Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A GREAT Gettysburg Special...Errrrrr, Not So Fast (My Two Cents)

A few weeks ago I posted a trailer and press release (here) of a new 2-hour History Channel production entitled "Gettysburg," produced by the Brothers Scott, Ridley and Tony.

The special aired last night and I watched the whole two hours.

Facebook and several Civil War blogs are afire today with post-show reactions and they are uniformly (well, probably a bad word...see below) and universally unflattering.

My two cents, below.

Some of the best reactions are at:

Gettysburg and cavalry expert J.D. Petruzzi's (here) - Even before the special aired, J.D. had scrutinized two trailers released by the channel and spotted numerous errors in uniforms, insignia, weapons, and accoutrements...while these could be passed off as the rantings of a so-called (affectionately) "stitch Nazi," they are not: they are the expert opinion of someone who knows about these things and why they are important and it speaks to a general lack of attention to detail.


J.D.'s fellow Gettysburg and cavalry expert Eric Wittenberg at his blog (here) - Eric only made it through 45 minutes of the two hours but was still able to enumerate no less than ten important errors...as always, the comment field (here) at Eric's blog is as entertaining and informative as the post itself.

I'm no expert on uniforms or the Battle of Gettysburg, but I will briefly comment on my own area of interest: medicine, as portrayed in the show. Basically, I'd call it one step forward and two steps back.

First - the depictions of wounds and deaths in the special were more graphic than I've seen in most Civil War films or documentaries. While some people find find it too graphic or sensationalized and classify it as "battle porn" or "war porn," I wouldn;t go that far. Personally, I think we could do with a little more realism when it comes to the horrors of the Civil War, but that's just me.

Second - in describing a field hospital scene, the narrator stated "medicine was in its infancy" - I don't even know where to start with that...it's a ridiculous statement. They also stated that 2/3 of all men who died during the Civil War "died after treatment in hospitals." This is another ridiculous statement and they are confusing the fact that 2/3 of soldiers did in fact die from disease by connecting it with the hospitals. They did mention that anesthesia was available, which is a step forward, and that amputations were often necessary, but they did not describe some of the other significant advances in medicine and surgery during the war.

Third - the best part of the show for me was a short animation showing how a "Minie Ball" enters the body, flattens, and then severly fractures the bone...it was one of the best depictions I've seen, but was spoiled by the end that the minie ball - bringing with it torn bits of clothing, etc., "carried gangrene," with further animation of what I supposed was to be bacteria...Criminy, guys...at least use Wikipedia if you aren't going to crack open a medical book.

Fourth - there has been some commentary on this on Facebook and other blogs: that is, the inopportune use of the various Civil War experts used as "talking heads" in the special. One of them was Mr. George Wunderlich, someone whom I have met several times, admire very much, and have interviewed (here). As he is the expert, articulate, and passionate Executive Director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, the directors and producers should have taken advantage of that, but they didn't. I cringed when he rolled out the tired bromide "that would be 6,000,00 dead Americans today..." but in the end I have to trust that if he had a chance to read the script of the final show, he would have begged for some corrections.

My final grade on the special: a D...oh well, a D+.


Richard said...

Good comments.

I don't have access to "History" so I have not seen the show, but it sure sounds like I don't regret it, though I must admit I probably would not catch the errors like so many people do. I tend just to try to enjoy such shows and not scrutinize them, but maybe that's just my style.

Jim Schmidt said...

Richard - Thanks...and I'm with you...I wouldn't have caught much if anything at all in terms of what experts like Eric and JD found, but some of it even stared me in the face. It's a shame too because the folks at History really tried to reach out to Civil War bloggers to publicize it...if only they had reached out to actually write and produce it!