Toon Talk: The Alamo
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Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt
Remember the Texans
Historical epics are often troublesome affairs. On the one hand, you have to adhere to at least some historical accuracy, lest you risk the wrath of outraged purists; on the other hand, the film still has to be entertaining, with some semblance of a through storyline … yet history isn’t always so cut-and-dry as fiction. It’s a classic case of catch-22, with millions of dollars of budgetary investments (those period sets, costumes and props don’t come cheap) and artistic integrity at stake. And when the history at hand involves a war, well it only complicates the matter even further. Wars, by their very nature, are messy affairs, and truths are often irrevocably intertwined with myth as the years pass.
That’s a lot of baggage for a film to carry going into production, and Disney’s version of The Alamo (released via its Touchstone label) had that and more, for arguably no other moment in United States history is more cloaked in legend then this 1836 battle over a run-down mission-turned-outpost in the middle of the Texas wilderness between a small group of American settlers and the legions of the Mexican Army.
The film begins using a historical movie cliché, that of showing the aftermath of the ‘big event’ and then flashing back to events that lead up to it (an overused device - see Gandhi, The Last Emperor, et al - that should be retired as soon as possible). As the story unfolds, fate brings together the ragtag lot of dissimilar personalities that end up defending the Alamo: the infamous ‘knife-fighter’ Colonel Jim Bowie (Jason Patric), the green Lt. Colonel William Travis (Patrick Wilson) and the legendary frontiersman-turned-U.S. congressman David ‘Davy’ Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton). Soon after their arrival in San Antonio, the overwhelming forces of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana (Emilio Echevarria) force the entire settlement into the confines of the dilapidated mission, and the siege is on.
Hopelessly out-numbered and desperate for reinforcements, the settlers are trapped fighting a battle they believe in yet know in their hearts they can’t survive. The film lurches forward in fits-and-starts, touching on the factual highlights like a stone skipping over water while folding in standard war movie moments of fear and hope along its protracted way to the inevitable climax: the fall of the Alamo, a grounded blitzkrieg that lights up the night sky like something seen on CNN during the Iranian conflict. Hindered by its PG-13 rating, the massacre is intense yet oddly un-harrowing, dutifully picking off the protagonists one-by-one, like a historical slasher flick. And since this is a Hollywood movie, the film continues on to a 'happy ending', when Dennis Quaid’s stone-faced General Sam Houston rides in to defeat Santa Ana and gains Texas’ freedom from Mexico.