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Blue and gray on silver screen

Some get sneak peek at 'Gods and Generals'

Some get sneak peek at 'Gods and Generals'

September 13, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Those who turned out Thursday night at The Maryland Theatre for a 40-minute sneak peek of "Gods and Generals," a Civil War movie filmed mostly in the Tri-state area, were silent as the movie played.

Afterward, they were anything but.

"I thought it was incredible. A lot better than 'Gettysburg,'" said Rob Taylor, 19. His friend, Richard Moore, agreed.

"There's no comparison (to 'Gettysburg'). It's fantastic," he said. "You can't put them in the same category."

Tickets to the two back-to-back sneak peeks sold out. To try to meet the demand, theater officials offered standing-room-only tickets, the last of which sold out earlier this week, said Patricia Weber Wolford, the theater's executive director.

Much of the footage shown during the sneak peek centered on the Battle of Fredericksburg, Va., in December 1862. Scenes showed officers from both sides strategizing, Union soldiers driven back from the city, and a conversation between Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and a black servant.

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U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., who played a Confederate general, was on screen for a moment and Harpers Ferry, W.Va., which was used to depict 1860s Fredericksburg, was visible.

Violent scenes included a bin full of amputated arms and legs inside a makeshift hospital. A soldier's eye was shot out, and another man's arm was shot off.

After the screen went dark, the 1,300 people in the theater applauded and then rose from their seats when film director Ronald Maxwell walked onto the stage.

Actors Stephen Lang, who played Jackson, and Brian Mallon, who played Union Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, also came to the sneak peek.

Lang briefly addressed the audience. In the film, he has a full beard and often appeared under layers of a wool uniform. When he walked onto the stage wearing jeans and short hair, he was barely recognizable.

Lang said he hopes the movie will help people understand Jackson.

"What little people know (about Jackson) is generally inaccurate," he said.

A professor at the Virginia Military Institute before the war, Jackson rose through the ranks to become one of Lee's most trusted officers. When Jackson died after he was accidentally shot by his own men, Lee wrote that he had lost his "right arm," according to a biography of Jackson.

Back at the theater, before the sneak peek began, Maxwell, the writer and director of the film, stood alone at the rear of the theater as audience members filed in.

He said the film will be released nationwide Feb. 21, 2003. Before that, it will make its worldwide premier in Washington, D.C., followed by a premier in Hagerstown, he said.

The final version of the film clocks in at 3 1/2 hours, Maxwell said. Although Warner Brothers asked that the film be cut to less than three hours, executive producer Ted Turner said the film would be as long as Maxwell deemed necessary, Maxwell said.

Crew members are working on visual and sound effects, and preparing a final mix, Maxwell said.

Audience members applauded after each of five test screenings held recently in other parts of the country, Maxwell said.

"I was not surprised, but I think the studio was surprised that people stayed and enjoyed it," Maxwell said.

During the last 20 minutes, which depict Jackson's death, Maxwell said a pin drop could have been heard at the screenings.

"Gods and Generals" is based on the book by the same name, written by Jeff Shaara. Shaara's father, Michael, wrote "The Killer Angels," which served as the basis for one of Maxwell's earlier films, "Gettysburg."

Plans are under way to make a film version of Jeff Shaara's book "The Last Full Measure," which picks up with Gen. Robert E. Lee's retreat from Pennsylvania and continues through the end of the war. Maxwell said he is unsure how long it will take to make that film.

Outside the theater, re-enactor Gerald Chance stood in a soldier's uniform, smoking a cigarette. He was one of many who wore period clothing to the show.

"I liked it, but my opinion is biased," he said with a smile. He was in several scenes of the movie, and saw himself on the screen at the sneak peek as a member of the 20th Maine Volunteers.

"I'm impressed," he said. "I can't wait to see the rest of it," he said.

Re-enactors Moore and Taylor, with the 13th of Virginia, did not dress in period clothes for the sneak peek, and did not catch a glimpse of themselves on the big screen. Not much, anyway.

"I saw my hat, I think," Moore said.

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