Following are two reviews of the Alamo, one by PM's editors, and the next a historical overview by Kent Sprecher:


Since we went to press with our Alamo Special Issue, the folks at Disney released their trouble-plagued version of The Alamo starring Billy Bob Thornton as Davy Crockett and Patric Wilson as Travis. The movie was directed by John Lee Hancock and runs just over two and a half hours. We didn't have a chance to review it at press time, but we did see it opening night after almost two years of anticipation.
Playset Magazine had been following the making of this film with timely updates: the initial delays in filming due to a change in directors and cast, through the beginning of filming, the building of the sets, and the completion. Just when we were ready to publish the Alamo issue at Christmas, 2003 in tandem with the Disney movie, Disney suddenly announced they were delaying its release. Bad rumors spread throughout the industry among movie critics. Word was the film was boring and that the filmmakers had Davy Crockett dieing on his knees, begging for his life. We decided to delay the release of our own Alamo Issue, especially since the nice folks at Disney had been so co-operative with us. We had hoped for interviews with the cast and director, but they did not materialize in the blur of getting this movie onto the screen. With all the nay-saying, even playset collectors stayed away in droves. Still, we looked forward to it with an eagerness we could not restrain and were there opening night.

I am pleased to say the effort, at least to us, has been rewarded with a maybe-great movie, easily a 9 on our scale of 10.

In a brief prologue, the aftermath of the battle is seen. Dead defenders and massed dead of the Mexican army. Small vignettes of lifeless bodies who we will get to know later. Then the camera closes in on one of the Alamo's parapets: someone has scratched thirteen lines in the adobe, one for each day of the siege. They had me by then.

The story unfolds as the trails of the Alamo's "Holy Trio" - Crocket, Travis and Bowie -- begin in diverse parts of the country. Davy Crockett is in Washington, having just finished his tenure as a Congressman. He is struggling with fame of already being a legend, and what does a legend do next? Travis is resolving the split up of his family. And Sam Houston, played by Dennis Quaid, struggles in the same way Ulysses S. Grant did before he found his calling as a commander in the Civil War.

All three come to meet at the Alamo, each with somewhat conflicting goals. When Davy grinningly shows up, he is warmly welcomed with the statement "Boy I'd like to see Santa Anna's face when he hears you are here!" Davy's smile fades as it dawns on him the fighting isn't over and that he has just stepped into a seething cauldron of revolution; in Billy's face we see the expression of a man who knows he may have just stumbled into his own ill-fated future. It is at once humorous and fateful.

Meanwhile, the armies of Santa Anna are on the march Northward toward Texas, streaming through Mexico in the midst of a horrible snow storm in the first of the Napoleonic analogies that will finally take him to his own Waterloo. They are, as John Wayne said in his version of the Alamo, "wearin' out horses to get here" only this time we get to see it.

It is clear Santa Anna who will direct his own failure, even though he doesn't realize it is unfolding before him. In his first major scene an execution is taking place, wherein the prisoners, "by custom," he is told, should draw lots to see who is to be shot. The General demands they all be shot, so the world will ill know it is his hand, not fates, that has taken their lives. This is heady stuff indeed.

By this point in the film, the critics were fidgeting in their seats as evidenced by their reviews. They called this stuff "slow" - apparently the same people who praise "Freddy Meets Jason" for its inventiveness. And it about this time that everything we have heard about this movie is dead wrong. At least for those who know something about the event, their knowledge is rewarded with on-screen depictions of events that have never been shown before in a feature movie.

The second time I saw the film, it was with my little brother. And it did seem that some of the finer points in Alamo History were lost to him. But rather than be bored he was asking questions -- the 300 seat theater only had four other folks - and enjoying Davy Crockett's breezy performance.

One of the things critics say they hated was the historical heros' conflicts between each other. Bowie and Travis' antagonism is very brief -- the dialogue occurs during a party, and that's it. Yet the movie reviewers made overly much of the exchange - it is over in moments, and soon after the two men begin working together to defend the Alamo. Yet we were led to believe it was a major theme of the movie. It isn't.

What I objected to were the Mexicans who were supposedly on our side, including Juan Seguin's dialog. During the aforementioned argument, one is overheard to say, in effect :

"Why do you fight for these low-lifes? Santa Anna only wants the Alamo, they want the whole world." And Juan does not support his friends, he merely offers the Machiavellian retort that "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." As one of our subscribers bristled after seeing the film, "Our army has been fighting, dying and winning wars all over the world - name me one place we kept. Just one!" And that, I think, is the crux of what bothers me about today's movie critics. They will have the studios convinced audiences don't want historical spectacle. Instead, we're tired of being lectured to in mindless, politically correct ways. If I ever get this film on DVD I will cut out that scene. But just as the conflicts between Bowie and Travis were unfairly amplified, perhaps too, I have overly criticized the film for a relatively small moment. Others have lamented the lack of emphasis on Captain and Mrs. Dickinson's role, perhaps especially her report following the battle in which she described Travis drawing a line in the sand with his Army saber, and having seen the body of Davy Crockett to the right of the chapel.

As the Mexican Army floods San Antonio, the spectacle is heralded by the sight of a truly fine army, arrived after a hellish effort to meet destiny. In the first action, a skirmish line attempts to secure some ragged outbuildings. Davy leads a squad in house-to-house fighting to fend them off and soon sees what death looks like in the eyes of a young soldier, dying in front of him. "What's your name," Davy asks, but the boy's sightless eyes tell us we will never know the answers to this first of a series of heartfelt questions asked by the Texan defenders.

The next time it is used, Sam Houston has been searching for a place to stand and fight Santa Anna's army. As he looks over a field that will later be known as San Jacinto, the Texian's greatest victory, he asks quietly, "Do you have a name?"

And here came my second objection. It seems historically clear that Santa Anna, who had butchered so many lives, held his own life quite dear and escaped only to be found later disguised in women's clothing. I always look forward to see how filmmakers will change that neat bit of history and I wasn't let down. In this film he is found wearing the clothing of -- a private-- I guess it was. But certainly not the cowardly act of hiding in women's clothing.

There are indeed some wonderful moments in the film. In one, the pompous Santa Anna is unhappy with the placement of his artillery and wants the guns moved forward. His officers protest, noting that Davy Crockett is atop the walls and can "shoot the fly off a donkey's swishing tail at 180 yards." Santa Anna persists and Davy does indeed prove his skill.

As Santa Anna's band plays DeGuello, Davy remarks it has a pretty sound. The man next to him replies dryly, "It means, Slit Throat." And in a scene that will become famous some day, mark my words, Crockett plays fiddle in counterpart to the band's sonorous warnings of eminent death.

In another, a shot is fired by a Mexican cannon and you get to follow it right up the barrel, high over the fields as men scatter below, right down into the Alamo compound.

There is a ton to enjoy in this new Alamo, and I made sure to see it again on the big screen, because anything less will dwarf its spectacle. Yes, a few objections. But to me, the film as a whole was entirely entertaining. One caution: over a million feet of film was shot making this movie, and I have heard only about thirty thousand are in the movie I saw. We understood the movie originally began with a scene in Mexico, where a young boy working in the fields is conscripted to move North with the army. Bad early notices evidently made some severe cutting necessary (note to Hollywood: NEVER take the word of people who haven't seen your film). So, while I'd like to see the movie as originally intended, I believe the films' status as a box-office bust will pre-empt much in the way of deleted scenes or a directors' cut DVD. So go, enjoy it for what it is, and pass the word. - Rusty Kern