Roots appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on these Blu-ray Discs. While the program showed its age at times, for the most part I thought Roots provided a 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 no examples of moiré effects or jagged edges, and the presentation seemed to lack evidence of edge haloes. Source flaws barely appeared; I noticed rare spots or specks, but given the length of the program, these created no distractions.
Colors 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 solid and vibrant.
Black levels varied a little but they usually stayed nicely deep and dense, while shadow detail showed fair consistency. Some low-light shots - such as those in the hold of the Lord Ligonier - appeared very clear and appropriately defined, but others seemed a little too opaque and thick. The former situation dominated, however, and these concerns didn’t last long. Ultimately, Roots offered a positive image that held up well after 40 years.
I also felt reasonably pleased with the DTS-HD MA 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 great 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 average, 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, and it was fine given its age and origins.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the ”30th Anniversary Edition" DVD? Audio seemed a little more dynamic, though not by much, as there’s only so much that could be achieved with 40-year-old material created for a TV show.
Visuals offered more obvious improvements, though. The Blu-ray looked better defined, more vivid and notably cleaner. The nature of the original photography restricted the final result, but this turned into an impressive step up in quality.
(Note that the 30th Anniversary DVD duplicated the episode discs from the original 2002 DVDs. Obviously this makes comparisons between the Blu-ray and the 2002 release the same as what I stated above.)
The Blu-ray mixes old and new extras. Originally broadcast in January 1978, Roots: One Year Later goes for 47 minutes, 37 seconds as it mixes mini-series clips with then-new behind the scenes footage. We get some comments from executive producer David L. Wolper, author Alex Haley, USC sociologist Dr. Mary Laslett, then-UN ambassador Andrew Young, slave-owners’ descendant Judge Nelson Waller, slave descendant Effie Murray, and actors LeVar Burton, Georg Stanford Brown, Ed Asner, and 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.
After this we check out Crossing Over: How Roots Captivated an Entire Nation. This 20-minute, 34-second show features comments from Burton, Wolper, writer William 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 disc, 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.
Connecting with the Past goes for 13 minutes, 21 seconds and involves Burton, Gossett, Jones, Asner, Gossett, William Haley, actor/activist Russell Means, director Marvin Chomsky, and actor Leslie Uggams. We get some stories about the “roots” of the involved participants. This offers a smattering of interesting stories but it fails to become especially involving.
With The Struggles to Make Roots, we find a 22-minute, 58-second piece that provides details from Burton, Wolper, Chomsky, Blinn, Stoddard, Uggams, Burton, Asner, Chomsky, Gossett, casting director Lynn Stalmaster, art director Joe Jennings, TV critic Brian Lowry, former ABC TV president Fred Silverman, and actors John Schuck and Sandy Duncan. “Struggles” looks at aspects of the mini-series’ path to the small screen as well as aspects of the production. Some redundant material appears, but “Struggles” offers a good overview anyway.
A LeVar Burton Original Screen Test runs eight minutes, four seconds. This shows Burton in two different scenes: one with a friend in Africa and the other as a prisoner on a slave ship. It offers an interesting curiosity.
From the early 1970s, an Alex Haley Interview goes for 36 minutes, 42 seconds. A guest with David Frost, Haley discusses what inspired him to write Roots as well as research.
Since the book’s publication, it’s come out that much of Roots is closer to fiction than fact, so take Haley’s claims with a grain of salt. Still, it’s good to get an extended chat with the author, especially since it took place during the writing of Roots, well before Haley realized what an impact it would have.
Two brand-new features round out the set. Roots: The American Story Continues lasts 27 minutes, six seconds and features civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton, writer/producer Shonda Rhimes, broadcaster/author Tavis Smiley, Smithsonian Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs Dr. Rex Ellis, nephew Christopher Haley, and actors Blair Underwood, Whoopi Goldberg, James Earl Jones, and Debbie Allen. They discuss the societal impact of Roots and what it meant to them. A little of this info goes a long way, and “Continues” lacks enough interesting material to sustain it across 27 minutes.
Finally, Roots: The Cast Looks Back fills 29 minutes, one second with info from Burton, Gossett, Brown, Asner, Duncan, and actors John Amos, Ben Vereen, Lynne Moody and Cicely Tyson. They reflect on their experiences during the miniseries’ creation as well as its legacy. “Cast” offers enough substance to succeed.
The package concludes with a 32-page book. This provides photos, episode summaries, and various forms of memorabilia. It offers a nice tag to the set.
When compared with the prior DVDs, the Blu-ray drops a few extras – most notably, we lose a series-spanning audio commentary. It offered a wealth of information, so its absence disappoints.
We’ll likely never see a TV phenomenon like Roots again. The show took the country by storm and remains the mini-series against which all others must be compared. The Blu-ray delivers dated but good picture and audio along with a positive set of supplements. This becomes a quality representation of a memorable mini-series.
To rate this film visit the 25th Anniversary Edition review of ROOTS