Now It’s the Discovery Channel’s Chance to Screw Up the Civil War

I knew I would be in for a heck of a morning when I log on to Facebook to find a link posted on my wall by Civil War author and historian J. David Petruzzi. Atop the link to a video, he wrote, “Oh goodie! The History Channel is getting a run for its money. My head is starting to hurt all over again. Someone please help.” Yes, that is the word to use: help! As if the Gettysburg documentary that aired as a part of Ridley and Tony Scott’s production for the History Channel back in May was not enough to ruin Civil War history by making up facts as they went along, and using the most tragic war in American history as nothing more than a vehicle to show blood-bursting special effects, now its time for the Discovery Channel to jump on the bandwagon with Fields of Valor, a four-part series which is supposedly going to be so amazing, they are burying it on one of their sister networks, a 3D channel called 3Net. I have over 800 channels with my cable provider and I do not have this network (nor do I have a gimmicky 3D television, so I am going by the trailer here). The series will premiere on December 3 at 9pm, which is very disappointing to me, because children may still be awake and accidentally stumble upon it.

The official description for the show is as follows: “This epic, four-part miniseries offers intimate accounts of the brave men on the front lines as told through paralleling stories from each side of the war, giving audiences a unique insight into the beliefs, struggles and passions of those involved from both the North and South” Sounds like a good premise, right? Its just too bad the show’s own trailer contradicts anything “intimate” about it. I also have another beef, and that is with the usage of the word “epic”. Was that not one of the adjectives used to describe that atrocity produced back in May? Is that not the word that every filmmaker who makes a war movie nowadays has to use? It is growing tiresome hearing about this epic and that epic, and the word should only be used to describe real masterpieces of cinema.

That aside, I had a chance to view the trailer to this wonderful production, thanks to Mr. Petruzzi (or should I say, blame him?). Below is a blow-by-blow description in all that occurs with the two minutes of my life which I will never get back:

4 seconds: Literally, before you can even blink, we see a Confederate soldier get shot and digitized fake blood bursts out of his chest and flies across the screen. This is going to set the stage for the quality of this production, as it is clearly driven by technology and effects rather than history. At least Gettysburg used Strawberry Kool Aid.

7 seconds: Massive cannons are seen blasting away, with no recoil whatsoever. Granted, many films about wars, including some of my favorites, never get this right, but I was holding out hope that maybe once, just once, we would actually see a cannon roll back a few feet after firing a shot.

10 seconds: More of that stupid fake blood is spurting left and right.

31 seconds: It was here that I realized that the acting is not Oscar worthy. (Still hope for an Emmy, though!)

43 seconds: Earlier, it is mentioned that this documentary is not going to focus on any of the major players, rather just individual regiments. Okay, that’s not so bad, but as soon as they mention Henry Abbot and his 20th Massachusetts Regiment, he is seen getting ready to lead a charge while holding a long Bowie knife. Yeehaw! I don’t think that ever happened. They must have run out of swords at the prop office.

45 seconds: The next scene almost sent me spitting my coffee out onto my computer screen. Here, we see a Union soldier, with a pistol in each hand, firing away like he’s Wyatt Earp at the O.K Corral. I have never, let me repeat, never seen/read/heard anything about a soldier standing in the middle of a battle like Billy the Kid, guns a blazin’. It just did not happen that way, but I don’t think the folks at 3Net really mind.

50 seconds: Less than ten seconds after holding a Bowie knife, Abbot is now actually running with his men in the charge, but this time, he is holding a sword (the guy playing Lee must have quit), and slashing Confederate soldiers up like he is Michael Myers looking for his family.

1 minute, 21 seconds: There is blood everywhere. On soldiers, on their clothes, flying into the air, etc. I wonder, am I watching a historical documentary or a B-level slasher film?

1 minute, 31 seconds: A horrible, special effects laden scene pops up on-screen (top of article) and we see the two sides fighting each other. Heavy metal music then begins to play as more blood is gushing out of these crazed maniac soldiers. This is starting to feel like a preview for a UFC matchup rather than a Civil War battle.

1 minute, 42 seconds: Yep, they are definitely playing to that UFC/boxing crowd, because the music and graphics, such as the zoom in of the 20th Massachusetts and their men, with a title card reading their name, is giving this a sports-game look. Their opponent is going to be the 1st Virginia, and my, they give the people from The Hills Have Eyes a run for their money.

2 minutes, 5 seconds: It’s over. Glory hallelujah.

