Some will see this as an addendum to a previous entry, as Greg talked about the level of violence that should be seen in the series. But for me, it isn’t so much the level of blood that should be on screen. Rather, the “visceral” experience, where instinct kicks in, and we see combat as combat, and not just some glorified version of the event, is what I’m most interested in seeing in the series’ epic battle scenes.
I’ll never forget the moment I first watched Saving Private Ryan back in 1999. I had known that the battle scenes were going to be very violent, but even those warnings did not prepare me for the experience. For 24 agonizing minutes, we were with the men on Omaha Beach, June 6th, 1944. For the first time ever, I was seeing on screen combat in its most brutal and raw form. Men were torn to pieces by bullets and artillery. But not only did the movie hit you with its graphic images of torn bodies. The real brutality came from the intensity of the battle itself. From the sounds of men yelling and running, to the bullets and shells, to the sense of death and destruction all around, Saving Private Ryan gave viewers a visceral experience of combat. What Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg successfully brought to the big screen with this film, they perfected with their two HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers and The Pacific.
There are two definitions of visceral that fit these projects well: “1. characterized by or proceeding from instinct rather than intellect; 2. characterized by or dealing with coarse or base emotions; earthy.” One of the things that Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers and The Pacific showed was the instinctive habits of the soldiers in combat. The soldiers of the Second World War were, like soldiers from previous wars (including the American Civil War), drilled in combat and battle for hours every day, so that when the men were thrown into battle, their instinct would be to fall back on their training, and they would just do what they knew to do instinctively. At the same time, combat brings out the rawest of emotions. Whether that emotion is hatred, cowardice, courage, or fear, battle seems to bring out those in brutal detail. The three productions that Spielberg and Hanks brought us show what warfare brings out in man, and what it can cause man to do to others. The raw emotions experienced by veterans in war were recreated as close as they could be in a dramatized film.
Before To Appomattox begins filming, the actors who are to portray the soldiers depicted on film should have a chance to learn Civil War era drill as best they can in a short period of time. That way, when they go to film the battles depicted in the series, they will have knowledge of drill to fall back on, and that can help them create that moment when instinct kicks in, and the soldiers are falling back on their training in order to survive combat. The filmmakers may also want to help create the visceral experience of war from a technical standpoint. Through the use of blood, yes, but also through sound and visual effects, to give viewers the full experience of Civil War combat at its fiercest. When acting, storytelling, visual and sound effects kick in together, they can transport viewers back to those harrowing moments, when it took men of courage and audacity to go into a place where bullets, artillery shells, and flashing sabers met in its most brutal form.