Review: Gettysburg (TV, 2011)

Review: “Gettysburg” (TV, 2011)

By Carrie S., 6/1/11

Shown On: History Channel
Directed By: Ridley Scott & Tony Scott
Originally Aired: May 30, 2011
Run Time: 94 minutes


Gettysburg” is a two hour documentary-style feature on what many consider to be the turning point of the American Civil War: The battle of Gettysburg. It first aired on May 30, 2011 as part of History Channel’s “Civil War Week.” It is directed by Adrian Moat, and it is more famously promoted as being produced by Ridley and Tony Scott.

I have to say that I had issues with our recording device, so I only saw a choppy first couple of minutes, about 2-3 minutes on the “Day 1” and “Day 2” battles, and all the footage from “Day 3.” I have it set to record again so I can watch it in full. Then again, maybe I should take the whole fiasco as a sign and not bother watching the rest. (TCWP Note: I did eventually watch Day 1 & 2, but my original assessment still applies.)

When I saw the preview I immediately thought of History Channel’s “America: Story of US“. When I surfed the message boards out there I found that I was not the only one with this thought. As disappointed as I was in that piece, “Gettysburg” was an even bigger disappointment from the sections I saw.

In press releases, the piece is described as “A two hour documentary that will strip away the romanticized veneer of the Civil War and present the engagement in a new light: a visceral, terrifying experience with everything on the line. At its core, this is the story of the soldiers on the ground, not the generals who commanded from behind the front lines. Compelling CGI and powerful action footage place viewers in the midst of the fighting, delivering both an emotional cinematic experience and an information packed look at the turning points, technology, and little known facts of perhaps America’s greatest battle.”

If you look at the description put out there by History Channel, then they have somewhat accomplished their goal. It presents things in a new light, shows a lot of CGI effects and focuses on the people you don’t usually hear about. But does that make for a good documentary?

Sometimes I feel too close to the subject matter, so I always like to get opinions of those who are a little more removed from it all. When I have my own husband saying “That looks nothing like Gettysburg. Where are they filming this, on a lot with a green screen?” then I know it’s bad. There is such a lack of attention to detail and accuracy that if you know anything about the battle it’s just painful to watch. It’s almost like someone had the idea for the battle and special effects, and then all the details were an afterthought. You can put in as many special effects as you want, but if the story is wrong, the people look nothing like who they are to represent, the clothing is wrong, the setting is wrong…why bother? Why not just call it “A Typical Civil War Battle” and make it some generic thing with a bunch of computerized screen shots? In the end, the product is the same.

If you are looking to see the familiar names and battle scenes, you won’t find them here. If you’re looking for a modern day “documentary” that tries to utilize a lot of fancy technology and at times comes across as though you’re watching “Transformers 23: The Battle of Gettysburg”, then it’s worth two hours. As for me, once I see it again in its completion I do not plan on ever watching it again.


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