If we’re to believe John Lee Hancock’s atrocious The Alamo, the infamous 1836 standoff at a Texas mission was instigated by a leering Hispanic crossbreed of the Joker and Snidely Whiplash. How else to explain Emilio Echevarría’s foppish, invisible mustache-twirling portrayal of General Antonio López de Santa Anna? Certainly it’s the latest example of the mindless racial subjugation practiced in several recent Hollywood period epics. The Alamo‘s Mexicans are bourgeois cartoons, and its black characters are meek-minded servants who call postmodern attention to their own cowardliness. Whatever the superficial accuracy of these portrayals, it’s not enough for a film to show its minority characters from such a pious, hang-our-heads-in-shame distance—racism can be as much an unintentionally passive act as an intentionally active one.
The offense is deepened by the stone-faced Caucasians at The Alamo‘s center. General Sam Houston (Dennis Quaid, in probably his worst performance) is Santa Anna’s polar opposite, a bellowing, guttural drunk garbed like the Mad Hatter and sporting Wolverine’s coiffure. As the bronchially challenged James Bowie, Jason Patric seems oblivious to his character’s strangely sexual undercurrents—you’d think that huge-ass knife he carries might have clued the actor in to Bowie’s, um, endowments. And as Davy Crockett, Billy Bob Thornton makes an admirable attempt at demystifying an American legend, only to be sabotaged by the film’s innumerably ludicrous speeches-drowned-out-by-heavenly-orchestra. My personal favorite involves Crockett’s cannibalistic description of potatoes and burned Indian flesh with the howler of a punchline, “Now, when someone passes me the poe-tate-ers, I just pass ‘em right back.”
In his essential and erudite tome The Dream Life, film critic J. Hoberman writes of the 1960 John Wayne-directed The Alamo: “[The film was a] Cold War [scenario] that, years in the making, germinated as American boys did battle in far-off Korea and blossomed during the period of the Missile Gap to ripen in the tropical breeze of the postcolonial freedom struggle.” If we’re to judge by this millennium edition of The Alamo, the U.S. of A. seems condemned to repeat itself—only the names have been changed to protect the ignorant. Arising from the still-smoldering ashes of far-off Iraq in a period of marital sanctity, this candidate for worst film of the year is further, sobering proof that every dog(gerel) has its day and every generation gets the movie it deserves. To paraphrase the film’s (and history’s) catchphrase-ready rallying cry: We’d all do best to remember The Alamo in order to forget it.
Even if the explosions that overwhelm the Alamo in John Lee Hancock's film aren't as explosive as some might want them to be, Carter Burwell's music is so invasive some might feel a little dirty after having to suffer through the disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track. Edge enhancement is somewhat of a problem, and the image as a whole is a little on the fuzzy side, but the Alamo looks good as new. Wait, that's not a good thing, right?
Okay, so Buena Vista Home Entertainment went to all the trouble to get John Lee Hancock to provide commentary for the five deleted scenes included on this Alamo DVD but couldn't get him to sit down and record a commentary track for the film itself. Historians Alan Huffines and Stephen L. Hardin share their thoughts on the film, but don't expect an unbiased lecture. The good news is that the men are engaging for the most part, but since both served as consultants on The Alamo, take their appreciation of the film and their understanding of the countless liberties Hancock took throughout its production with a grain of salt. Also included on the disc is an above-average making-of documentary, the equally serviceable "Walking in the Footsteps of Heroes," the masturbatory "Deep in the Heart of Texans," and trailers for Raising Helen, Around the World in 80 Days, Hero, and Alias.
"I remember.the Alamo," says Pee-Wee in Tim Burton's Big Adventure. Now Comes Hancock's The Alamo to destroy the man-child's memory.