, and endorsement of the ahistorical neo-Confederate "Lost Cause" myth that downplayed the role of slavery as a central cause of the American Civil War.[8][9][10][11][12]

Both Shaara and Maxwell expressed displeasure at the theatrical edition of the film, and its poor returns forced Turner to cancel Maxwell's planned adaptation of Shaara's final Civil War novel The Last Full Measure.[7][13][14]

Plot[edit]

Colonel Robert E. Lee resigns from the Union Army as Virginia votes to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy, beginning the Civil War. Major Jackson, who is a professor at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington at the outset of the war, leaves his family behind to fight in the Battle of Manassas. Jackson is asked by a retreating General Barnard Bee for assistance against the Federal army who is pursuing them after a brief stand on Matthews Hill. In rallying his shaken troops, Bee launches the name of Stonewall into history and the Confederate Army routs the Federals at Henry House Hill. Jackson maintains steadfast discipline in his ranks during the battle despite suffering a wound to his left hand from a spent ball.

Meanwhile, Chamberlain makes his transition from teacher to military officer and practices drilling his soldiers, and is taught military tactics by Col. Adelbert Ames, the commander of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He is called to battle at the Union invasion of Fredericksburg. The Southern forces lead a fighting retreat as the Union army crosses the river to storm and loot Fredericksburg. Outside the city, Lee, James Longstreet and Jackson have prepared an elaborate defense on Marye's Heights outside the town, and the movie focuses on Confederate defenses behind a formidable stone wall. Several Union brigades, including the Irish Brigade, attempt to cross an open field and attack the wall, but are thrown back with heavy losses by Confederate rifle and artillery fire. At one point, two Irish units are forced into battle against one another, to the anguish of a Southern Irishman who believes he is killing his kin. Chamberlain leads an unsuccessful attack against Longstreet's defenses, led by Brig. Gen. Lewis Armistead and finds his unit pinned down in the open field. He survives by shielding himself with a corpse until nightfall; eventually he and surviving members of 20th Maine are ordered to retreat and spend 2 nights on the battlefield, sleeping with the dead. Chamberlain and the defeated Union soldiers depart Fredericksburg. Jackson and Lee return to the city, and Lee is confronted by an angry citizen whose house has been destroyed by Union artillery.

Jackson spends the rest of the winter at a local plantation, Moss Neck Manor, where he develops a friendship with a young girl who lives there. Later, Jackson discovers the child has died from scarlet fever and he begins to cry. Jackson's adjutant asks why he weeps for this child but not for the thousands of dead soldiers, and Dr. Hunter McGuire states that Jackson is weeping for everyone. Jackson is soon reunited with his wife and newborn child just before the Battle of Chancellorsville.

Outside Chancellorsville, Lee identifies that the Army of Northern Virginia faces an opposing force almost twice their size. Jackson calls upon his chaplain, Beverly Tucker Lacy who knows the area, and asks him to find a route by which the Confederate forces can infiltrate in secret. Jackson then leads his forces in a surprise attack on an unprepared Union 11th Corps. Although his men initially rout the opponents, they quickly become confused in the melee, and Jackson's attack is stalled. While scouting a path at night, Jackson is caught in no-mans-land between the 2 armies and badly wounded by his own men, who had mistaken him and his staff for Union cavalry. During his evacuation, his litter bearers are targeted by artillery and drop Jackson on the ground. He is then taken to a field hospital where his arm is amputated. Lee remarks that while Jackson has lost his left arm, he (Lee) has lost his right. Jackson dies shortly after, of pneumonia he had contracted during recovery. Jackson's body is returned to Lexington, accompanied by VMI Cadets and covered by the new Confederate flag.

Cast[edit]

Confederate Army (by rank)[edit]

United States Army (by rank)[edit]

Civilians[edit]

Slaves[edit]

Production[edit]

Ted Turner originally pitched an adaption of Gods and Generals to Warner Bros. Pictures in 2000 and decided to personally finance it after they turned him down.[4] The final cost of the film was $60 million for the production and $30 million for the distribution of it, making it one of the most expensive independent films ever produced.[15]

Turner has a cameo in the film as Colonel Waller T. Patton. Colonel Patton, the great uncle of George S. Patton, was mortally wounded at Gettysburg, a scene depicted in the movie Gettysburg. United States Senators George Allen (R-Virginia) and Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) also have cameo roles, both playing Confederate officers, Phil Gramm (R-Texas) appears as a member of the Virginia Legislature early in the film, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-California) plays a Union officer, and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) appears as an Irish Brigade officer. Most of the extras were American Civil War reenactors, who provided their own equipment and worked without pay. Among them, 2nd South Carolina String Band portrays the players of "The Bonnie Blue Flag" during a troops entertainment music show. In exchange, Ted Turner agreed to donate $500,000 to Civil War battlefield preservation.

The movie was filmed in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, western Maryland, and in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.[16] Actual historic locations in the film include Virginia Military Institute and Washington & Lee University, known as Washington College during the Civil War.

