This weekend I went to see God and Generals, which is based on the book of the same name by Jeff Shaara. Overall, the movie was okay, the battle scenes were pretty well done, though both the Union and the Confederacy had men that died roughly 20 times each. That is, you kept seeing the same actors die over and over during the battle scenes. That’s not what this is about though.
The book, which is excellent by the way, chronicles the beginnings of the Civil War from the point of view of several key figures, including Jackson, Lee, Hancock, Chamberlain, and others. It explores each man’s belief in God and how that contrasts their experiences on the battlefield and with each other. A good, interesting read.
So why is it, I wonder, that the writer and/or director of the movie felt the need to put not one, not two, but three back stories in the film that not only did not appear in the book, but have nothing to do with the book whatsoever?
The first back story is the interaction between Jackson and his black cook. It is beyond me why the writers believed that a Civil War general, certainly a man of his time, would see fit to stand under the stars and listen to a black man pray about slavery, quote scripture, and in general hang out with a cook. Never mind that the cook is black, I find it hard to believe Jackson had deep and meaningful conversations with any of the cooks in his camp.
The second back-story is about a black maid who stays behind in Fredericksburg when the Union troops attack the town while the white folks run for it. She is, of course, tremendously noble, and feels sorrow for both the Northern and Southern troops. She is also apparently capable of passing herself off as a free woman who owns a huge house in downtown Fredericksburg during the 1860’s.
The third is about the fighting on the front line between Meagher’s Irish brigade and the Irish soldiers on the Southern side. All I can say is that it’s remarkably cheesy and overdone.
The stories about the slaves are handled in about the most ham-handed, moralizing way possible. And my question is: What’s the point? Why add this to the story? Just to appease the inevitable shouts about racism if there were no major parts for black actors? To ensure that everyone watching equates the Civil War to the question of slavery? It seems to me that the producers simply wanted to make sure that the movie was as politically correct as they could make it?
There is no reason for them to do so. The story was not about slaves, slavery, or the interaction between slaves and military men. It was about generals, particularly Southern generals, during the Civil War, and their relationship to God and to each other. Instead the entire focus of the story in the book shifts focus to slavery.
What do other Dopers think? Has political correctness gone to far when you change the entire thrust of a project to accommodate the sensibilities of a few? Or am I just an uber-fan of the book that was very disappointed with the movie and therefore am nitpicking? I can say this: Were I Jeff Shaara, I’d be one pissed off puppy when I went to see the movie.