This Blu-ray transfer from the original 35mm is gorgeous. Yes, you will be able to pick out some artifacts and the like, but to be fair, I am actually shocked at how clean the video is. I suspect some frame touchups were made in the conversion as well, because film lines and the like are, for the most part, nearly non-existent. The audio is extremely clean as well, considering it came from an original mono track and was converted to 2-channel Dolby Digital. It is great to see the care that went into preserving the original mini-series and in the Blu-ray transfer for a new generation to share and enjoy.
Roots is an adaptation from author Alex Haley’s intensive search for his own origins that spanned about twelve years. As he was inking his novel by the same name, the rights to Roots were bought and originally slated for a much shorter endeavor on-screen. In the end, Roots: The Complete Original Series ended up being an 8-night, consecutive mini-series event that captured the heart of a nation in the US. Originally broadcast in 1977, Roots hit home with both blacks and whites in a time when the Vietnam War was still in the minds of people and racial relations and civil rights in the United States was gaining more acceptance. While we still have a long way to go, even in 2016, Roots helped garner more understanding and got dialogue about its skeleton in the closet, called slavery, started in households across America.
The story of Roots begins circa 1750 when Alex Haley’s young great-great-great-great grandfather, Kunta Kinte, was abducted on the shores of Africa by white slave ships and brought to be sold into slavery in the United States’ South. Spanning more than 4 generations prior to freedom, the story looks at the ins and outs of life in slavery on plantations in North Carolina.
Kunta was just a teenager at the time he was enslaved and had a heart that caused him to want to be free. As such, he tried to escape a number of times, eventually leading to a foot being chopped off so that he would stay home. It was his spirit, however, that filtered through the generations of his daughter, Kizzy, her son Chicken George, and Kunta’s great-grandson Tom. Tom eventually helped lead his people away from slavery.
Roots made an interesting choice in depicting foreign languages, in that it allowed the characters to use English to communicate to the viewing audience, as opposed to subtitles. While at first a bit odd because it wasn’t explained that these were "translated" voices (in the eyes of the viewer), it worked well and eventually was revealed that this was the case. I suspect that, at the time of its release in 1977, subtitles were not something audiences would appreciate and also, television sets were much smaller and would be harder to read. This choice helped lead to America basically shutting down for each of the 8 broadcast nights.
While the on-screen depiction of slavery and the struggles of its victims was tame compared with what really happened in the Southern United States at the time, Roots still managed to capture the horrors that took place. It was with this perspective that the book and mini-series captured Americans’ hearts. Prior to Roots, slavery was a bit of a taboo subject to many, which is also why it was such a powerful show to watch. The actors that played a part of this epic series did an outstanding job, and include a list of Hollywood stars. To name a few, Roots starred the likes of LeVar Burton & John Amos depicting Kunta Kinte, and a host of others including Olivia Cole, Robert Reed, Ben Vereen, Louis Gossett Jr, Ed Asner, Chuck Conners, Lloyd Bridges, Leslie Uggams, Sandy Duncan, Lorne Green, and Brad Davis.
Roots may be a bit less interesting to modern audiences from a purely entertainment standpoint as its style is dated, but the story will remain forever. The special features are great, and provide additional information and background on the making of Roots and in Alex Haley’s search for his family tree. This 40th Anniversary Blu-ray also includes a 32-page photo book that chronicles the genealogy of Alex Haley.
I believe that most people will relate to Kunta Kinte’s struggle, despite the color of their skin or ancestral past. With nearly 10 hours of screen time (not counting commercials), it pulled in 10 out of the top 13 most-watched shows of all time (at the time of its airing). That is power, and now that power is available to a new generation. After having watched Roots: The Complete Original Series, I firmly believe that this should be a must-watch in the school systems of America, not to dredge up the past, but to stir positive dialogue to improve the future. Roots is powerful enough to do this.