Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 20, 2004)
Often when a big-budget movie based on something famous hits the screen, weíll find ancillary DVDs hit the market. Thus before Pearl Harbor debuted in May 2001, we saw many related releases. These ranged from documentaries to other movies such as Tora! Tora! Tora!
Logically, if the movie becomes a hit, audiences will want to learn more about the subject. These products also can help capitalize on advance interest in the flick, as most of them hit the streets before the movie debuts.
In the case of Remember the Alamo, the product will have to live or die on its own. Not only did it land on the shelves weeks after the release of 2004ís The Alamo, but also the movie in question badly tanked. As I write this, itís been on screens for a week and a half but only earned back $16 million of its $140 million budget.
Not that any of this affects the quality of Remember itself. Originally aired on PBS as part of the American Experience series, director/writer Joseph Tovares presents a history of the legendary event. Narrated by Hector Elizondo, the program uses a mix of techniques to examine its subject. We find re-enacted depictions of matters along with archival materials and interviews. In the latter category, we hear from historians Andres Tijerina, Jesus Francisco de le Teja, Adan Benavides, Carolina Crimm, David R. McDonald, Timothy Matovina, Gregg Cantrell, Harry Watson, Anastacio Bueno, James E. Crisp, and Stephen L. Hardin, and anthropologist Richard Flores.
The program starts in 1813, 23 years before the battle at the Alamo. The show combines general history with a more personal perspective that relates the experiences of Jose Antonio Navarro, a Tejano born in 1795. We learn about the 1813 rebellion started by the Tejano community against Spain due to economic issues. The program discusses the Spanish attitude toward their colony and Tejano subjects and how this led to a revolution. It follows the results of this fight and also gets into the effects it had on Navarro, whose family was instrumental in the rebellion. He fled the area after the Spanish suppressed their subjects but returned three years later via a general amnesty, though he found his home in ruins due to Spanish retribution.
In 1821, Mexico earned its freedom from Spain, and Navarro took a role as a leader of Texas. He soon became San Antonioís mayor. Around the same time, Stephen Austin arrived in San Antonio, and he worked to bring US families to Texas. We learn background about him, his goals and his efforts. The program also sets this in the context of the American economic problems, as the country then started to emerge from a depression.
We see the colonization of Texas as well as Navarroís efforts in this vein. Austinís colony prospered and aided Navarro as well, and both earned growing influence in Texas. However, after a few years of success, the Mexican government decided to meld another territory with Texas, which left the latter folks unhappy with their lost autonomy. The realm develops success through the export of cotton, which leads to the prevalence of slavery. However, Mexican opposition to this grows, which Navarro worked around via loopholes.
In the meantime, the US tries to purchase Texas from Mexico but fails. Nonetheless, many US settlers continue to arrive, which the Mexican government tries to halt. This worries Navarro and Austin, as they need the Americans to continue the cotton trade. When the lawmakers refuse an appeal from Austin, he encourages Tejanos to pursue their own state, which lands him in jail. Further problems start to fester as US settlers begin to worry about changes and setbacks.
As this occurs, Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana takes the seat as Mexican president. Santa Ana experienced feelings of jealousy toward Navarro, which seems to set the stage for later problems, as bad blood remained between them. Santa Ana took power in a heavy-handed way, which led to fights between US settlers and Mexican soldiers.
Santa Ana wanted the Americans out of Mexico and worked to boot them. He sent more troops to San Antonio, which bolstered the fears of the settlers. The Tejanos also joined with the Americans, though not in the cause of independence; they just desired greater autonomy. This eventually led to the famed battle at the Alamo. The program examines that as well as the aftermath and effects.
At first blush, Alamo feels a little politically correct, as it accentuates the role of Navarro and other non-American combatants. It downplays the role of the Americans pretty strongly and seems to protest too much at times. I understand the desire to broaden beyond the usual Anglo emphasis, but it seems to go a little too far in that direction at times.
Nonetheless, the program offers a reasonably good examination of the roots of the Alamo battle and gives us nice insight into the issues. It goes through the origins well and follows a logical and taut path. Despite the political correctness, Alamo provides useful depth in regard to the Tejano presence and role. This information does tend to get lost among the legends, so it seems worthwhile to investigate it more here.
Anyone who expects many details about the actual battle will go away disappointed, however. Alamo prefers to concentrate more on the events before and after that fight. This works fine since it explores material with which most feel fairly unfamiliar, but it may disappoint some who want to know more about the conflict itself.
Still, Remember the Alamo gives us a valuable examination of its subject. The program never really excels, as it comes across as a fairly typical documentary. It progresses at a decent pace but never turns into anything terribly compelling or absorbing. The material seems worthwhile and the show generally achieves its goals, but it simply lacks much zing or charisma.