'The Alamo' Is Worth Remembering
Received poorly by audiences this spring, "The Alamo" does not deserve to be remembered as a box-office dud. This film is a fuller, richer, and more historically accurate version than has ever been put on screen before, and it looks great. But it does not star Russell Crowe, nor did Ron Howard direct it. Both of the men left active duty work on the project after the studio balked at a possible "R" rating and a $100-million-plus budget. Another reason the film may have tanked was its subject matter. The Battle of the Alamo is of interest primarily to Texans and historians, not the general public. And again, without a major star to headline the film, "The Alamo" was pretty much dead in the water from the get go.
DVD releases often bring new life to a film, and hopefully "The Alamo" will now get the respect it deserves. Re-watching the film recently, I was pleasantly surprised to find I liked the film even better than I did upon first viewing. Billy Bob Thornton deserves much praise for his portrayal of David Crockett. And Patrick Wilson's performance as William B. Travis has grown on me. Historian Stephen Hardin, who is featured on the DVD audio commentary track, notes, "much of this movie is told in the faces, and not the dialogue." Watching Wilson's, and especially Thornton's faces reveals a lot about what the men are thinking.
It is clear from some of the production featurettes included on the DVD that director John Lee Hancock, being a Texan himself, wanted to make "The Alamo" both the most historically correct film of the story possible, while remaining cinematic. The much-heralded attempt to tell "both sides" of the story is somewhat inaccurate; simply by choosing which side gets more screen time is a choice in and of itself. But efforts are made to show that it wasn't just Anglos defending the Alamo, and how the story of the Alamo fits into the larger picture of Mexican, Texan, and American history. Some events in the story's timeline are compressed, and others, such as Crockett's sunset fiddle accompaniment of the "Degüello," probably never happened. Nevertheless, this version of "The Alamo" is much closer to "the way it was" than either John Wayne or Fess Parker, bless 'em, could have or would have imagined, thanks to the battery of historians, both military and cultural, employed by the film company.
Two of these historians are featured on the DVD's most interesting special feature, which is incredibly not advertised anywhere on the package. Military advisor Alan Huffines (Blood of Noble Men) and Victoria College professor and author Stephen Hardin (Texian Iliad, and The Alamo 1836: Santa Anna's Texas Campaign) carry on a feature-length conversation on one audio track of the DVD, and it is fascinating. The two men are lively and engaging as they tell stories from the set, and point out where the film stays close to and diverges from historical fact. It's also interesting to note the two recorded the commentary after the premiere of the film, unlike many DVD audio commentaries, which are prepared and recorded almost simultaneously with the film's production. Huffines and Hardin don't dwell on it, but the two do hint at the difficulties in trying to get a film about the Alamo to connect with today's audiences.
Other DVD features include a production featurette that reveals some of the hard work that went into building the amazing full-size set outside Dripping Springs. The set was a working set for the most part, and actors could walk in and out of real buildings, which lends an extra bit of authenticity to the project. Plus, it's nice to see a film not rely on computer-generated imagery for a change, especially a historical one.
There are two short featurettes that delve into the real-life Alamo defenders' lives, and offer some insights from the actors about their characters. And a collection of deleted scenes reveal a subplot where Santa Anna (Emilio Echevarría) takes a local bride, and allows James Bonham (Marc Blucas) to get a few words in.
Ron Howard may not have gotten his R-rated epic with Russell Crowe, but as a producer, I'll bet he was pleased with director John Lee Hancock's work. So am I. Remember this "Alamo."