The classic story of Roots is retold in this miniseries based on Alex Haley's 1976 novel. The show paints a portrait of American slavery through the journey of a family that has a will to survive through many hardships. Malachi Kirby stars as Kunta Kinte, a proud and educated young man who uses those traits to empower himself when he is captured and sold into slavery. While he is enslaved, he challenges his fellow slaves to fight for their freedom as he continues working toward achieving his dream of escaping and returning to his homeland of The Gambia.
Back in January of 1977, the whole country came together for a week and watched one of the best productions ever to be shown on television. I'm of course talking about 'Roots'. This series sparked such emotion from almost everyone, that is became a national phenomenon, where families would sit and watch this miniseries and then discuss and teach their kids about one of the greatest blunders on American culture and life. With award winning performances, an epic setting and story that spanned multiple generations, and the telling of Alex Haley's novel, 'Roots' became a milestone in filmmaking and what television could and should be in the future. It really hasn't been matched since then, in creating a togetherness of people, all talking and sharing their feelings about the same thing, even if it's only for a little while.
With the success of the original series back in 1977 and how amazing the production and performances were, it seems like 'Roots' was one of those projects that would be untouched in the remake realm. However, in this day and age where Hollywood wants to remake, reboot, and re-imagine every single little tiny movie and television show - 'Roots' was indeed remade in 2016 with a bigger production value that makes everything look bigger and better than the original, if that is even possible. Surprisingly and fortunately for us, this remake can stand right next to the original series in terms of quality and presentation.
There is still an emotional heft with each episode that will leave tears rolling down your face as well as very strong performances from the new cast, including Malachi Kirby (Kunta Kinte), Forest Whitaker (Fiddler), Anika Noni Rose (Kizzy), Rege-Jean Page (Chicken George), and Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Tom Lea). I wouldn't go as far as to say this is an improved version of the original 1977 show, but rather a remake with the use of new technology to put you even deeper into this historical account of an American family. Everything looks to be on a grander scale in this 2016 remake and is more violent than the original series, which drives the shock value up even more here. The story and characters are for the most part, the same with some differences sprinkled in here and there.
For example, where Kunta and his family live and how he was captured is different in this 2016 version than in the original. The moral dilemmas that the Captain of the slave ship faces here are more sinister than in the original. Perhaps some of the bigger differences are with Chicken George, as he has more background and story this time around, and the fact that Kunta is forced to fight in the Revolutionary War. There are some other differences throughout, but that is just a taste of what to expect. It all fits perfectly into this new 2016 remake and will still conjure up similar emotions just like original 1977 series did. Malachi Kirby is fantastic in this role as Kunta and can hold a candle to LeVar Burton's performance every night of the week. Forest Whitaker's Fiddler is great too, but there was something about Louis Gossett Jr.'s performance that I still gravitate to.
There is no doubt that this 2016 version of 'Roots' is an amazing feat in filmmaking and performances. perhaps it doesn't hold the status as the original did, but then again, we have seen many films and television projects in the past decade that covers similar subject matter. This might create a "seen that already" mentality when it comes to this version, but make no mistake, this is top quality from top to bottom and brings with it all of the emotional weight that the original series did back in 1977. 'Roots' in 2016 is one of those rare examples of when a remake shines and can stand next to its original.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Roots' (2016) comes with two 50GB Blu-ray Discs that contain the episodes along with one 25GB Blu-ray Disc that contains the sole 43-minute extra of this release from Lionsgate that is Region A Locked. There is an insert for a download code included. The discs are housed in a hard, blue plastic case with a cardboard sleeve.
This 2016 version of 'Roots' comes with an excellent 1080p HD transfer and is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio. This series was shot digitally and looks fantastic, showcasing even more detail and color than of the original did. Detail is sharp and vivid throughout in all lighting conditions. Closeups reveal excellent facial features, including every bead of sweat, drop of blood, individual hairs, and wrinkles.
Every laceration and wound on the body is extremely graphic as the makeup effects look realistic and brutal in this vivid closeups. The period piece costumes show the intimate stitching and textured cloth very well here too. Wider shots never go soft, showcasing the many rifles, ropes, and set pieces nicely. Every line and splinter of wood can be seen on the houses and slave ship, giving this series some excellent visual depth. Colors can be striking at times, but there is an overall muted tone to the film.
There are some greens and other primary colors that pop right off screen, but other than that, things look a bit muted or cooler, especially when in South America. When in Africa, things have a warmer glow to them. This is a stylistic choice of course, and not something from the transfer. Black levels are deep and inky throughout and the skin tones are natural. There were no major issues with any banding, aliasing, or video noise to speak of, leaving this video presentation with great marks.
This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix and sounds excellent in each episode. This is a full force of sound that is utilized very well with all speakers. The sound effects of rifles blasting off, whips, kicks, hits, and battle fights all sound robust, loud, and full of energy. The sound effects have some excellent directionality and puts you in the center of the chaotic action at times. Gentler sound effects and ambient noises of the ship sailing through the water, wind blowing in the fields, and other people screaming or chattering all sound dynamic and full.
The score of the series is sweeping and adds to the emotional heft of the production without drowning out any other sound aspect. The lows bring the bass in with the heavier action scenes as well, and never crosses into rocky territory, leaving a full and balanced sound. Lastly, the dialogue is always clear and easy to follow with some sporadic English subtitles here and there. There were no pops, cracks, hiss, or shrills, leaving this audio presentation with great marks.
Roots: A History Revealed (HD, 43 Mins.) - This is a super long promo reel for the series with cast and crew interviews and some behind the scenes footage. There isn't a lot of substance here and feels more like an EPK reel than anything of real value. I wish there was more. This extra is the only thing on the third disc. The other two discs have a couple of trailers, but that's it.
This is one of the rare instances where a remake is as strong and emotional as the original outing. 'Roots' is by far one of the milestones in all of filmmaking and this 2016 version adds a bit to the original. With excellent performances, incredible set pieces, and some differences in the story along the way, this version still musters up tears and emotions just like it did in 1977. The video and audio presentations are both top notch here, but the only extra is a super long EPK type of bonus feature, which is upsetting. Still, this version is incredible from top to bottom and is highly recommended!
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.