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.