Russell Crowe was the original choice to play Stonewall Jackson, but scheduling conflicts prevented his availability in the summer and fall of 2001 when the movie was filmed. Stephen Lang had begun to reprise his role as George Pickett, but instead was asked to fill in the role of Jackson. Billy Campbell, who had played a 44th New York lieutenant in Gettysburg was called in to hastily replace Lang in the role of Pickett.[17] Although Tom Berenger desired to reprise his Gettysburg role as James Longstreet (which he called his favorite role) he was unavailable because of scheduling difficulties. Bruce Boxleitner was instead cast in the role. Darius N. Couch was portrayed by actor Carsten Norgaard. Martin Sheen was prevented from reprising his role as Lee due to contractual obligations to The West Wing.

Once production finished, the film was over five hours long.[18][19] During post-production, Maxwell, Warner Bros. executives, and Turner debated on whether to release the film as two parts over two years or to cut the material into a single film. After test screening in 2002, Maxwell decided to cut the theatrical release to 3 hours and 40 minutes in order to focus on Stonewall Jackson's story arc.[7] Maxwell intended for the full version to be released as a miniseries on TNT and home video a few months after the theatrical release.[19]

The film's failure at the box office also caused Turner, who at the time was losing much of his wealth after the AOL-Time Warner merger and estimated his investment in the film to be worth 15 percent of his assets, to cancel his and Maxwell's plans to adapt the third book in the Sharaa family's Civil War trilogy The Last Full Measure.[4][15][14]

Extended Director's Cut[edit]

The extended director's cut was released for Blu-ray Disc on May 24, 2011.[20] The film also received special screenings across the country to commemorate the anniversaries of important Civil War battles, starting with a July 22, 2011, presentation at George Mason University to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the First Battle of Bull Run.

Among the footage edited includes a sub-plot which follows John Wilkes Booth, the famous actor who would eventually assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. One scene towards the end of the extended cut of the film features Chamberlain and his wife, Fanny, attending a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in which Booth plays Marcus Junius Brutus. Chamberlain and his wife have a conversation with Booth and his fellow actors following the end of the play. Another scene cut from the film features a performance in Washington, D.C. in which Booth stars in Macbeth, which is being seen by President Lincoln. When he gives the famous "dagger of the mind" soliloquy, he looks directly at Lincoln while reciting it. Later, when Booth is offered the chance to meet with Lincoln, he refuses.

A sequence dealing with the Battle of Antietam was removed from the film. The battle was seen mostly from the perspectives of Jackson (who played a major strategic role in the battle) and Chamberlain (whose corps was held in reserve). In the Director's Cut the entire sequence at Antietam is shown; the Antietam battle scenes mostly depict the fighting in Miller's Cornfield, where soldiers from the opposite sides fired at each other from just a few meters away.

Soundtrack[edit]

In 2003, the film score was composed by John Frizzell, with some minor contributions by Randy Edelman, who composed the score for the previous Gettysburg. The soundtrack is notable for containing a new song commissioned for the movie and written and performed by Bob Dylan, Cross the Green Mountain. The track was later included on the compilation album The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs. The music of the 2nd South Carolina String Band also appears on the soundtrack.

Video game[edit]

The video game based on the movie, was released on March 1, 2003. It was developed by Anivision Value and published by Activision.

It was critically panned by the media and gaming community due to poor graphics, repetitive music, sluggish controls, uninspired gameplay, and no replay value outside of its single player campaign.

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes lists an 8% approval rating based on 121 reviews, with an average rating of 3.60/10. The critical consensus reads, "Filled with two-dimensional characters and pompous self-righteousness, Gods and Generals is a long, tedious sit. Some may also take offense at the pro-Confederate slant."[9] Metacritic gives the film a score of 30 out of 100 based on 29 reviews, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[21] Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film 1.5 out of 4 stars. He described it as "a Civil War movie that Trent Lott might enjoy" and said, "If World War II were handled this way, there'd be hell to pay." He also faulted the film for its music and "pithy quotations."[8]

Maxwell blamed the decision to cut the film for a single theatrical release as the cause of its failure, saying "because we had to take so much out, I must confess the story-telling became disjointed in a way that we just couldn’t completely fix."[7]

Historical response[edit]

Gods and Generals is widely viewed as championing the Lost Cause ideology by creating a presentation more favorable to the Confederacy.[10][11] Writing in The Journal of American History, historian Steven E. Woodworth derided the movie as a modern-day telling of Lost Cause mythology.[10] Woodworth called the movie "the most pro-Confederate film since Birth of a Nation, a veritable celluloid celebration of slavery and treason." He summed up his reasons for disliking the movie by saying:

Gods and Generals brings to the big screen the major themes of Lost Cause mythology that professional historians have been working for half a century to combat. In the world of Gods and Generals, slavery has nothing to do with the Confederate cause. Instead, the Confederates are nobly fighting for, rather than against, freedom, as viewers are reminded again and again by one white southern character after another.[10]