I could have written more, I assure you, but I invite you to do your own exploring and see for yourself. You can view that wonderful trailer here, and visit their official website here. People who read this site on a regular basis must think that I love nothing more than seeing something fail. Granted, it gives us something to write about (and man, J.D and I had some fun with that Gettysburg horror story), but in actuality, we do not want anything farther from the truth. What we want are good, historically accurate movies about our favorite subject filled with real information, not a gimmick to test special effects. The problem with everything today is, the filmmakers are gearing productions towards HD televisions, and now, 3D ones. Because of this, they think that people want to see blood and guts flying everywhere because of the in-home technology, not a close up on some old-fart historian who actually knows what he is talking about. I am absolutely convinced that is the reason, so we will not see a change any time soon.

There are more clips from Fields of Valor on that website, but I am not going to watch them. I do not have this channel either, so I will not be sampling this series. If anyone out there reading this does have it, though, please let us know how it is when the time comes. Once again, I am thoroughly disappointed, and I have been saying that a lot about television lately.

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22 thoughts on “Now It’s the Discovery Channel’s Chance to Screw Up the Civil War

  1. Gettysbuff

    Hey Greg, just wanted to let you know that i have just discovered that on December 4 from 10 – 11pm on both The Military Channel and Velocity (Comcast channel 870 in Gettysburg), there will be a show called “Fields of Valor: The Civil War”. The TV guide says it’s new, so i’m assuming this is the same show as the 3D one that premieres the day before, but obviously in 2D….I will be watching this so if it is the same show i can let you know how it was if you decide not to watch it.

      1. Gettysbuff

        You’re welcome…although i’ll probably regret telling you about it if you end up hating it. You might wish you missed it!

    1. The Gettysburg so called documentry was done so poorly. They would make such claims that were not true. For example, the way they portrayed the “Rebel Yell” was the exact same format of a Mideast woman sending her husband off to war. In the Mideast only women utter that same sound.

      Who ever invested in this movie did not get value.

      1. As J.D Petruzzi so humorously compared the Rebel Yell of that horrendous documentary, it was to “Arab women arguing the prices of fruit at the local market” or something to that affect. πŸ™‚

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  3. Chase Newman

    I don’t know. This did improve some (not much) over the Scott’s Gettysburg.

    1. Rebel Uniforms. Some anyway.
    2. They actually stood in two rank lines and fired volleys. Not just 300 crap.

    I still don’t think it will amount to anything.

    1. Gettysbuff

      Oh and if you read this JD (seeing as i’m unable to comment on your facebook page, probably because i do not have my own library in my house stuffed full of books and therefore not worthy enough), the cannons didn’t recoil simply because they weren’t using the same amount of powder that they would have actually used. Forgive me if i missed something but i didn’t see any CGI cannons! It’s for safety reasons you see, that’s why you only see little (if any) recoil in most tv shows of this nature. ‘Kay? πŸ˜‰

  4. Gettysbuff, yes I saw your comment. I understand the lack of recoil because there’s no projectile. I’ve been a reenactor for a couple decades. But for authenticity, production studios easily simulate recoil by having the artillery pulled back by a line upon firing, a line which is invisible to the camera. Reenactor friends of mine who made this suggestion to the production folks were rebuked, and told “no one will notice anyway.”

    ‘Kay?

    1. Gettysbuff

      ‘Kay….but that “Gettysburg: The Battle that changed America” wasn’t that bad, and the fact that you said “There’s hardly a single fact in the entire thing” is a little dramatic, but then again you are quite dramatic, lol. So does that include the information spoken by none other than the wonderful Mr Scott Hartwig too? Some people just enjoy moaning don’t they? It’s always going to be difficult to be 100% accurate with anything, so just be grateful that we have ANY civil war programming on tv as there isn’t nearly enough. All movies, not just historical ones even make mistakes – it’s par for the course. I get the feeling that if you had the choice of seeing a civil war action-based show that is imperfect or a perfect (but totally unentertaining) lecture on the war like the ones on CSPAN, you would choose the latter. I guarantee (dare i say it) that “To Appomattox” will not be 150% accurate due to the inherent nature of the art of filming (as mentioned above). Someone somewhere will find something negative to say about it as there are plenty of people like that out there aren’t there, JD? What on EARTH will you do then? Explain it away or take it on the chin? S’gonna be interesting…

      1. Gettysbuff

        Just read this over at armchairgeneral.com
        ( http://www.armchairgeneral.com/forums/showthread.php?t=117118 ) by user ‘Lars’ who i assume is a reenactor:

        “Yeah, I noticed that the guy was smoking a cigarette and that other guys were wearing the oval CS belt buckle. And that the infrantry officers were carrying cavalry sabers. But IT IS ENTERTAINMENT.

