National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Spotlight: Gods and Generals

BY Jim Cosgrove

March 30-April 5, 2003 Issue | Posted 3/30/03 at 1:00 PM


Christian moviegoers were recently the targets of an urgent e-mail campaign to “get the word out” to support Ron Maxwell's nearly four-hour Civil War epic Gods and Generals. The e-mail, from Protestant film critic Ted Baehr, claimed that “the politically correct nomenclature [sic] is trying to stop this great movie,” which is suffused with religious themes. Baehr — who, incidentally, happens to be the author of an official companion volume called Faith in ‘Gods and Generals’ — even offered to knock five bucks off the price of his book to anyone who sent in a ticket stub from the film.

Certainly, Baehr wasn't the only one who liked the film. Culture crusader and film critic Michael Medved went so far as to declare, in his four-star rave review, that every American owed Ted Turner a “debt of gratitude” for making “so unequivocally positive and powerful” a “contribution to [his] country and its culture.” Medved's one-time Sneak Previews co-host Jeffrey Lyons wasn't quite that enthusiastic but agreed the film was “worth the effort,” while Leonard Maltin pronounced himself “awfully glad that I saw it.”

However, it wasn't only the “politically correct” who found fault with the film. Register reviewer John Prizer found the film thought-provoking but boring for those who aren't Civil War buffs (March 9-15). Conservative Protestant critic Michael Elliot wrote, “Though individual segments are interesting and the attention to detail impressive, we remain unsatisfied. ... It never fully engages the audience emotionally, reducing the experience to a very long but incomplete history lesson.” Others who were less than satisfied included Gerri Pare of the U.S. bishops Office for Film and Broadcasting, who commented that “a little of this goes a long way,” and Nell Minow, Yahoo's “Movie Mom,” who observed that “sometimes, what is best for history is not best for drama.”

Even Catholic columnist Rod Dreher, former movie critic to the New York Post and current contributor to National Review, in his mostly positive article (not review) about the film's lack of political correctness and honorable intentions, could only say of the film's artistic failings, “If the four-hour battlefield epic doesn't work for reviewers on an artistic level, it's hard to make a case against that kind of judgment.”

Finally, in a guest review for, Catholic writer Robert Jackson argued that the film was too one-sided in focusing only on the good in both sides. He asked, “Was nobody on the Southern side a racist and in favor of slavery? ... Weren't some [Northerners] motivated by baser economic and political interests? Weren't many themselves racists who had no interest in emancipation?” While acknowledging the film's honorable intentions, Jackson ultimately deemed it “a four-hour exercise in hagiography.”

— Steven D. Greydanus