Roots appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on these DVDs; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Discs one and two are double-sided, single-layered affairs, while DVD three is a DVD-14, which means one side is single-layered while episode six comes on a dual-layered platter. While the program definitely showed its age at times, for the most part I thought Roots provided a fairly satisfying visual experience.
Sharpness generally seemed solid. Some minor softness interfered at times, but those moments appeared infrequent. As a whole, the program looked nicely delineated and well defined. I saw few examples of moiré effects or jagged edges, and the presentation seemed to lack evidence of edge enhancement.
Not surprisingly, source flaws caused the most significant concerns. These were erratic, however. Substantial portions of Roots passed without incident and looked quite clean and fresh. On other occasions, though, a mix of defects marred the presentation. At various times, I saw examples of grit, speckles, grain, nicks, and spots. Grain was probably the most prevalent culprit, but a mix of other light debris also appeared. All in all, I really did think that the issues remained relatively minor, but the flaws occurred nonetheless.
Colors also were somewhat erratic, but they generally came across as reasonably bright and accurate. At times the hues appeared somewhat flat or faded, but those occasions didn’t occur frequently. For the most part, the tones seemed very solid and vibrant. Black levels varied a little but they usually stayed nicely deep and dense, while shadow detail showed moderately less consistency. Some low-light shots - such as those in the hold of the Lord Ligonier - appeared very clear and appropriately defined, but others seemed too opaque and thick. The former situation dominated, however, and these concerns didn’t last long. Ultimately, Roots offered a generally positive image.
Also relatively strong was the monaural soundtrack of Roots. Audio quality seemed a little thin at times, but the mix usually worked fine. Dialogue appeared reasonably natural, though speech tended to be somewhat flat on occasion. Still, I heard no concerns related to intelligibility or edginess, and the lines always appeared distinct.
Effects lacked much range or vividness, but they seemed to represent the elements acceptably well, and they showed no distortion or other problems in that domain. Music was similarly drab and lifeless, though the score did present some modest bass response at times. Overall, the soundtrack of Roots did nothing to elevate the material, but it didn’t harm it either.
How did the picture and sound of this “30th Anniversary Edition” of Roots compare to those of the 2002 ”25th Anniversary Edition"? They were absolutely identical. This release simply packages the original discs from 2002 with a fourth bonus DVD. Visuals and audio remain exactly the same.
This means we find all the supplements from the 2002 release plus some new ones. The retreads appear on discs one through three. We get an audio commentary that spans the entire 573 minutes of the production. Obviously, this isn’t a running affair. Really, only one participant shows up through the entire program: executive producer David L. Wolper appears on all six sides of the set. In addition, all of the participants return at the end of episode six to provide closing remarks and thanks.
Otherwise, folks come and go dependent on the content for this edited track. In addition to Wolper, we hear from directors David Greene, John Erman and Marvin Chomsky, writer William Blinn, production designer Jan Scott, casting director Lynn Stalmaster, and actors LeVar Burton, Edward Asner, Cicely Tyson, John Amos, Beverly Todd, Gary Collins, Sandy Duncan, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, John Schuck, Leslie Uggams, Georg Stanford Brown, and Lynne Moody. At least some of the participants actually watched parts of Roots while they spoke; during Uggams’ and Moody’s bits, it was clear that they had the show running, so they allowed us to get some screen-specific material. However, it seems obvious that most of the comments come from interviews and the speakers didn’t have direct access to the program.
Not that I regard this as a bad thing, for the Roots commentary offers a wealth of information. The participants touch on a slew of topics. We learn of the project’s origins as a film as well as many production challenges and the ways it affected the different folks. We hear about the influence on various careers and what it was like to work with so many varied people; we find a particular emphasis on impressions of Alex Haley. We get perspectives on the Roots legacy and its overwhelming success at the time and also get info on about a million other subjects.
Since Roots runs almost 10 hours, that’s a lot of time to fill. For the most part, the commentary does so well, as it covers the majority of the running time. Actually, the first three and the last two episodes pass with very few empty spaces, but the fourth one runs into more problems in that regard; quite a lot of side four lacks any audio material.
In addition, the commentary suffers from the notable absence of a few key players. Obviously, I don’t mean those who’ve passed on, but some folks still among the living didn’t show up during the track. Most significantly missed are Lou Gossett and Ben Vereen, since they enjoyed the most prominent roles among the missing. (I’ll forgive the absent O.J. Simpson, since I know he’s still busy searching for the real killer.)
Nonetheless, I’m nitpicking to a degree. The inclusion of an audio commentary on such a long program came as a pleasant surprise, and for the most part, the quality of this track was very good. Some sags occurred, but that was virtually inevitable. Overall, I really enjoyed this discussion of Roots.
One can take in the commentary as an audio-only piece or one can also check out the Video Inserts. That material appears in two ways. You can view the show normally, and when some video clips appear, a Roots logo will pop up onscreen. Hit “enter” on your remote and you’ll then see a snippet of the video commentary.
