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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Civil War > Horses > Horses Of Gettysburg

Horses of Gettysburg (Documentary)


Picture: B+     Sound: B     Extras: A+     Film: A



What’s it like when content and quality merge?  Not too often does something like this occur in today’s DVD market, which is a sad fact, but nonetheless still a fact.  Now and again a program comes out that combines both excellent content and also great quality and when that happens it’s a huge deal.  Horses of Gettysburg marks just that!  Shot in High Definition and directed by Mark Bussler this is one program that you do not want to miss.  Bussler is becoming a strong eminent force in the directing field with a few other incredible programs under his belt.  Those include the excellent Expo: Magic of the White City and The Johnstown Flood, both reviewed elsewhere on this site.  We are well aware of the importance of all three of these items and should be required viewing at some point. 


Let’s face it…there are tons of documentaries on war, especially the Civil War, so how could this possible offer something new?  Well, simply put this documentary captures something that most people wouldn’t think of.  The horses used for battle and during that era were just as much of an important point in history as the battles themselves.  However, it would take loads of research to uncover this, which is precisely why this program is so highly effective.  The payoff was huge and that’s all the more reason why a DVD set like this is both marketable and also necessary with a high quality mark. 


The 16 X 9 (1.78 X 1) anamorphic HD widescreen picture looks incredible and then some.  There are not enough great things to say about this and it would clearly be a winner in the newer formats like HD-DVD and Blu-ray, which could only up the ante a bit further.  In the meantime though this is one of the sharpest looking pictures that you will get for the format.  Not only is the material shot technically well, but also aesthetically well making it all the more impact and tasteful.  I can remember years ago seeing some experimental HD material on DVD and it didn’t hold a candle to film.  This still does not give that same film-like quality, but it does take detail and definition to new leaps and bounds.  What I truly love is the liquid-like picture with great saturation of color and brilliant whites. 


The sound is another plus with clear dialogue and other sound design factors, including music.  All of which comes through in crystal clear Dolby Digital 5.1.  This is without a doubt one of the better examples of a documentary mixed right in Dolby. 


As if things couldn’t get any better Mark Bussler’s documentary takes things a notch higher by acquiring Gettysburg and Gods & Generals director Ronald F. Maxwell to help narrate the program.  Wise choice indeed!  This was a clever choice for two big reasons.  The first is that Maxwell knows his stuff and can speak intelligently in his own right about Gettysburg, but the second reason is that people are beginning to associate Maxwell (after two Civil War pictures) as a credible person with some celebrity status, so it’s indeed a great combination. 


Stretching nearly two hours in length you can tell that there are times where the program almost feels like it could take you down a longer path, but keeps things relatively tight and dense with content, intellect, and entertainment.  Just when you think your fun is over and disc one comes to a halt, you have only just begun to unravel the depth of this DVD set.  First, you can go back and watch the entire program with two separate commentary tracks.  The first track contains Maxwell, Bussler, and Doug Sloan (head wrangler for both of Maxwell’s Civil War pictures).  This is an incredibly insightful track to listen to and is worth the investment.  Then there is a second commentary track with the writers along with Bussler, which is also good, but not as great as the first track. 


So is the fun over yet?  Not even close!  As if 6 hours of content wasn’t enough from disc number one, then you have plenty of content heavy material on Disc Two, which contains very in-depth programs such as a 22-minute feature with Maxwell on working with horses in filmmaking, then there is a 45-minute documentary with a Ranger from Gettysburg who has also authored a book entitled A Grand Terrible Drama From Gettysburg to Petersburg: The Civil War Letters of Charles Wellington Reed, which could have probably been a best-seller with The Da Vinci Code if the title wasn’t so long… just kidding.  There is still yet more material, including a 40-minute long documentary on the making of this documentary (don’t you love those documentaries about documentaries?), a 60-minute interview with Ronald F. Maxwell about his career in making films, plus a quick documentary about the role of horses during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and finally another quick program with Doug Sloan on wrangling. 


After all is said and done you will be able to easily talk for hours to anyone about two subjects…horses and Gettysburg.  Not only will you be able to spurt off facts and figures, but also interesting conversation starters like, “Hey, I bet you never thought about how important horses were during times of war.”  This is sure to bring the house down at any party.  All joking aside this is clearly a great DVD set that will have Civil War buffs jumping in their seats.  This is also a great technical achievement and is sure to be a great addition to any serious collector set.



-   Nate Goss


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