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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Viewers Retreat From 'Gettysburg'

For every 10 soldiers who marched into the Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest conflict in the history of the United States, only one came out alive. The statistics were slightly better at Sunday's English-language Moscow premiere of "Gettysburg," a four-hour recreation of the Civil War battle, but by the time the lights went up, a considerable percentage of the audience had left the theater. The film, a 1993 Turner Pictures/New Line Cinema release, launched a one-week festival of American epic movies like David Lean's "Dr. Zhivago" and William Wyler's "Ben Hur." The film will be shown a second time Friday, in the Americom Cinema Center and with Russian voice-over in the Cinema Center on Krasnaya Presnya. The festival will then move for a tour of St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Kishin-yev and Togliatti. According to Mikel Pippi, Turner International's organizer, a second festival series is tentatively planned for a multi-city tour this fall, possibly to be followed by a new comedy. "This is Turner's entry into the film distribution market here," Pippi said. "It's not 'Beethoven II,' but it's a good slice of American culture." But the slice is thick, and the icing, a completely outdated glorification of the Civil War, was hard to swallow even for expatriates, let alone Russians. A third of the expat crowd in the Americom left before the end of the movie Sunday, even though some had paid $50 to attend the event as part of a charity drive, which offered dinner and a post-screening visit to a chic nightclub. Many more walked out of the Russian voiced-over showing in the Cinema Center on Saturday. Director Robert Maxwell took on a big job deciding to make a watchable big-screen film out of Gettysburg, one of the most crucial battles in American history. The three-day conflict -- and more specifically, maneuvers on the Pennsylvania terrain -- changed the course of the Civil War and marked a breaking point in modern combat. To its credit, the $30-million reconstruction is painstakingly accurate in terms of troop movements, costumes and other historical details. The professional camerawork provided breathtaking shots and the battle scenes capture the senseless use of human flesh as cannon-fodder. But the loud and bombastic score was reminiscent of those of the 1950s film era. The slaughter of over 50,000 people in a single battle is dramatic enough without such overdoses of musical histrionics. The impressive battle scenes are also interspersed with melodramatic speeches by officers who keep saying this was the mother of all battles. You can humor such scenes in ancient epics like "Ben Hur," but in a 1993 movie they are somewhat hard to take. Some of those speeches about the great cause of this rather messy war were disturbing. As a teary-eyed Jeff Daniels tells Union soldiers to drop their mutiny, rejoin the war and fight for racial equality, anyone with a sense of history must have squirmed. The emancipation of blacks was only declared a great cause 10 days after the battle, in the midst of a war that aimed to prevent secession, not slavery. Not surprisingly, there is only one black character in the movie, and he is only allowed to look sullen and pathetic. Common soldiers, similarly, were a mere footnote, while the death of the high brass was given long and overly dramatic play. When it deals purely with the reenactment of the battle, "Gettysburg" is a fascinating and well-craf-ted documentary-style film. But the talk of great causes would have been better left to historians, and the film in general would have been better served if presented as a miniseries, cutting up the movie into digestible chunks of a truly tragic American story that people could easily sit out till the end.