        For this kind of group to survive, we must ACCEPT THE MISTAKES and WELCOME THAT WHICH WILL BRING IN NEW MEMBERS. Which essentially means that ERRORS CAN BE POINTED OUT, BUT NOT RIDICULED.

        This is, for most of us, a hobby. And I want to learn as much as I can. To be relegated into the netherlands of knowing little is off-putting.

        The only way we’re going to get this hobby viable is to NOT BE SO RIGID. LIGHTEN UP.

        FIRST GET THEM IN; THEN WE CAN START TO BELABOR THEM WITH DETAILS.”

        Well said, Lars!

  5. Gettysbuff

    also…from http://3dguy.tv/fields-of-valor-sets-new-3d-standard-for-excellence-in-3dtv/ by Al Caudullo:

    “A minor note about some of the cgi: Fields of Valor consciously borrows from the style of movies such as 300 for some of its more bloody scenes. This may detract from its effect for some of the purists. But it is clear that one of the things the producers want to do is ENLARGE THE DEMOGRAPHIC THAT THIS SUBJECT MATTER APPEALS TO. In that, I think they’re successful. And in so doing, they will INTRODUCE TENS OF THOUSANDS OF PROPLE TO A HISTORY THAT THEY WOULD OTHERWISE MISS OUT ON ENTIRELY.”

    Again, well said. Do ya hear that, Petulantzzi? Or have you gone all shy on me? 😦

    1. John Lewis

      Hey don’t worry petruzzi, unless you have 3net you won’t get to see the remaining episodes so chill your beans! πŸ™‚ Apparently The Military Channel only showed the first episode as a taster. Which is a shame, because although it wasn’t perfect it would have been nice to see how the series played out…Gettysburg is featured in the last episode, episode 4. See, all that hot air you wasted over 1 episode! That includes you too, ‘Gettysbuff’. πŸ˜‰

  6. Chris Evans

    If people want to see excellent documentaries made on the Civil War (besides Burns) they really ought to look into Greystone’s ‘The Unknown Civil War Series’. The box set sets on Gettysburg and eight battles of the Civil War are excellent and narrated by no less of a personage than Stephen Lang. The documentaries are superior to any that have been done on the Civil War in the past ten years besides the ‘Civil War Combat’ series.

    http://video.barnesandnoble.com/DVD/Gettysburg/e/30306791296/?pwb=1&

    http://video.barnesandnoble.com/DVD/Greatest-Battles-Of-The-Civil-War/e/30306791395/?pwb=1&

    Chris

    1. Gettysbuff

      Yeah the Unknown Civil War/Combat stuff was really good, but i wouldn’t necessarily say the best thing in the last 10 years…I’d have to think about it. As you mentioned Greystone though, I hope that they will eventually release the Fields of Freedom movie that they used to show at the movie theater in Gettysburg, on DVD or Blu-ray one day.

      The point that i was trying to make (not to you, obviously), or rather – waste by banging my head against a brick wall, is that it’s good to have new, ‘modern-looking’ shows on the Civil War (yes, i was/am a fan of The History Channel’s ‘Gettysburg’) no matter how imperfect they may be. (see my reasons in earlier comments) If it wasn’t for shows like this and Fields of Valor, how many new Civil War shows do you think we’d see, accurate ones or not? Not many i promise that. ‘To Appomattox’ won’t even see the light of day until 2013 which is a long way off, and that’s if it even manages to get picked up by a network…If not it’ll end up straight-to-dvd which would only reach a smaller audience unless marketing is good.

      I for one, am sick of the constant re-runs of old, dated looking shows such as ‘Civil War Journal’ that i’ve seen a thousand times. And in my area these are shown at 7-8am on a weekday so there’s probably only a handful of people that catch these anyway (i don’t own a DVR and am sure i’m not the only one). Even if you own a DVR you’d still have to search for shows like these in order to record them because they’re on at such an obscure time. So i’m all for anything new that anyone wants to produce in order to bring more programming to tv, and to appeal to a wider audience. The aforementioned ‘Gettysburg’, for example, wasn’t designed for (and i’ll be polite here) ‘Civil War minutae junkies’ first, it was made for the movie fan first…it was, after all, produced by 2 huge movie directors…so not that hard to figure that one out! Kinda makes me laugh when i think about all the fuss that was made over how innacurate or whatever people made it out to be – what did people expect?!!!!

