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The Alamo

Far more compelling than any debate over the historical accuracy of this 2004 budget-buster is the question of whether the effort was produced by Disney, as claimed, or a secret cabal of lazy high school history teachers desperate for an inoffensive epic capable of occupying 135 minutes of unplanned class time. The Alamo recounts, in sterile yet sentimental fashion, the legendary 1836 siege by Mexican General Santa Ana (Emilio Echevarría) and his 5,000-strong army of a makeshift mission-turned-fort defended by less than 200 "Texians" (read: misfits, has-beens, and drunkards with a maverick streak) and Tejanos, in what would prove to be a deceptively pivotal fight in the decades-long struggle for political control of Texas. With no support from General Sam Houston's (Dennis Quaid) nearby troops, fumbling folklore heroes Jim Bowie (Jason Patric) and David Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton) band together with a resolute nobody, Col. William Travis (Patrick Wilson), to hold off the Mexican Army for 13 days before capitulating in the infamous massacre that became a rallying cry for Houston's troops as they defeated Santa Ana soon after. While "blockbuster" versions of historical events are usually subject to much academic scrutiny, there has been little interest is doing so with this endeavor, which, despite its hefty $100 million budget, is so dull as to be mostly inconsequential, and a box-office bomb, to boot. Originally slated to star Russell Crowe in a re-teaming with his Beautiful Mind director Ron Howard, The Alamo somehow retained its sense of bloat despite losing that marquee star power, with Quaid filling in for Crowe, and unaccomplished neophyte John Lee Hancock (The Rookie) taking the helm. Hancock fails to get a handle on his massive subject, churning out a very ordinary epic with a dispiriting knack for hokey sentimentality, and only Thornton surmounts the limitations of the committee-written screenplay to create any sense of adventure. If there's anything good to be said about this lackluster effort, it is either that it never veers completely into silly revisionism or that it was presciently made with a minimum of profanity and on-screen violence, making it perfect for the uninspired classroom viewings it seems predestined for. Buena Vista's DVD release of The Alamo offers a good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with THX-certified Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Marginally better than the feature film is the commentary track, not by the filmmakers, but historians Alan Huffines and Stephen Hardin, who discuss the script's accuracies and foul-ups. This disc also includes a handful of short featurettes about the film's production, its location, and the history behind it; and five deleted scenes with optional commentary by Hancock. Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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