If there's one thing you can always count on, it's a strong performance by Billy Bob Thorton. It never seems to matter what role he takes on, he owns each and every character he plays. Less than a year after playing a sex-a-holic Santa Claus in "Bad Santa," Thorton took it upon himself to portray an American icon. That's a role change if there ever was one. It's a real shame the movie isn't as good as his performance.
Following the real life events during the Texas Revolution, "The Alamo" follows few characters in its portrayal of the battle. Facing 2,000 men under the command of Mexican dictator Santa Anna (Emilio Echevarria), the small group of Americans including David Crockett (Thorton) and James Bowie (Jason Patric) must try and hold them off. Their only chance is reinforcements being led by Sam Houston (Dennis Houston).
Historical dramas are tricky things. If you change too much, you lose those people who know the real event inside out. If you don't, you run the risk of bogging everything down with small details and boring everyone else. The latter seems to be the major problem here. It's quite obvious countless hours were spent preparing the movie for shooting and retaining accuracy. That's all well and good. It doesn't make a good movie however.
There are plenty of strong points within the film to make it somewhat worthwhile. Not to be redundant, but Billy Bob Thorton is just incredible here. It's his movie really. Pretty much all of the performances are strong, it's just that Thorton is the centerpiece that holds everything together. Character development is also fantastic. The film moves quickly in the beginning, wasting no time at providing a foundation for the audience, giving them a feel for what's to come.
Then everything seems to fall apart. With that early build up, the expected pacing doesn't keep up. Once a pace is established, everyone in the audience expects it to continue this way. "The Alamo" doesn't. At two hours, it shouldn't seem like three, but it does. There are numerous potential trims to be made to get the running time down that would have no adverse effect on the film. Since the characters are already well established within the first half hour, it seems like a waste to keep piling on scene after scene of nothingness.
It has nothing to do with the need for non-stop explosions and action. There's development done right, and then there's development done wrong. Since Thorton's character is the only one that you really, deeply get to know, this could've been a nice study on the real Crockett. No, this doesn't mean the other people who fought this war are not important; that's absurd. It's simply that the script is obviously geared towards one man, so why not just focus in?
By the time that epic battle finally does come along, you've lost complete interest. That's critical. Once that ends, the movie moves into the Battle of San Jacinto. This feels horribly tacked on. There's nothing wrong with expanding a bit, but the entire process seems to take less than ten minutes. It's then the movie feels too rushed. Someone really should have paced this one better. That's a perfect example of just how this movie fails, even if it had tons of potential. (** out of *****)
This is an odd transfer, one that doesn't really leap out at you, but doesn't really contain any major flaws either. Flesh tones seem to be a bit too red in some scenes then washed out in another. It's overly soft which decreases the detail. On the plus side, the black levels are really solid and compression is really under control. The print is unsurprisingly flawless. Don't let that THX certified logo on the case trick you into thinking it's really special. It's not. This is an unremarkable yet oddly solid presentation. (****)
Actually, that THX logo does mean something. This movie has cannons. You shouldn't need to be told what that means if you own a home theater. Cannons + subwoofer = audio heaven. They're not the only things being fired. Those muskets pack a pretty mean punch too, reverberating from the rear speakers for maximum effect. You'll hear every bullet being shot in perfect clarity too. There's an incredible camera angle done from the viewpoint of a cannonball that has to be heard (and seen as a matter of fact; it's impressive). (*****)
If you make a movie based on true events, it is in this reviewer's opinion that someone knowledgeable on the topic (or the real people if possible) should do a commentary track. "The Alamo" nails that. Two historians, Alan Huffines and Stephen Hardin, take over this one. They'll point out just how accurate it is and those inconsistencies.
Moving into the documentary stuff, "Return of the Legend: Making of The Alamo" is a decent 18:00 minute look at how accuracy was of utmost importance. The set is the largest outdoor one every built. The cast and crew of course go into the usual mode of telling everyone of how great it was to work with them. However, for the most part, this is worth a watch to see just how dedicated everyone was.
"Deep in the Heart of Texans" asks some historians just what the events mean to Texans while the actors inter-cut with their own personal feelings. It runs a little over six minutes. "Walking in the Footsteps of Heroes" runs a dozen minutes, showcasing how the movie captured the real people. The actors discuss how they played them. It also looks at other movies and how they were portrayed previously, a nice touch. Finally, there are five deleted scenes that you can watch with or without a director's commentary. (***)
"The Alamo" tanked at the box office. The IMDB shows a loss of over $70 million. Surely that has studio execs smashing their heads against a wall for some time. That's likely why this DVD isn't a 2-disc set (actually, it's pretty obvious that IS why), filled with features on how it all came together. If you did enjoy the movie, chances are this is the best you're going to get. Sorry.