Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on April 13th, 2016
“We have known them only as shadows, gazing at us from a ghostly world of black and white. But now the American Civil War can at last be seen as those who lived and died experienced it…in vivid color.”
It was the bloodiest conflict in American history. Maybe because Americans fought on both sides of the brutal conflict. It might have been because it was a deeply personal war, often between brothers. The cause was one that cut deeply in both the hearts and minds of the men fighting. A young nation was being torn apart, and war appeared the only path toward any kind of peace. The passions of that war still ring out today. The Confederate flag has become something of a symbol beyond what it once was intended to represent. It has become a symbol of hatred for some and is quickly disappearing from our nation’s landscape. Stores are now refusing to sell any products that bear its image. Confederate soldiers are finding their memorials being erased and their names expunged from history. We must be careful that we do not expunge the memory of the war each side fought. It’s the curse of history that to forget is to relive. Here’s another chance to remember why and how so many Americans died.
“Using state of the art technology and with unprecedented access to government and private archives, an international team has restored and brought to life more than 500 rare and incredible images. Images which tell the gripping story of North against South, Blue against Grey and brother against brother. It is a story drenched in both blood and glory.”
That’s the angle for this new A&E Home Video release. These restored photographs are also colorized. They serve has the platform to tell the war’s story from the roots of slavery to the legacy of the war today. Many are brutal scenes of death, and the show carries with it a warning that the images are just that. It’s not for everyone. The show uses these photographs along with newly filmed dramatization to bring the war into our living rooms. There is a line of historical experts, celebrities, and surviving ancestors of the men who fought to provide their insight into the various aspects of the war and the people involved.
The mini-series is split into two discs for the two parts:
The March To War:
This episode begins with the history of slavery in America. It traces the economic dependence and the first traces of conflict over the practice between the North and the South, all leading to the election of Abraham Lincoln and the inevitable secession of Southern states from the Union. The fighting begins with the firing on Fort Sumter, and the war is started in earnest.
This episode looks at the weapons and resources available to both sides. The episode examines the strategies used and how the North and South differed in their approaches. The evolution of ships from wood to steel and the development of the first sophisticated submarines are explored here.
This final episode picks up with the turning point of the war in Gettysburg. The famous Gettysburg Address is highlighted, and you’ll be pleased to know that, unlike our president, the show’s executives did not delete the “under God” portion of the historical words. The episode deals with the medicine that existed during the war and gives us a grisly look at the piles of removed limbs that often plagued the “lucky” survivors. The war was the birth of the first MASH units, although they weren’t called that then.
The episode looks at the practical issues surrounding so much death. For every soldier who died in battle, there were two who died of disease. Embalming companies emerged, selling embalming insurance to the soldiers. They would wear an identifying medal around their neck so that the company could identify the soldiers who paid for their services. It was the beginning of what would later become dog tags.
The episode deals with the assassination of Lincoln and the affect that had on Reconstruction. Much of the final minutes are spent on the legacy of the war in modern days. They address the controversy over the Confederate flag and other issues that remain 150 years later.
The Civil War In Color is presented in its original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 35 mbps. It was smart to make this a two-disc set. It would have been easy to jam all of this on one disc, but I applaud A&E for resisting that temptation. Of course the material is old, and even with restoration the images are not quite what you might expect from a high-definition image presentation. But not all of this program is just vintage photos. There are the interview bits, the reenactments, and the shots of the famous locations as they appear today. All of this is in sharp detail and benefits from the extra disc. Black levels are excellent, and color pops off the screen.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is there only to serve the narration. There is little added sound effects, but it’s all up front exactly where it needs to be.
There are times it seems that we are too easily offended as a nation. Lately the bitterness over the flag and the participants appears like an attempt to change or rewrite history. It never works. I understand that the Confederate flag means hatred to many. But that’s not all that flag stood for. Good men fought and died under the symbol, and to write off every Confederate soldier as racist is to be as prejudiced as the bigots who are out there. The movement to remove memorials and names of generals from the public is a wasted effort that has little to do with slavery and more to do with renewed hatred. Shows like this break through all of that baggage and educate the public on the things that truly matter. Lincoln was talking about both sides when he said: “But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.”