Gettysburg (1993)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Tom Berenger, Martin Sheen, Jeff Daniels, Kevin Conway, Sam Elliott, Richard jordan
Extras: Commentary Track,

Sometimes it is hard for me to believe how far DVD has come in such a short period of time. Only a year ago, a film like "Gettysburg" was somewhere on the backlist of all DVD releases, mostly because of its significant running length and DVD’s inability at the time to contain that length. Today, here we are with an unsuspecting release of exactly that 1993 civil war drama "Gettysburg," neatly wrapped up on a single DVD. 254 minutes of feature content and a number of filmed documentaries and supplements on one shiny disc. DVD-18 makes it possible. A <$RSDL,dual-layer>, double sided disc that has enough storage space to accommodate even this epic film and given the many request we have had for this title in the past, I am sure Warner Home Video has just made many DVD fans’ days.

"Gettysburg," as the name suggests, is a historically based, dramatic re-enactment of the defining battle in Gettysburg during the Civil War during which some 53.000 soldiers lost their lives. At the pinnacle of the draining fights between the Confederates and the Union, these two armies clashed in July 1863 in Gettysburg for a legendary three-day battle that made history and defined the course of the rest of the Civil War.

While the Union army uses the hills of the area for superior defense, the Confederate armies, driven by despair and pride, decides to take the challenge despite their unfavorable position. Strategies and tactics defined this ultimate battle in which lifelong friends were fighting on opposing sides, each party trying to fight for their own ideals, dreams and hopes.

We all know how the battle ended and the focus on this magnificent production is not so much on the outcome, but on the human elements and the strategies that led to the Civil War and this apocalyptic battle in particular. Rigorously authenticated, this film brings to life the lives and times of the soldiers during that period like no other production before or after. Images of thousands of soldiers mounting their bayonets, whole regiments blown to pieces by cannon fire and a human wall of soldiers moving in on the enemy determine this glorious movie of bravery, heroism and valor.

But it is not so much the action, the explosions and the warfare itself that is the main focus of the film. At the center of "Gettysburg" are the people who defined the battle. We are introduced to General Robert E. Lee, marvelously played by Martin Sheen, and his right hand man Lieutenant General James Longstreet, brought to life by Tom Berenger. On the other side of the war front there are men like Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, in a touching performance by Jeff Daniels, and General John Buford, grippingly played by Sam Elliott. These were some of the key players in this battle that spelled doom for one side, and freedom for all of the United States on the other.

As we see these men stick to their guns, the film tries to show what motives drove these and all the other men, who put their lives on the line. In conversational bits and pieces the film manages to carefully offer the viewer all sorts of perspectives on the subject matter, as seen through the eyes of these men. While some fought for the freedom of the slaves, others fought for their honors. Others still, for their independence from Washington, and others yet, simply because it was the right thing to do. While watching the film it becomes obvious that this Civil War meant a different thing to everyone involved, and each of these perspectives makes perfect sense within the historical context, giving the movie an authenticity and honesty that is hard to find.

Add to that the fact that much of the film has been shot on the exact same locations where the actual battle had taken place 130 years earlier, and it is quickly obvious that "Gettysburg" is an indispensable piece of American History brought to life. When the gun smoke finally rises we get a glimpse at the devastation of this battle and the prize both sides had to pay without a romantiziced view on the events, but an impartial recollection of this historic battle

Warner Home Video is presenting "Gettysburg" in its original 1.78:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio in a transfer that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TV sets. The transfer is virtually free of blemishes and no scratches, dust marks or discoloration distract from the presentation of this epic film. However, the transfer has an overly soft quality and is noticeably lacking detail. Some grain is evident almost throughout the film, but especially during darker scenes, during which shadows are losing significant definition. The color reproduction of the presentation is very good, with vibrant shades and hues. Especially the lush greens of the Pennsylvanian vegetation, and the warm campfire tones during the many nighttime scenes, give the presentation a very strong feel. Slight over-saturation of the greens gives the film a bit of a stylized look at times, but this has been most likely been the intention of the filmmakers. Blacks are deep and solid throughout, but some pixel break up and loss of definition is evident at all times. The transfer is mostly free of distracting edge-enhancement, giving the film a very balanced and pleasing look. The compression is adequate and mostly free of <$pixelation,pixelation>. However, dot crawl is evident almost throughout the film, giving the film a bit of a noisy vintage quality.