Woodworth criticized the portrayal of slaves as being "generally happy" with their condition. He also criticizes the relative lack of attention given to the motivations of Union soldiers fighting in the war. He excoriates the film for allegedly implying, in agreement with Lost Cause mythology, that the South was more "sincerely Christian." Woodworth concludes that the film, through "judicial omission," presents "a distorted view of the Civil War."[10]

Historian William B. Feis similarly criticized the director's decision "to champion the more simplistic-and sanitized-interpretations found in post-war "Lost Cause" mythology".[11] Writing for the Southern Poverty Law Center, George Ewert wrote that the film "is part of a growing movement that seeks to rewrite the history of the American South, downplaying slavery and the economic system that it sustained." Ewert also noted that white-supremacist groups such as the League of the South praised the film.[12]

Some conservative political commentators defended the film's narrative. On the libertarian blog LewRockwell.com, Daniel McCarthy praised its depiction of the South.[22] Phyllis Schlafly called it "an epic movie that presents truthful history rather than fiction or politically-correct revisionism" and promoted it as a counter-narrative to public school history classes.[23] The American Enterprise called it "not only the finest movie ever made about the Civil War, it is also the best American historical film. Period."[24]

Author's response[edit]

Author Jeff Shaara originally liked the movie,[25] but he later said that he was disappointed it was not more similar to the book. He said, "It's enormously different, it's radically different from the book. There are characters in the film that do not exist in the book, and a great many characters in the book that never made it to the film. It's just an entirely different story, and I have to tell you, I've heard from literally thousands of people through my website, and I get emails every day and try to be as accessible as I can, and the overwhelming percentage of those that wrote me said, 'How could you let them butcher your book like that?' I have no answer to that because I had no control or power to change what came up on the screen."[13]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Gods and Generals". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved May 28, 2016.
  2. ^ "Gods and Generals". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved June 18, 2016.
  3. ^ Shaara, Jeffrey (1998). Gods and Generals: A Novel of the Civil War (Civil War Trilogy). New York City: Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0345422477.
  4. ^ a b c Freelance, Amy Longsdorf Special to The Morning Call-. "Ted Turner marshals own financial resources for "Gods and Generals'". mcall.com. Retrieved February 2, 2021.
  5. ^ critic, Michael Wilmington, Tribune movie. "Epic 'Gods and Generals' tilts genteelly to the South". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved February 2, 2021.
  6. ^ Robert Duvall claimed that he is related to Robert E. Lee on his mother's side of the family (Interview on CNN, February 15, 2003).
  7. ^ a b c d Wertz, Jay (December 27, 2011). "Ron Maxwell Interview - 'Gods and Generals' Extended Directors Cut". Historynet. Weider Media Group. Retrieved October 29, 2012.
  8. ^ a b Ebert, Roger. "Gods and Generals". Retrieved June 9, 2017.
  9. ^ a b "GODS AND GENERALS (2003)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 4, 2016.
  10. ^ a b c d e Woodworth, Steven E. "Film Review: Gods and Generals". Teaching History. Retrieved June 9, 2017.
  11. ^ a b c Feis, William B. ""Movie Review: Gods and Generals"". The Society for Military History.
  12. ^ a b "Neo-Confederates attempt to Whitewash Southern History". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  13. ^ a b Caggiano, Greg. "Interview with Best-Selling Author Jeff Shaara". Reel to Real. Retrieved July 7, 2015.
  14. ^ a b "Movie Info | Jeff Shaara". jeffshaara.com. Retrieved February 2, 2021.
  15. ^ a b Sragow, Michael. "Ted Turner's own Civil War". baltimoresun.com. Retrieved February 2, 2021.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on April 20, 2012. Retrieved July 15, 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on December 4, 2010. Retrieved December 14, 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  18. ^ Wurm, Gerald. "Gods and Generals (Comparison: Original Version - Extended Director's Cut) - Movie-Censorship.com". www.movie-censorship.com. Retrieved February 2, 2021.
  19. ^ a b Gods & Generals in July - IGN, retrieved February 2, 2021
  20. ^ "Gods and Generals: Extended Director's Cut Blu-ray Review | High Def Digest". bluray.highdefdigest.com. Retrieved November 19, 2020.
  21. ^ "Gods and Generals". metacritic.com. Retrieved August 4, 2016.
  22. ^ "Gods and Generals - LewRockwell LewRockwell.com". LewRockwell.com. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  23. ^ "Fads and Follies in Public Schools -- March 2003 Phyllis Schlafly Report". eagleforum.org. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
  24. ^ Kauffman, Bill. "The Civil War returns: the struggle that forged America and launched modern warfare comes to life in a major new film. (Cover Story)." The American Enterprise, vol. 14, no. 2, 2003, p. 20+. Gale Academic OneFile, . Accessed 3 Feb. 2021.
  25. ^ "In Depth with Jeff Shaara". In Depth with Jeff Shaara. C-Span. Retrieved July 7, 2015.

External links[edit]