In addition, the DVDs offer Video Highlights. These compile interview snippets in one area and make it easier to access that material. Unfortunately, the “Video Highlights” domains don’t include all of the clips available during the show, so to see each one of them, you’ll have to sit through the program. That seems pointless; I don’t know why they didn’t just provide all of them via the separate option. Whatever the case may be, the video segments are marginally interesting, but I don’t see much point in those kinds of “talking head” shots; I’m perfectly happy to go with the audio-only rendition.
On Side Six of the set, we find some additional extras. A Roots Family Tree simply lists the various factions and connects them together on a chart. A more extensive version of this appears in the DVD-ROM area detailed soon.
More significant is Remembering Roots, a new collection of interviews about the project. Anyone who expects this to be a full-fledged documentary will find disappointment. Instead, it’s really just a collection of outtakes from the interview sessions for the audio commentary. The 18-minute and 45-second piece connects these snippets under vague themes and essentially gives us a condensed version of the commentary. A little of the material repeats between the two, but mostly “Remembering” includes exclusive footage. It seems somewhat redundant after almost 10 hours of commentary, but it’s got enough useful information to merit a look. I about gagged when Wolper read a terrible poem about Roots, though.
In addition, the packaging for Roots touts some DVD-ROM Features available on Side Six. It discusses the Interactive Roots Family Tree. This piece requires Internet access, unfortunately, which makes it something of a nuisance to run. It tended to move slowly on my machine, and I’m not sure why the content couldn’t simply have been included on the DVD itself. From what I could tell, this section basically just listed the different folks, gave us a little text, and occasionally showed pictures of the actors who portrayed them. Some short video montages accompany the listings for the many of the significant characters such as Chicken George and Kizzy. While it’s clearly more expansive than the simple chart found on the main DVD, it still doesn’t offer much information. Frankly, it’s pretty useless and uninteresting.
In addition to the “Family Tree”, Roots includes a mix of Weblinks. We get connections to an official website, WB “special events”, “latest DVDs”, “sign up for Movie Mail” and WB Online. Note that I ran into some problems getting these to run at times. They worked at times but flopped on others.
Disc Four presents new supplements not found on the 25th Anniversary set. It opens with an ad for the upcoming DVD release of Roots: The Next Generations and also includes two programs. Originally broadcast in January 1978, Roots: One Year Later goes for 49 minutes, 45 seconds as it mixes mini-series clips with then-new behind the scenes footage. We get some comments from Wolper, Burton, Brown, Asner, author Alex Haley, USC sociologist Dr. Mary Laslett, then-UN ambassador Andrew Young, slave-owners’ descendant Judge Nelson Waller, slave descendant Effie Murray, and actor Lloyd Bridges.
Hosted by Louis Gossett, Jr., “Later” includes a few little journeys. We learn of Alex Haley’s research for his book and follow him on a trip back to Kunta Kinte’s African village along with his brothers George and Julius. Wolper tells us why he chose to adapt the story and elements of the production. The program offers reflections on the mini-series’ massive success and subsequent impact on society and those involved in it. We get to know a little more about Haley’s family and their reactions to the Roots phenomenon. Haley and Burton visit the site of Kunta Kinte’s grave and other historical locations, and we take in a reunion of the descendants of slaves and slave-owners.
Inevitably, “Later” often becomes somewhat self-congratulatory. Since it concentrates on the mini-series’ success, this means a lot of talk about its greatness. Nonetheless, we find plenty of useful elements here. We find cool tidbits like Burton’s screentest and a clip of Haley with Johnny Carson. There’s enough nice historical material here to make “Later” worth your time.
For something new, we check out Crossing Over: How Roots Captivated an Entire Nation. This 20-minute and 30-second show features comments from Burton, Wolper, Blinn, USC Professor of Critical Studies Dr. Todd Boyd, former ABC executive Brandon Stoddard, Alex Haley’s son William, and actors James Earl Jones and Ruby Dee.
“Nation” examines the national social mindset in early 1977 and how Roots fit the country at that time. We get info about how the book got developed into a mini-series, the decision to use white writers and other racial elements, concerns among the suits at ABC and controversial aspects of the production, and historical accuracy and liberties, and worries whether the mini-series would spark racial tensions. Finally, the show examines the mini-series’ reception and success as well as its impact on society.
“Nation” presents a reasonable overview of the mini-series and the era in which it debuted. We find some repetition from other parts of the DVD, but it encapsulates the issues in a decent manner. Granted, I’m not sure you’ll be up for more information of this sort after all the other pieces, but “Nation” works well on its own.
We’ll likely never see a TV phenomenon like Roots again, but at least we can still watch the original on DVD. The show took the country by storm and remains the mini-series against which all others must be compared. After 30 years, it continues to provide a rich and winning program that communicates the pain suffered by slaves but that never resorts to the cheap theatrics of weaker pieces like Amistad. The DVD provides aging but generally positive picture and sound as well as a roster of extras highlighted by a pretty compelling audio commentary. With a list price of nearly $60, Roots seems a little expensive, but I can’t quibble with the quality of the production.
Is there any reason for fans who already own the “25th Anniversary” Roots to “double dip” on this “30th Anniversary” release? Nope. Sure, it adds a couple new extras, but it presents identical picture and audio. Those added supplements aren’t nearly enough to justify a repurchase of Roots. If you never got that one, though, snag the new set.
To rate this film visit the 25th Anniversary Edition review of ROOTS