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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Blue & the Gray (1982)

"My friend's hanging from a tree! What's wrong with this land that produces such a bitter crop? Don't ask me to fight for this handful of dust. It's not sacred soil, not to me, anymore."
- John Geyser (John Hammond)

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: November 23, 2001

Stars: John Hammond, Stacy Keach, Lloyd Bridges, Colleen Dewhurst
Other Stars: Julia Duffy, Bruce Abbott, Brian Kerwin, Michael Horton, Cooper Huckabee, Rip Torn, Robert Vaughn, Sterling Hayden, Paul Winfield, Gregory Peck
Director: Andrew V. McLaglen

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (contains violence but is suitable for most audiences)
Run Time: 06h:18m:21s
Release Date: November 06, 2001
UPC: 043396065444
Genre: war


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B A-C+C D

DVD Review

In the early 1860s, tensions between the federal government and the Southern states have risen to an unstoppable pace, and a civil war is inevitable. Young John Geyser (John Hammond) faces the terrible choice of fighting against his family or betraying his personal beliefs. When he decides to become a war correspondent and refuses to join his family in battle, they label him a traitor and ostracize him. Yet John cannot abandon his Virginia heritage and become a full-fledged citizen of the North. His work as a sketch artist takes him through the highs and lows of this bloody chapter in our country's history. Through John's eyes, the Civil War comes to life in The Blue & the Gray—a sweeping miniseries that presents numerous engaging stories about the effects of this bitter conflict.

Immediately before the outbreak of war, John leaves the farm to work for his Uncle Jacob (Robin Hammell) at a local Gettysburg newspaper. His first assignment is the trial of the infamous John Brown (Sterling Hayden), whose attempts to free slaves lead to a revolt and murder. Hayden provides one of the numerous flawless performances in this feature and perfectly embodies this historical figure. He speaks with a wide-eyed fervor that presents the strong convictions of a man who realizes the troubles that lie ahead for this country. While covering the trial, John meets Captain Jonas Steele (Stacy Keach), and they immediately strike up a tight friendship. Jonas possesses some type of subconscious psychic skill that reveals incoming peril within his dreams. Unfortunately, it leaves him powerless to react because it provides no specific information. This "gift" comes into play when he falls in love with John's cousin Mary (Julia Duffy) and then sees her in his dreams. While this subplot covers only a small portion of the story, it provides one example of the surprising level of depth in this miniseries.

The primary characters emanate from the Hales and the Geysers—two families connected by blood but fighting on opposite sides of the war. The young boys (with the exception of John) enlist in the armies with a na ï ve exuberance about the glories of war. This is especially true for Malachy Hale (Brian Kerwin), an athletic young man who believes that he will make a great soldier. When the battle begins, however, the bloody action contrasts sharply with his ideas, and he quickly loses his innocence. John's older brothers—Mark and Matthew Geyser—join the Confederate Army with an aura of invincibility and a firm belief in defending their homes. When John adamantly refuses to join them in battle, he strikes a personal blow that creates a severe rift between the tight siblings. However, the tragic nature of the war shows them the sense behind John's refusal. Three brothers from each family enter the war, and some of them will not survive. Even the ones who live will never be the same after this devastating war.

Filmed entirely on location in Arkansas, this production creates an impressive feeling of historical accuracy that really draws you into the Civil War experience. It features recreations of the battles at Bull Run and Gettysburg, the deadly wilderness campaign, the siege at Vicksburg, and Lee's final surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. Yet the story never falls under the weight of too much attention to detail. Instead, the characters remain the focus, and this keeps us emotionally involved in the events occurring. An especially interesting relationship exists between John and Kathy (Kathleen Beller)—an upper-class young woman with ideas uncommon for a woman of her standing. Their association plays out very subtly and makes their eventual burgeoning connection more effective.

This lengthy miniseries succeeds largely due to its effective combination of household names and young newcomers. Stacy Keach brings star power and charisma to Jonas, which makes his difficulties even more saddening. John Hammond never received another role of this magnitude again in his career, and it is unfortunate because he totally embodies this character. John Geyser's farm-boy innocence and straightforward kindness never appear corny or far-fetched, and this mostly stems from Hammond's excellent acting. Julia Duffy and Kathleen Beller both bring plenty of humanity and intelligence to their attractive female characters, and Colleen Dewhurst and Lloyd Bridges add considerable weight to the elder Geysers. The final masterful addition to this cast was the choice of Gregory Peck for the role of Abraham Lincoln. Only a handful of actors could play this part and create such a believable character, and Peck even looks the part. Although his scenes are minimal, they never feel like token appearances and always add interesting elements to the story.

The Blue & the Gray succeeds in so many avenues that it's natural for it to falter in a few areas. These troubles often correspond with the limitations of the television format. At a few points, everything happens just a bit too easily, and the action borders on becoming too fluffy. Certain scenes also lack the tension and excitement inherent in much of the production. The direction becomes too simple and misses opportunities for great drama. Luckily, these slight mistakes rarely occur, and they only bring a minor blemish to a remarkable production. The networks never make miniseries on this scale anymore, and it's a shame because it allows for a larger degree of character development. This feature provides a broad avenue (especially for younger audiences) for viewing a key chapter in our nation's history with plenty of compelling characters.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The Blue and the Gray appears in the original full-frame format of its television release. The DVD case describes its "digitally remastered" video, and certain outdoor scenes offer an impressive mix of colors. This is especially true during the moments at the Geyser household and at the Battle of Bull Run. Unfortunately, much of the material has a hefty level of grain that does not appear too much better than the original television version. Some of the night scenes in the army camps are especially poor and makes me wonder about the nature of the source material. In general, the transfer works decently, but there are too many disappointing images to garner a higher recommendation.

Image Transfer Grade: C+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: It is impressive to see the entire miniseries released in its original form, but I have the feeling that this set was not very high on the priority list. This mono transfer presents the sounds in a clear and understandable manner, but it lacks force or depth. These limitations are frustrating because this feature offers numerous opportunities for impressive audio. While these drawbacks probably stem from the source material, it would be nice to see at least a remastered 2.0-channel Dolby Surround track. This inclusion would have increased the effectiveness of the battle scenes and the stirring emotional moments.

Audio Transfer Grade: C

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 72 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
Picture Disc
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Although it is hardly a major surprise, it still disappoints me to have no significant extra features included on this three-disc set. The only notable items are the 7 subtitle tracks, which even offer the Thai and Chinese versions.

Extras Grade: D

 

Final Comments

In the middle of the 1980s, I grew strongly attached to The Blue & the Gray while viewing reruns on cable. It differed considerably from the trashy soap opera elements of North and South and provided a fascinating look at a key era in our country's background. As a pre-teen viewer I really enjoyed this miniseries, and I think it could play a similar role today for youngsters interested in history. Although the lack of extras is disappointing, it is great to see the complete, unabridged version of this feature presented on DVD to hopefully draw in viewers of another generation.

 


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