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Roots: The Complete Original Series (1977) - Blu-ray Review

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Roots: The Comeplte Series (1977) - Blu-ray Review

Synopsis: Adapted from author, Alex Haley’s best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Roots: The Complete Original Series chronicles the expansion of Haley’s own family across many generations. The eight-part series follows the legacy of Kunta Kinte, (portrayed by Burton, who earned a Primetime Emmy® Award nomination for his role), a young, 18th  century African warrior who is brought to the United States and sold into slavery. The saga follows the generations of his descendants in the United States through the Civil War and beyond, and shows the heartbreaking struggles they face trying to survive slavery and attain their freedom.

3 stars

Arriving for the first time on blu-ray, Alex Haley’s Roots is sure to capture the attention of those who originally watched the 8-episode narrative.  It’s hard for me to see that this release has much of a life outside of that circle.  It is quickly being replaced with The History Channel’s remake.  The award-winning series from 1977 broke viewership records and made LeVar Burton a household name.  It also opened a lot of white America’s eyes in its heartbreaking portrayal of slavery and racist attitudes toward black America with its documenting of the legacy of Kunta Kinte.  The success of the series resulted in lasting bragging rights of 140 million viewers, 37 Emmy nominations (winning a total of 9) and a Golden Globe.  With this release on blu-ray, the mini-series celebrates its 40th anniversary.

If only the series held up as well as its legacy, though. 

I’m not about to fault Roots when it comes to production values or the dated acting involved.  Even if some performances come off as inauthentic, the success of this production is largely upon the actors and actresses’ shoulders.  The problem is that the adaptation of Alex Haley’s bestselling novel is largely one-dimensional and a lot of people – who are still angry and know about such things as revenge – might be turned off by its somewhat “clean” handling of serious social issues.  The producers of this series obviously did not want to send certain messages to the Black community at the time of its release.  I originally saw this production when I was in Middle School, years after it was produced.  It fit in with the myth of our American history but did little to expand our knowledge of what actually happened.  It is still appropriate for that age, I guess, and that’s why we were exposed to it.  But its narrative – revisiting it as an adult – leaves out way too much. 

Kinte, a young 18th century African warrior is brought into the United States and sold as a slave.  The series follows his descendants through the Civil War and beyond, and focuses on their struggles as African Americans living in the United States, the land of the free.  But that freedom is not for all and the long battle for freedom that follows Kinte’s descendants is one that STILL haunts America.  The 12-hours that make up Roots are a good introductory into some of the social and racial issues plaguing us still but, as our country is changing and shifting its views, the call for social justice in Roots feels weak and, as Quentin Tarantino has publically expressed, synthetic.  I agree with his assessment. 

The cast is impressive and STILL the best thing about the series.  Look at its overall roster: John Amos, Maya Angelou, Edward Asner, Lloyd Bridges, Georg Stanford Brown, LeVar Burton, Macdonald Carey, Olivia Cole, Gary Collins, Chuck Connors, Scatman Crothers, Ji-Tu Cumbuka, Brad Davis, Sandy Duncan, Lynda Day George, Louis Gossett Jr., Lorne Greene, Moses Gunn, George Hamilton, Hilly Hicks, Burl Ives, Lawrence Hilton Jacobs, Carolyn Jones, Doug McClure, Ian McShane, Lynne Moody, Vic Morrow, Thalmus Rasulala, Robert Reed, Harry Rhodes, Richard Roundtree, Raymond St. Jacques, John Schuck, Paul Shenar, Madge Sinclair, Beverly Todd, Cicely Tyson, Leslie Uggams, Ben Vereen, Ralph Waite, William Watson and Ren Woods.  It’s insane and a good step at the time for Hollywood to make but have they followed it up with anything other than slave narratives every decade or so?  Look at the last round of Oscar nominations and tell me otherwise.  The lack of diversity, especially in this day and age, is shocking.

We have been spoiled by some seriously great television – honest and direct – in the years since the mini-series was crowned king of all entertainment.  And Roots shows limitations in its narrative.  I am sure some will enjoy revisiting its territory.  For me, though, the narrative – when it needs to count – is a bit too simple-minded in the knowledge of the institutionalized racism it expresses.  Is it still impactful?  To a degree, yes, but I think even its fans will see some of the cracks in this mini-series, now that it is finally getting re-introduced into the public sphere for purchase. 

Roots is now available to own on Blu-ray from Warner Bros.

roots-lg2

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - Own it on Blu-ray and Digital HD 6/7
Screen Formats: 1.33:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, French, Italian SDH, Japanese, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (48kHz, 24-bit); French: Dolby Digital 2.0; Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0; Italian: Dolby Digital 2.0; Japanese: Dolby Digital 2.0
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; Three-disc set (3 BD); UV digital copy; Digital copy
Region Encoding: A

Originally shot on 35mm film, the 40th Anniversary Blu-ray release from Warner Bros. supports a 1080i High-Definition encode and a 1.78:1 ratio.  Spread out over three discs (with much of the supplemental material on the third and final disc), the cleaned-up image is detailed with nice burnt oranges and strong blacks hitting strong levels for something originally filmed in the late 70s.  The grain is natural and consistent.  Colors are strong and vibrant even.  The overall contrast is deep even if there are noticeable defects in the crush of shadows.  The DTS Master Audio 2.0 is a decent monaural soundtrack for the series.  Dialogue is clean, clear, and balanced with the music.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • None

Special Features:

Roots gets a good mix of special features that focus on the making of the series, its impact, and interviews with the cast.  Up front is a reflection on the impact of the series featuring Whoopi Goldberg, James Earl Jones, Blair Underwood, Debbie Allen, Tavis Smiley, Shonda Rhimes and Reverend Al Sharpton.  This is followed by a retrospective about the filming of the series and how it changed their lives forever, the impact of the series, a look at some test screens, and an interview with Haley.  A 36-page book about the series is also included in the set.

  • Roots: The American Story Continues
  • The Cast Looks Back
  • Crossing Over: How Roots Captivated an Entire Nation
  • Connecting With the Past
  • The Struggle to Make Roots
  • LeVar Burton: Original Screen Test
  • Alex Haley Interview by David Frost
  • Roots: One Year Later

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