      I’ve just recently mailed a copy to a foreign friend for Christmas. He’s a movie director AND a Civil War buff (i sh*t you not)…we’ll see what HE thinks.

  7. Because i sincerely love this blogsite, even though my opinions differ from the author’s, i have just finished re-reading the article above, and i wanted to draw attention to this point:

    “The problem with everything today is, the filmmakers are gearing productions towards HD televisions, and now, 3D ones. Because of this, they think that people want to see blood and guts flying everywhere because of the in-home technology, not a close up on some old-fart historian who actually knows what he is talking about.”

    I know that this wasn’t written with me in mind – which would have been impossible given that i hadn’t commented until way after it was written – but i just wanted to make it clear that no where in my comments did i mention a thirst for blood so in case anyone was wondering (i doubt anyone cares, lol ), i’m not one of those people and i apologize if my use of the word “modern” implied that i welcomed all the “blood and guts”. I was merely refering to the production values, cinematography, etc. I actually agree that the fake blood looked god-awful (although for some reason it didn’t look quite as bad in the full show compared to the trailer – maybe it was reworked?) and much worse than the techniques employed in ‘Gettysburg’. This looked like cheap CGI. Don’t get excited yet though, i’m not trying to backpeddle!!! Oh no, i just wanted to make sure that i wasn’t misunderstood. I still stand by what i said, i would rather see a partially accurate action based show (minus the fake blood of course) rather than some “old-fart historian” on CSPAN. If i need the truth then i’ll just pick up one of my many books (not quite a library yet, J.D., but i’m working on it πŸ˜‰ ) after being entertained by such a show. We all need light entertainment now and again to get a break from all the heavy facts. I’ve spoken to some LBGs and NPS rangers who’ve pretty much echoed that statement.

    The 1993 ‘Gettysburg’ (i believe the author of this blog praised this movie not too long ago) wasn’t 100% accurate EITHER, but when this was first released it was a starting point for me, as i’m sure it was for many others. I also class this as ‘light entertainment’ compared to a CSPAN lecture, but if it wasn’t for this movie would i have started picking up books to learn the facts? I can’t say for sure but i doubt it. So therefore as long as people (especially kids) are compelled to read and learn the facts about the Civil War for the first time in their lives, after seeing the “modern” programming we have today, then can somebody PLEASE (if anyone’s still out there – Greg himself maybe?) tell me how this can be a bad thing because i fail to see how it can? I promise i’ll shut up after that as i really do seem to be wasting my breath here now, which is a shame because there’s always two sides to every story. I guess there are just too many Civil War buffs – and people in general – out there that just cannot accept change. You do realise the year is almost 2012, right? We don’t have flying cars and intergalactic space travel like some of our forefathers thought we would have by now, do we? But we ARE well into the 21st century and we DO have modern tv programming that should be embraced like any new invention. We can’t move forward by hanging back…Just think about that for a moment…

    Peace everyone. Happy Holidays (only 10 days to go! πŸ™‚ )

    Gettysbuff out…

    1. Such a long comment, I don’t know where to begin. πŸ™‚

      Just want to quickly mention that there is a major difference between a feature film not being accurate and a documentary. Of course, the 1993 Gettysburg was not 100%, because license has to be taken. However, it also was not broadcast on the HISTORY Channel, which people [used to] tune into for historical documentaries and FACTS. People are not supposed to take license with a documentary, because it is for educational purposes. No one is doubting how awesome the 2011 Gettysburg looked in HD; in my review, that was one of my high points, it looked amazing. But to me, that is trumped by an obvious ignorance of the facts or however you want to phrase it.

      If the Scott Brothers had taken however many million it cost to make that documentary, and made a feature film or made-for-television film, NOT a documentary, than there would not be nearly as many complaints. I, for one, probably still would have had something to say, but I would have been able to understand why facts were ignored or changed.

      Gettysbuff, I appreciate your passion for this and thank you very much for contributing, but we just happen to agree to disagree. πŸ™‚

      I believe I have you on Facebook, correct? Please shoot me a message. If you would like to formulate your thoughts for an article on why you think these types of films do more good than harm, I will post it here on my blog and give you some feature-time to rebut those in different of opinion with you.

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