(movie review done in 2002)
In my recent review of "Uprising", I discussed the fact that the "miniseries" was essentially a faded genre for several years, as many high-profile projects came and went without much fanfare. "Roots" was one of the first miniseries broadcast on television in 1977; while it's easy to call it the best of its kind ever (it's also the most watched miniseries ever), simply saying that it's the best "miniseries" really fails to describe the experience, as "Roots" has transcended the boundaries of television and become part of history.
Writer Alex Haley had written a lengthy novel tracing his ancestry up to the current day. The incredibly moving and saddening tale that told of the horrors of slavery gained numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. There had only been one previous miniseries on at that point ("Rich Man, Poor Man"), but producer David Wolper was interested in creating another miniseries to tell the story of "Roots" over six nights. Wolper met with ABC, who were quite interested in producing the epic tale. The end result is astonishing, emotional and heartbreaking.
While the production probably didn't have a giant budget, the result is still a triumph in almost every regard. The series is consistently emotional; powerful, heartbreaking and magificently acted. Many of the stars and crew who participated in the commentary discuss the series with a great deal of pride and describe it as one of the highlights of their career and it's easy to see why. Levar Burton, who had only had acting experience previously in college, is absolutely outstanding as Kunta Kinte, who is horrifically stolen from his family and forced to become a slave in America. Over the next several hours, we are introduced to an enormous amount of characters over different time periods, ending with the real-life Alex Haley discussing his family. "Roots" remains no less extraordinary an achievement 25 years later and the series is as emotional and moving an experience to view today.
VIDEO: "Roots" is presented in the show's original 1.33:1 full-frame presentation. Now that the series is 30 years of age, one might expect that the show wouldn't be in the best condition, but my expectations were certainly exceeded by this presentation from Warner Brothers, who have clearly taken the time to present the elements in the best way they could. Sharpness and detail are very good, if not entirely consistent, as some shots on occasion do look a little bit soft, but not blurry or hazy.
There are print flaws on the presentation, unfortunately. A few specks, marks and the occasional instance of grain are visible here-and-there throughout the show. Yet, while frequent, these flaws are minor enough in amount that I really didn't find them bothersome. No pixelation or edge enhancement are noticed.
What really suprised me was that the colors looked especially terrific. Instead of appearing faded, colors instead looked particularly bold, vivid and nicely saturated. Flesh tones looked natural and accurate, as well. While this presentation isn't without some flaws, the picture quality was definitely better than I'd expected. Video quality seemed the same again here and was again pleasing.
SOUND: The original mono soundtrack has been included for this release in both English and French. The English mono track is particularly good, considering the age of the material. Pleasantly, the soundtrack has not been remixed in 5.1, which would have been completely unnecessary. What is important is that the track is free of distortion or other problems, although there are some instances where dialogue is a bit low in volume and not as easy to hear.
EXTRAS: Commentary: This is a commentary track that lasts throughout the entire miniseries. Producer David L. Wolper appears throughout, with additional contributions from writer William Blinn, directors David Greene, John Erman, Marvin Chomsky, production designer Jan Scott, casting director Lynn Stalmaster, and actors Edward Asner, LeVar Burton, Cicely Tyson, John Amos, Beverly Todd, Gary Collins, Sandy Duncan, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, John Schuck, Leslie Uggams, Georg Stanford Brown, and Lynne Moody. Warner Brothers and the DVD producers have done a terrific job editing this track together, as the commentary flows exceptionally well. While I usually like to have more than one person together talking on a track, these individuals really do an incredible job on their own discussing their pride in the series as well as some remarkable stories about the production. While all of the participants do spend a good amount of time praising those that they worked with, what I liked was that they praised that person, then went into further detail about how that person's work shined in this tremendous effort. This is really a fantastic track. There is also an additional option where a "Roots" logo will appear on the screen. Clicking on that will bring up a quick video clip of the commentary speaker.
Remembering Roots: This is an 18-minute documentary that was taken from additional interviews that were done during the commentary recording process. There are some terrific interviews with quite a number of people involved in the track, but Levar Burton's comments towards the end, when he shares a story about writer Alex Haley, are incredibly moving and touching.
Crossing Over: How Roots Captivated an Entire Nation: This is a new (2007) 20-minute documentary that provides (mostly) new interviews with cast and crew, who discuss in-detail (in-detail for a featurette that runs a little under 20 minutes) the development of the miniseries, network reluctance (due to the thought that there would not be enough interest), attempts to maintain accuracy and the decision to be realistic and, as a result, show more graphic material than had been seen on television at the time. Also quite interesting is the discussion of the impact of the series and the reaction of the network to the incredible ratings. This is a good overview of the miniseries.
Roots: One Year Later: This is a 45-minute documentary looking into the series that, as the documentary notes, is a look back at the series a year after the drama aired. There's a fair amount of clips woven into the documentary, but we do also get quite a few good tidbits, such as the research that author Alex Haley did for the book, as well as the screen test for Levar Burton. Overall, we get a decent look at how the miniseries came together, a bit of a look at the production and a lot about the impact the series had on the country.
Final Thoughts:"Roots" is an amazingly powerful epic that remains no less stunning 30 years later. The series has previously been available on tapes, but those who have previously owned the tapes will be very pleased with this terrific four-disc set. Those who own the prior release really have no reason to upgrade here, but those who have not picked up the set yet will find that this set offers the same material as the prior release along with a couple of new featurettes. Recommended.