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Buy Michael and Jeff Shaara's entire 'Civil War Trilogy,' which compiles 'Gods and Generals,' 'The Killer Angels' (the source material for the 'Gettysburg' movie/TV miniseries) and 'The Last Full Measure.'

'Gods and Generals: The Paintings of Mort Kunstler' is an illustrated companion piece to Jeff Shaara's novel.

Buy the 'Gods and Generals' score album by John Frizzell and Randy Edelman.

Buy the original 'Gettysburg' score album by Randy Edelman.

Buy the 'Gettysburg' DVD.

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Fuller Bush Men: Some say it was the long lines for beard trimmings that ultimately killed the spirit of the Confederate Army.

Yankees Go Home

The South rises again in 'Gods and Generals'

By Richard von Busack

Civil War fanciers are prickly customers; they hover around the Internet waiting to charge. So let's get it over with. The operating principle of Gods and Generals seems to be that it's never too early to let our children know how boring their forefathers were. I don't at all mean that figures such as "Stonewall" Jackson, Joshua Chamberlain or Robert E. Lee were boring in real life. I mean, they're portrayed in Gods and Generals by writer/director Ronald F. Maxwell with such cautious reverence that they scarcely have a breath of life.

At least this nigh-four-hour prequel to 1992's Gettysburg shows how the battles were fought in Virginia. An upcoming sequel promises to take the story to Appomattox. We see how the first Manassas/Bull Run battle unfolded, along with the battle of Fredericksburg, with its doomed World War I-style infantry assault on Marye's Heights. The film finishes at the rout at Chancellorsville.

Gods and Generals' signature is Lee's comment "It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it." Only a general would say something like that. How likely is a private (or a civilian?) to grow too fond of war? The film gives us only the sketchiest sense of how the ordinary troops lived. The ranks here might as well be tin soldiers.

Some will claim Jackson is presented as a religious fanatic. I think Stephen Lang shades his part with otherworldly Christianity to a degree that could be likened to Muslim fatalism. Indeed Lang's Jackson makes a comment sometimes found in accounts of Muslim soldiers about how the date of his rendezvous with death is already recorded, so there's nothing for him to fear. Kali Rocha also deserves some distinction as Stonewall's wife, Anna, pantomiming the ardent side of the Jacksons' marriage. A frail Robert Duvall plays Robert E. Lee. He's a vast improvement over Martin Sheen's old grandma of a Lee in Gettysburg.

The Confederate bias of Gods and Generals is pronounced, with deferential slaves defending their Southern homeland. I suppose crafty producer Ted Turner (who gives himself a large cameo) realizes that most of the tickets are going to be sold south of the Mason-Dixon Line. According to Gods and Generals, the reason for the war was the defense of Virginia against the Northern Invader. They're fighting to save their homes, which is what the Iraqis are going to be saying, though I doubt if they'll get any more sympathy than the South did in 1862. The Southern slant must also be the reason why the most interesting man of the period--Ol' Abe--doesn't even get a cameo. Did they think that the target audience for Gods and Generals would throw stuff at the screen if Lincoln showed up?


Gods and Generals (PG-13; 220 min.), directed and written by Ronald F. Maxwell, based on the book by Jeffrey M. Shaara, photographed by Kees Von Oostrum and starring Jeff Daniels, Stephen Lang and Robert Duvall, opens Friday at the Del Mar in Santa Cruz.

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From the February 19-26, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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