I bought the Bluray to have a copy of the painstakingly authentic depiction of Civil War battles in high definition detail. It was made by the same production group that produced the film Gettysburg, and I was impressed by their attention to detail in that film after I visited that battlefield. I got my money’s worth here, as the optics are phenomenal. I felt like I was in a time machine! This was filmed with little CGI special effects, but instead they used armies of re-enactment volunteers who were happy to play their role in return for a hefty contribution to Civil War battlefield preservation. The film does well in preserving the costumes, technology, and issues of a complex war.
The films has been expanded as a “Director’s Cut” that restores the Battle of Antietam and other scenes, making it even longer. The critics hated the film because of various reasons, including the excessive length of the film. It should have been three films! Don’t try to watch this in one setting.
The second objection was the acting and dialogue. There is some point there perhaps, but some of the more wordy elements of the film dialogue were the film maker’s attempt to orient the audience to the issues and motivations of the Civil War. That is now very necessary, as there is much more to the Civil War than just slavery. Robert E. Lee, the Civil War general, was anti-slavery, for example. This background detail is what makes this film “slower” than Gettysburg. With that earlier film, you didn’t get as much back story of any of the combatants or discourses on their motives. That’s worth some digression. As for the acting, it looked good to me. In real war, people don’t wear their feelings on their shift sleeves. I think moderns are also uncomfortable with conversation that includes reference to Jesus, but that was part of the conversational flavor of the era. If they all talked like we do, it wouldn't have an authentic flavor, would it?
Another objection to the film was the claim that it was sympathetic to the Confederate perspective. Here is one reason for that impression. Most of the battles were fought on Confederate turf, and any representation of the civilians would necessarily involved pro-Confederate sympathies of the locals. The reality is that some people act heroically for an ill-fated cause. They spent more time showcasing General “Stonewall” Jackson more than any other character, and he was very Southern.
This film helps fill the vacuum in that most public school education leaves. It personalizes the war, and shows the complexity in battles that usually get a sentence in most texts. If the length of the battle sequences seems unendurable, imagine what it was to live it. And, as I said, the depiction of the towns and countryside seems to be amazingly realistic.
Some reviewers didn’t like the scene involving Jackson having an intense emotional reaction to the death of a child of his acquaintance, whereas he had been stoic through so much carnage. It certainly helps humanize the character, and given the enormity of the stress of war, I didn’t have an issue with it.