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.