When the History Channel comes out with a preview of their next production, I no longer get excited. Instead, I cringe. When I heard that they would be releasing a Texas and Alamo themed mini-series this May, my heart almost stopped, because of the soft spot I have for the Alamo story and how I knew it would be butchered by this studio. Boasting a cast consisting of Bill Paxton, Brendan Fraser, Ray Liotta, Rob Morrow, and Kris Kristofferson, and directed by Roland Joffe, Texas Rising does not look as bad as I expected, but much worse. The series will cover the Texas Revolution and the formation and early years of the Texas Rangers. The Alamo siege and battle appears to only be slightly larger than a footnote, merely setting up the story, which is fine. However, in just a few fleeting glimpses of such scenes in the film, I am already mightily concerned about the historical accuracy of this production. After all, this was the network that gave us a documentary on Gettysburg and still managed to get things wrong, and in some cases, blatantly fabricate or exaggerate certain information. Now, we get to a project that contains creative license, and oh my, might as well come to expect a flying saucer to land in the Alamo’s courtyard.
Right off the bat we are met with a shot of the Alamo church and part of the adjoining long barracks. While it is hard to tell due to the quality of their website’s video player and the smoke floating across the scene, it appears that the actual Alamo itself is wrong. Are there remnants of a hump at the top of the chapel? The same hump that was not added until decades after the battle? I don’t have any more complaints about the church, even though the door looks too big, but the long barracks at the left are completely, unequivocally, wrong. The arches and steps never existed, nor would wooden scaffolding on the roof of those same barracks (unless that was part of set construction and production ran out of money and thought the beams would add charm…). Considering the base of the barracks still exist today, such a mistake is inexcusable. For an accurate rendering of what the Alamo compound would have looked like, see John Wayne’s The Alamo (1960), which is the most accurate set built to date in regards to spacing. The John Lee Hancock film of the same name (2004) is a little more realistic in look, however the barracks were placed evenly with the church. In real life, the church was set back around a hundred feet. To the right of the church, I also see no palisade—the makeshift row of wooden stakes added to fill in the gap between the church and main gate house.
As for something even more perplexing, above is a picture of the flag that the production chose to have flying over the Alamo. To get a set wrong can be understood in terms of budgetary restraints and whatnot, but for a piece of cloth to be wrong, when volumes of books on Texas history have been written, detailing what may or may not have flown over the Alamo, is another one of those unforgivable mistakes. Not only did this flag not fly at the Alamo, but it was created out of thin air. In all likelihood, a Mexican flag with “1824” in the white center would have flown, a reference to the Mexican Constitution of 1824 which granted land rights to settlers coming to Texas. Other flags from the era include the “Come and Take It” flag which was created as a response to the Mexican Army attempting to seize a cannon in Gonzales, Texas earlier in the revolution. A mistaken use of this flag could at least have been understood for dramatic reasons, as could the use of the modern Texas flag to give audiences a point of reference. But no, we have this one that never existed. All I can ask is, why?
As for other items I noticed, we have several dramatic readings of the famous “Victory or Death” letter written by Alamo commander William Barrett Travis, which was a plea for help to tell people that his men were surrounded and they would do the best they could to hold out. The preview shows about ten different people reading the letter, all at different times. I was not aware that this letter was mass-produced. I also was not aware at how high the literacy rate was on the Texian frontier in 1836. And of course, we have violence and bloodshed at every turn, including the wonderful screenshot above, where a sword happens to be sticking down someone’s throat. I am sure the Mexican Army will be depicted much like the British in Turn—sadistic murderers hell-bent on revenge for revolution.
Also, it is worth noting that the few survivors of the final Alamo battle are depicted as being executed as prisoners. This was most likely the case, but I have to question an African American combatant being one of them. There may have been several at the Alamo, but the only one that can be confirmed was the slave of Commander Travis, Joe, who survived the battle. Any others would have been better served not fighting in the battle and then pleading to Mexican soldiers that they were a slave, who would have granted them a release (as depicted in the 2004 Alamo film) since slavery was illegal in Mexico at the time.
Not that this is incredibly important, but Colonel James Fannin’s last name on Texas Rising‘s IMDB page is spelled “Farrin”. I do hope this is just a typo, and that is not his character’s name in the series. Stranger, dumber things have happened though; it was in the 2011 Gettysburg documentary when the narrator called Morse Code “Morris Code”. I guess they blew their budget on blood packets and could not afford a fact-checker.