Watching “Glory,” Edward Zwick’s Oscar-winning 1989 Civil War drama, it’s almost impossible to fathom that the remarkable piece of American history the film covers had, prior to the film’s release, been largely forgotten: the story of the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts, the first black regiment to fight for the North in the Civil War. With the title Glory and the wartime genre comes a certain set of expectations and conventions, most of which Zwick manages to sidestep. There are only three instances of actual combat depicted in the film, which by default lends the ones that are there a greater impact. However, the lasting power of the sequences–specifically, the final one–rests in the emotional connection to the characters that Zwick and screenwriter Kevin Jarre skillfully build during the course of the film. The “glory” achieved by the troops and their leader, Col. Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick) is a personal one; it matters not so much that they win the actual battle than that they win the one within themselves–and, hence, win the chance to have their place in combat.
Such internal conflicts would not have been nearly as involving were it not for Zwick’s superb cast. Denzel Washington deservedly won a Supporting Actor Oscar for his layered work as the outwardly brash runaway slave Trip; equaling his performance at the very least is Morgan Freeman in the less showy role of wise Sgt. Rawlins. Broderick’s Gould was and is still the film’s most debated-on aspect, and indeed there is some negative baggage. It is shock to see his boyish visage all done up in facial hair in an almost-comically useless move to age him, not to mention his Bostonian accent misses more than hits. Nonetheless, his youthful appearance ultimately works for the part of a man unsure of his ability to carry the weight–further amplified by the historical significance–of his duty, and a silent yet painfully vivid closeup on Broderick’s face toward the end of the film more than justifies his casting.
Broderick is a bit more stoic on the first of two commentaries featured on Columbia TriStar’s enlightening two-disc special edition. This commentary, featuring Broderick, Zwick, and Freeman is not just an alternate audio track, but an alternate video one as well; as they make their comments, we see them in a small box at the bottom of the screen. It seems like a strange enhancement, especially given the trio’s comments were recorded separately (hence, no interesting group interaction as that featured on Mallrats‘ visual commentary). But often their faces say a lot more than their words ever could; for example, while Freeman speaks eloquently about the film and the history behind it, there’s something even more special about his wordless expressions as he visibly gets caught up in the film.
Zwick’s appears sparsely in the video commentary, which is just as well since his comments on that track are culled from his solitary audio-only track. Zwick is quite frank in pointing up flubs and certain scenes he was not happy with, and he is quick to give credit where its due regarding the film’s astonishing attention to detail (something that can easily be overlooked due to the film’s emotional sweep). However, while is an appealingly relaxed speaker, that same quality can register as dull to some viewers.
The bulk of the extras are featured on the second disc, which also includes a full-frame version of the film. The fairly worn condition of the theatrical trailer and the two deleted scenes points up to how well the video remastering of the actual film (shown in anamorphic widescreen on disc one) went. The cut scenes also feature optional commentary by Zwick, who succinctly explains why they were (rightfully) discarded. Rounding out the supplements are three documentary features. The first is a standard bit of promo business taken from the film’s electronic press kit; the second is the 45-minute The True Story of Glory Continues (included with previous VHS and laserdisc releases) which details the entire history of the 54th beyond the events depicted in the film. The third is the only featurette produced expressly for this release, “Voices of Glory,”an interesting if brief extra that focuses on actual letters written by 54th regiment soldiers (read by Sean Patrick Thomas, Richard T. Jones, and Christopher Birt).
“Glory” specifications: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen; English 5.1 Surround; English Dolby Surround; French Dolby Surround; French, Spanish, and Portuguese mono; English, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, and Spanish subtitles; English closed captioning.