Ted Turner's empire has fallen, and he digs his grave deeper with Gods and Generals, a Civil War "epic" that is neither ambitious nor exciting.
Planned to be the first of a trilogy, Gods and Generals is the massive flop that Turner allegedly financed much out of his own pocket. Ranging in at 210 minutes, the movie looks at some of the key battles in the earlier segments of the war, but even more so focuses on the character developments of some players of the war, especially Stonewall Jackson (Stephen Lang), a General of the Confederacy. Its running time, its focus on character, and a few other major elements are some of the flaws that haunt this movie.
When critics attack a movie, the first thing they often point to is either lack of plot or lack of character development. Since Gods and Generals is based on the Civil War, the first argument obviously doesn't apply, and considering that 90 percent of the movie is devoted to character development, the second doesn't either. Unfortunately, Gods and Generals has too much of its characters and too little of anything worth watching.
It is hard not to sound shallow when saying that there should have been more action, but there really should have been. Deep characters are important, but there is a point where character and action should balance in a war movie, and it is not at 90 percent. Gods and Generals quickly establishes that Jackson is a deeply religious man that is devoted to his state, and then spends the next three hours reminding us of this, through long, drawn out speeches that could either be interpreted as very powerful or very forced. Jackson isn't the only character treated in this fashion, though he is by far the main character. Almost every other person in the movie is given the same kind of preferential treatment; they all believe that they are doing what is right for the good of the country, and they all are deeply honorable men. The movie only has protagonists and no antagonists.
Still, the flaw of having flawless characters is minor compared to the rest of the movie. Gods and Generals is a prequel to the 1993 movie Gettysburg (and is supposed to be followed by a final film), which cost $25 million to make, and cost somewhere around $100 million. Excuse the language, but where the fuck did that money go? Gods and Generals has terrible graphics, terrible war scenes, and at times even uses the same footage over again. The movie has the look and feel of a direct-to-cable movie.
Much of this disaster has to be blamed on director Ron Maxwell, who also made Gettysburg. Since 1993, there has been a huge rise in the standard required for a good war movie, and Gods and Generals doesn't even come close. The battle scenes are generally short and uninteresting, and look about as real as one of those reenactments that are done in some parts of the countries (never did understand those).
In one specific battle, Maxwell apparently uses essentially the same shot (and perhaps the same footage) to fill in about two or three minutes of soldiers running onto the battlefield.
That all being said, Gods and Generals isn't nearly as awful as what some people said it was, though it is a far cry from being acceptable for a theatrical release. It has its entertaining moments, and spread out over four days of viewing is definitely not too challenging to watch.
Nevertheless, it is hard to believe that this movie ever made it to a wide release in theaters, and that half the scenes were not constructed by some kid doing a high school film project.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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