I’m not a huge history buff, but I find the Civil War in general and the Battle of Gettysburg in particular rather fascinating, especially from a military strategy point of view. There have been plenty of documentaries on the subjects over the years, so this latest pair of Discovery Channel programs approaches a very full table, and does little to leave much of an impact.
Gettysburg: The Battle that Changed the World is the 50-minute long part one that tries to provide an overarching look at the conflict, as well as the entire war to some extent, but feels woefully disconnected and nowhere near comprehensive.
The program contains some expert talking heads and a few graphical illustrations, but the majority of the running time is left to reenactments accompanied by some rather flat narration. The reenactments work okay for battle scenes, where the explosions and effects seem fairly realistic, but are borderline laughable when the hammy actors get a few lines. Oddly, the program reuses some of the exact same footage two or three different times.
The only scenes that really make an impression are sweeping computer-animated shots that show the battlefield and the soldiers from an aerial view, but this effect isn’t used much.
Part two is the 43-minute long Gettysburg: The Speech that Saved America, and this segment is a little more interesting, but it’s derailed by some bewildering technical choices. Abraham Lincoln’s iconic speech was only a short 10 sentences long, but remains one of the most well known pieces of oratory in American history.
The program has to pad its running time a bit, showing Lincoln writing and practicing the speech and taking the train to Pennsylvania to the dedication of the National Cemetery where he would give it.
It’s all a little bland until it comes to the moment of him actually giving the speech, but the real problem with the show is the fact that Lincoln is computer animated, which is wholly distracting. The animation is fine, but placed within the context of actual people and locations, it just looks ridiculous, like some animatronic freak.
To make matters worse, Lincoln is actually played by a real-life actor in shots where his face is not seen, and close-ups of a certain body part, like the mouth or hands. The constant cutting back and forth between man and pixels seems like an indefensible creative choice, and ruins the slim chance of this segment actually being compelling.
The Blu-ray Disc
Both programs are presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Both segments feature a clear presentation, but nothing really outstanding. The aerial battle maps in part one are about the only visual standout, just like they were the only content standout. Both have a muted color palette, which is adequately represented.
The audio appears to be presented in regular Dolby 5.1, which handles the voiceover narration just fine. There are moments of more dynamic sound in the battle reenactments, but this is a pretty flat mix for the most part.
Nada. Zip. Zilch.
The Bottom Line
The freaky Lincoln might be a drawing point as a piece of odd curiosity, but unless you’ve exhausted the tons of other Civil War and Gettysburg docs already out there, this one hardly seems worth your time.