The audio on the DVD is presented as a 5.0 channel <$DD,Dolby Digital> mix that is engrossing and nicely brings to life the events. Thundering cannons, shrapnel flying through the air, the roar of the rifles and the hollow sounds of distant combat are all perfectly captured and restored on this DVD. The mix is wide and well produced, creating an immersive audio presentation that is very dynamic. Surrounds are put to good use, although mostly unexaggerated, to enhance the overall ambiance of any given scene. The track has a good and powerful bass extension that has plenty of bottom end, without requiring further enhancement through the LFE channel.

Dialogues are clear and free of sibilance or distortion. Well-integrated, the dialogues are always held at an understandable level, ensuring a very balanced presentation. A French language <$DS,Dolby Surround> track can also be found on this release, which is also very nicely integrated with good dynamics.

The film features a beautiful score by Randy Edelman that is also gloriously presented on this DVD. Crystal clear and without distortion, the track heightens the emotional impact of the film and the wide mix of the score found on this DVD is as magnificent as the pictures it accompanies.

"Gettysburg" also contains an audio <$commentary,commentary track> featuring director Ronald F. Maxwell, cinematographer Kees Van Oostrum, author James McPherson and military historian Craig Symonds. However, this is not a running length commentary and it only covers selected scenes. There are significant pauses in between these comments, making it a bit hard to create a cohesive feel for the commentary, but whenever engaged, the commentators are offering valuable insight into the production and – what I found more important and interesting – the historical events surrounding the battle of Gettysburg. Too bad the track is spreading itself so thin, but I guess, at least these minimal comments are better than one at all.

This package also contains a few exciting and relevant extras, namely the 30-minute documentary "The Battle Of Gettysburg," that is narrated by Leslie Nielsen. Covering the key moments of the battle with modern-day pictures of the actual sites, we get a feel for the scope of the entire battle as it covers miles of the landscape. Key locations, such as Little Round Top, are nicely captured in the documentary, together with commemorative statues of the key members of each army, driving home the significance of this battle.

"The Making Of Gettysburg" is a 50-minute documentary that is also found on the DVD. It is an interesting look behind the scenes of the production of this massive film, during which thousands of extras had to be coordinated and instructed. Further it offers some historical insight into the battle, remembering the people involved in the massacre. "On Location" is also a short featurette with an assortment of footage taken on the set during the film’s shoot. Again, it offers some nice insight into the scope of this production with all the extras.

The extras are rounded out by theatrical trailers and TV Spots, cast and crew biographies, as well as a cast and crew interview gallery and a special section with Battlefield Maps. This featurette shows us the course of the entire three-day battle on a strategic map with commentary and a tactical analysis, revealing some of the great moves, and some of the mistakes that ultimately defined the outcome of the fight.

"Gettysburg" is an impressive movie that is thrilling and moving at the same time, making history tangible in its dramatic display of these real life events. Although the quality of the feature presentation is a bit flawed, potentially due to the inclusion of too many extras and the resulting storage restraints, this DVD is absolutely commendable. Now if only Warner would have included the side denomination in the main menus and the print on the disc, it would bee easier to figure out which of the two sides you just inserted, but that’s a minor quibble, considering the epic scope and importance of this movie. Whether you’re a fan of American History, well-made dramas or simply action packed war movies, "Gettysburg" offers the right dose for everyone. Long awaited it is finally here, and it makes its debut with a bang!