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.
'ROOTS' really changed the way everyone watched television and what movies and TV shows were capable of, but the much bigger change came with an entire nation, as this iconic and amazing miniseries that debuted in 1977 changed the way we as a people think about racism, slavery, and people of different cultures. This unflinching look at slavery in America shook the United States to its core and became a milestone and centerpiece in filmmaking, as well as a small glimpse into the United State's trouble past, so that we may learn from our mistakes and make a better future.
Based on the book by Alex Haley ('Roots: The Saga of an American Family), the series follows a multi-generational family that descended from the African young man named Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton), who was a Mandinka warrior in Africa, when he was taken by US slave kidnappers and sold into slavery in America. Haley based his novel on his family history, which he said was traced back to one family member in particular. If that is true or not, the fact remains that 'ROOTS' the TV show still holds up stronger today than ever, given our current political and social climate here in the states.
The attention to detail of the accounts of slaves and slave owners that pre-date the Civil War thru the Civil War are incredible. Never really before 'ROOTS' did we see what life was like for free men, before they were kidnapped and sold into slavery. In addition to that, we get a longer glimpse than ever before what it was like on those horrid boats across the ocean to the USA. 'ROOTS' just isn't a story about Kunta Kinte, but rather about his family and the generations that follow him. Kunta eventually has a daughter named Kizzy (Leslie Uggams), who then has as son of her own named George (Ben Vereen), or otherwise known as Chicken" George, due to his uncanny knack to train chickens for cockfighting. George is the first of Kunta's family to become a free man, even having a son of his own.
However, most people relate to Kunta, as he is a young boy at first, who never ever gives up his dream of freedom, as he tries to escape or make the best of his horrible situation with friends such as Fiddler (Louis Gossett Jr.), who takes Kunta under his wing at a slave auction. There is a ton of beauty and poetry to behold in 'ROOTS', despite the graphic and sad subject matter. The tone of freedom and never giving up on humanity is apparent throughout the series. The performances by everyone is solid, including Ed Asner, John Amos, Lorne Greene, George Hamilton, and Vic Morrow amongst everyone else.
This story and film have impacted so many lives for the better over the years that you could say 'ROOTS' might have just made this world a little bit better, or at least made us learn from our terrible mistakes. There has never been something as epic or told so well as 'ROOTS' was told, and still continues to be one of the greatest achievements in filmmaking today.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'ROOTS' comes with three 50GB Blu-ray Discs from Warner Bros. that is Region A Locked. There is also a digital download code insert as well. The discs are housed in hard, blue, eco-friendly case that is sleeved in a hard cardboard case that includes a 32-page booklet that details each episode.
'ROOTS' comes with a 1080p HD transfer and is presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio for 4x3 televisions. Yes, that means you'll have the black bars on the sides of your widescreen televisions. It's cool that they kept the aspect ratio the same as it was in 1977 when tube televisions existed, but I wish there was an option to view it the series in widescreen today for modern audiences. For a made-for-tv miniseries some forty years ago, this image has held up quite well.
Warner Bros. has done a great job cleaning up the picture to give a bold, new look to this classic miniseries. Detail is fairly vivid and sharp throughout, showcasing individual hairs on the actors faces and heads and detailed stitching patterns in the old timey wardrobe. Makeup effects, such as whip lacerations look gooey and life-like and individual beads of sweat are easily seen and distinguishable. Wooden shacks and fences, as well as ropes show all of the imperfections in their structure as well, particularly during the exterior well lit scenes. Colors pop off screen in exteriors too, with bold greens, browns, reds, and blue skies, particularly over the ocean.
There is also a nice layer of grain that doesn't tend to fluctuate too much, keeping that old filmic look to the image. The darker scenes at night tend to bleed a little bit, foregoing some of the detail from time to time, as well as color, but it's a small gripe in addition to the lack of widescreen options here. Black levels are mostly deep and inky and the skin tones are natural. There is some very minor instances of video noises, as well as speckling and dirt, but other than that, this video presentation is quite good.
This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix, although the box art says Dolby Digital. There are various other Dolby Digital 2.0 options in other languages. I wouldn't go as far as to say that this audio mix has a ton of depth, but it does a great job for being a miniseries from the 70s. Sound effects are strong and realistic with each whip crack and canon blast making a dreadful impact. Ambient noises of the African countryside and then again in the states are quite good as well with nature sounds and people chattering coming through the speakers nicely. Just don't expect a ton of low ends here.
Dialogue is always clear and easy to follow, even with all of the other elements chiming in at the same time. The score is sweeping and always adds to the deep emotional tone of the film without drowning out any other noise. There were no pops, cracks, hiss, or highs shrills here, leaving this audio presentation with solid marks. I just wish there was a 5.1 option to fully immerse yourself into this time period.
Roots: The American Story Continues (HD, 27 Mins.) - This is a new and modern little interview series with celebrities discussing how important the original series 'ROOTS' was and continues to be in this day and age. Whoopi Goldberg, James Earl Jones, Blair Underwood, and more show up here.
Roots: The Cast Looks Back (HD, 29 Mins.) - This is a new bonus feature that features interviews with most of the cast of the original miniseries. They talk about making the series and how it has transformed their lives. It gets a little emotional, but definitely worth the watch.
Crossing Over: How Roots Captivated an Entire Nation (HD, 21 Mins.) - This is an older series of interviews with the cast and crew of ROOTS, where they talk about the reactions from people around the world to the series.
Connecting with Past (HD, 14 Mins.) - The cast and crew discuss some of their family history and how it related to ROOTS.
The Struggle to Make ROOTS (HD, 23 Mins.) - Like the above mentioned bonus features, this one has more interviews with the filmmakers and actors talking about making the film, casting, and some of the hardships that went down during filming.
LeVar Burton: Original Screen Test (HD, 8 Mins.) - A black and white audition in costume with LeVar Burton.
Alex Haley Interview by David Frost (HD, 37 Mins.) - Here is the long segment from 'The David Frost Show', where the British host interviews Alex Haley about ROOTS and the true stories he drew the inspiration on.
ROOTS: One Year Later (HD, 48 Mins.) - This is the original documentary that aired on the one year anniversary of the debut of ROOTS, where the cast and crew discuss the memorable scenes from the show, the impact it had over the year, all of the press and promo the series got, and a little bit of behind the scenes information.
Booklet - There is a 32-page booklet that is included with episode information and images from the series and promo art. Unfortunately, there is no technical information.
'ROOTS' is one of the BEST films/miniseries to ever grace the small screen. the amount of detail, character, and story told here is unprecedented, even in today's world, let along back in the 70s. Not only is this an excellent film from top to bottom, spring no expense or fluff, but it sparked the discussions that we still have today about different cultures and racism. Never before has a film ignited a nation really to remember our past, learn from it, and make a better future. The performances and filming are all award worthy. Hell, I think it won all the awards and it was much deserved. The new video and audio presentations are excellent and the two new bonus features along with the older ones are all worth watching, even though it's mostly just interviews with everyone. This is a must-own set!