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Read the reviews by Xpress Film Critic Billy Norris

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Movie Review

Wake me when this epic is over

[Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures]
The Battle of Manassas is re-created for the Civil War epic Gods and Generals, a prequel to 1993’s Gettysburg.

Billy photo
Read Billy's movie reviews on his special archive page.

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 3, 2003

Gods and Generals

Rating: PG-13

Summary: Based on a novel by Jeff Shaara, this epic Civil War tale is the prequel to the 1993 movie Gettysburg and is part of a planned trilogy. While setting up the motives for the war and building up to significant battles, the film eventually focuses on famed Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson (Stephen Lang), who was a man dedicated to the cause.

My View: When it comes right down to it, this movie is painfully long, at a torturous 216 minutes -- and that's not including the 12-minute intermission! Second on the list of problems I faced while viewing this film was trying to distinguish between the Confederates and the Yankees. Both were attired in the same bluish-gray jackets and had these terribly fake-looking bushy brown beards. That made it even more difficult to distinguish who was who in the middle of the battles (though their accents did help some of the time). If you can't discern between different sides in a Civil War movie, you're in serious trouble. To add insult to injury, the numerous, convoluted and monotonous subplots left me on the verge of tears. Its perspectives on the war were obviously slanted toward the South. For example, the Confederates were portrayed as being extremely compassionate toward their slaves and servants, treating them almost like family. Excuse me if I'm wrong here, but this seems to be in direct contradiction to history.

The transitions from scene to scene were extremely choppy and really didn't logically follow the little pieces of distinguishable plot I was able to pick out. The film would transition from a monotonous speech to a full-blown, raging battle scene in a matter of seconds. And the battle scenes: Yikes! They were overdone and overly theatrical, each one lasting way too long and looking more like a poorly acted high school production than a multimillion-dollar Hollywood project. By the time the long-awaited intermission came, two hours and 15 minutes into the film, I finally had begun to piece together the parts of the puzzle. When I sat back down, though, it hit me that another hour and 20 minutes was waiting to be painstakingly absorbed. I didn't think I could survive much more.

I'm open to movies of any sort, and my mind was totally ready and willing to enjoy this one. But that wicked length just ruined it. By the last hour, I was wishing they had pointed one of those cannons at me. The target audience for this is limited to history aficionados (preferably Southern) and that small number of teenage Civil War buffs who will jump for joy at the thought of sitting through 31/2 hours of this. Otherwise, let me suggest that you spare yourself the pain and misery and watch a History Channel special on the Civil War instead.

Grade: D

-- Billy Norris, 15, is in ninth grade at Seminole High School and is a former member of the Times' X-Team.

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