Plot: What’s it about?
“The Alamo” was besieged with trouble before it finally hit screens in April of 2004. The production was the largest set built in North America (a 50+ acre set) was just one of the problems. It seems that with these huge epochs, something always hits a snag. Director John Lee Hancock, a native Texan, was at the helm of this movie and with his previous success in “The Rookie”, he had a lot to live up to in terms of getting the movie made and getting it made right. After all, when you’re dealing with probably the single greatest landmark in Texas, you’d better have all of your facts straight. The movie was panned by some critics and it certainly didn’t light up the box-office. Billy Bob Thornton made a perfect Davy Crockett and the casting of Dennis Quaid (who starred in ‘The Rookie’) as Sam Houston and Jason Patrick as Jim Bowie rounded out a very likeable and historically accurate cast. Granted, movies about the Alamo aren’t as dime a dozen as the OK Coral, but fairly close. Most associate the Alamo with John Wayne’s version. Wayne played Crockett and went more for entertaining than historical accuracy. Then again, it was John Wayne. However, I found “The Alamo” to be very intriguing and accurate historically as well.
“The Alamo” was nothing more than a mission that stood on the Mexican/Texas border (Texas was not yet a state and owned by Mexico). General Santa Ana (Emilio Echevarría) was at the command of the far superior Mexican forces and the “Americans” were commanded by Lt. Cmdr. William Travis (Patrick Wilson). Travis was from Alabama, somewhat of an aristocrat and felt superior to his men and other officers. He was put in his place by Jim Bowie (Jason Patrick), a well-liked commander who was most widely-known for his association with the Bowie knife. The movie takes place in two weeks, which is what the Battle of the Alamo lasted. It’s far more of a character study than an actual “war movie” per se, but we get to see the characters as they are and how they change from beginning to end. Billy Bob Thornton makes a very good Davy Crockett, who asks to be called “David”. One thing I didn’t realize was that Crockett was already a very public figure and a Senator from Tennessee – all of this was before the Alamo, too. The troops are outnumbered by Santa Ana’s army and he toys with them on a daily basis. As the Texans start to realize the futility of their mission, it’s then that we get to see the characters emerge.
One thing I can say about “The Alamo” was that it wasn’t what I was expecting it to be. There’s probably only about thirty minutes of actual battle done, most of it leads up to the climatic day. Dennis Quaid as Sam Houston seemed a bit over the top, but in some of the featurettes we learn why that was the case (evidently Houston had psychological problems and being bi-polar was one of them). This shows the level of detail that was put into the movie, even though it might not be noticeable at first glance. I compare this movie with “Master and Commander…” in that it shows the strategic play involved with war as opposed to things randomly blowing up. We get to see behind the characters and what makes them tick, instead of having them talk in one sentence catch-phrases. At just a bit over two hours, it’s down from an original running time of over three hours. Still, it’s long enough to keep interest and exciting enough that it doesn’t seem like a movie over two hours (if that makes any sense). I, for one, enjoyed the movie. It’s depiction of characters was realistic and believable mixed in with enough battle scenes to give it a shot of adrenaline. This is, by far, the best adaptation of the story of the Alamo that exists to date.
Video: How does it look?
“The Alamo” is presented in a great-looking 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. I can’t imagine this movie in anything less than something this wide. The shots are all very large, swooping crane shots that look great on a large television. A majority of the transfer has brown hues to it (naturally, as it takes place in San Antonio), though it avoids being “muddy” and instead looks very natural. There are number of nighttime shots as well and, thankfully, the shots aren’t plagued with any pixilation or artifacting. I found the flesh tones to be a bit on the oversaturated side, but that borders on nit-picking. All in all, this is what we can expect from Disney, who has been putting out great-looking transfers for their new to DVD releases for some time now.
Audio: How does it sound?
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track rocks. Literally. I’ve watched some DVD’s recently and wondered if my surrounds were working correctly (they were), but when I popped in “The Alamo”, it reminded me of what it was like to see a great movie with audio that really utilized all of the channels. The THX certification certainly doesn’t hurt, either. Dialogue, even that “Davy Crockett” dialogue, is very clean and well-defined. The real beauty of the soundtrack comes during the battle scenes. In some, we see the action from the perspective of the weapons (cannonball) and can actually hear the path it takes, whether it be from the front to the back or left to right. Clearly, this is a very active track it’s very well reproduced on disc. Show this one to your friends and let the room shake!
Supplements: What are the extras?
This is a single disc release, amid the countless 2 disc “Special Editions” that come out every week. Though it’s not listed on the back of the box, this disc does indeed contain an audio commentary by two film historians. I’d have liked to hear from any one of the cast members or Hancock, but these two certainly know their stuff. The track, though informative, tends to get a bit dull as they tend to critique some of the errors and “clear up” anything that they think the audience might not understand. Three featurettes are also included: “Return of the Legend: The Making of ‘The Alamo’” runs about 18 minutes and is pretty much your standard fare “making of…” featurette. All of the major cast members are interviewed and a great deal of time is spent on the production, the work that went into the landscape, costumes, etc. This gives us a good idea as to how much actual work went into the movie. “Walking in the Footsteps of Heroes” concentrates on the main four characters (Houston, Crockett, Bowie and Travis). A short bio is shown on each and then an interview with the actor who portrayed him. Lastly, we have “Deep in the Heart of Texans” which concentrates on the significance of shooting in Texas. Hancock, a native Texas, felt it his duty to shoot in the state, if for only authenticity. Not much else is learned here, but many tales of the Alamo are told! There are five deleted scenes shown in non-anamorphic widescreen and can be viewed with or without director commentary. Hopefully “The Alamo” will find a greater audience on DVD than in theaters, but I found it to be enjoyable and even a bit educational.