I am not a war buff, but I was intrigued by everything I read about GETTYSBURG, and like the actors cast, so I decided to go.
It was an incredible example of excellent movie-making. I started reading Michael Shaara's THE KILLER ANGELS as soon as I got home, and really regret not finding that book years ago.
What else has its director, Ronald F. Maxwell, made?
What makes this movie particularly good is that it avoids many of the cliches of "epic movie-making." There really aren't many sweeping battle shots, except for a few long shots of maneuvering troops and some as the South is making its final charge across the field. The movie focuses on character in a way I've rarely seen in war movie. The ambiguity of fighting against your former comrades is a major theme throughout the movie. The movie also focuses in on the claustrophobia many soldiers must feel in battle. There is an awful lot of carnage in the movie, but little gore,
The performances are uniformly excellent. Both Jeff Daniels and Tom Berringer give sterling performances as Col. Chamberlain and General Longstreet. Both played men of great foresight and courage, though Longstreet was just passed his prime as a leader and Chamberlain hadn't quite reached his peak (or may have just reached his peak at Gettysburg). Martin Sheen is wonderful as General Lee. Special kudos also to Richard Jordan as General Armistead (who, sadly, died just after he finished making the movie), Sam Elliott as General Buford, and Kevin Conway who gleefully steals every scene he's in as Buster.
The adaptation of the book is remarkable. I have never seen characters so well-translated to the film, or an author's vision rendered so fully in a movie. I hope Shaara, who'd be 64 this year, lived to see the movie.
At just over four hours, the movie isn't particularly long. I looked at my watch less often during this movie than I had during THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (which I also liked ... but it dragged ...).