HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Roots 2016
HTS Overall Score:83
The original “Roots” was one of the biggest events for Television back in 1977. Up until that point the miniseries was almost unheard of, except over in England, and it is still one of the highest rated and watched events in all of TV history. The revolutionary story of Kunte Kinte from the novel written by Alex Haley rocked a nation that was coming off of the heels of decades of race conflict. To this day it is still considered one of the most powerful pieces of fiction based upon one of the greatest stains in American history. I loved, and I mean LOVED the original 1977 version of “Roots”, so I was naturally skeptical of the History Channel releasing an updated version of the novel into miniseries once more. I mean, if something is THAT good and iconic, then why do you need to remake it? Remakes/Reboots/Reimagining’s, they all suffer from being inferior to the predecessor (most of the time), and this last decade has become so synonymous with rebooting/remaking of series and films that the cynic in me held little hope for anything good.
Color me a bit surprised when the reviews came in and they were startlingly good. So good, in fact, that I decided that “Roots” 2016 was going from my “maybe I’ll review it” list to something I had to check out, and I’m certainly glad I did. It will never replace the original, or become superior to it, but the source material has been taken and tweaked to a modern audience with new effects and new slightly deviated storylines that makes it act as a companion act to the original. There is a powerful and visceral feel to the miniseries that is hard to deny, and I really have to tip my hat to the creators, as they put a LOT of effort into the show. Deciding to not go the Oscar bait route and over dramatize certain aspects of the story, but instead make a heartfelt drama that once again pulls at the heart strings and reminds us of what it means to be free, truly free in this day and age.
The story is almost completely the same, but there are certain deviations and changes that were made that work in a narrative form. Luckily the novel was a fictionalized tale of Kunte Kinte and his life, so little minor tweaks to the tale are not some sacrilegious thing, especially considering how much effort was made to keep the same events of the book for 95% of the time. Kunte Kinte (Malachi Kirby) is a young man, raised on the Gambia River, only to be taken by slavers and sent to America as a human slave. Interestingly enough this rendition updates the story and goes with the more truthful version of the slavers. Instead of having English slavers come hunt him down, he is captured by his own kind and sold to the English, something which was VERY common back then (although Arab slavers were also very common too).
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=77818[/img]Once in America, Kunte is forced to take on the name “Toby”, and live life on a southern plantation owned by John Waller (James Purefoy). There he struggles to live, desperately wanting freedom, but constantly reminded of his place by those who lord over him. Forest Whittaker comes in to take the place of Fiddler in this story and he does amazingly well as the talkative man who molds young Kunte Kinte as much as Kunte imprints upon him. The story once more follows the entire life of the slave, chronicling his path from slave, to freedom fighter (something which wasn’t in the original miniseries or the novel), to father, to grandfather, to free man.
There are things I like about the original better than this rendition, but there are things that are intensely enjoyable about the 2016 version as well. The original was seen as “shocking” back in 1977, but today it seems fairly tame and constrained in the violence aspect. The 2016 version is much more advanced in that aspect and the visceral nature of the violence is much more gut wrenching and tears at the heart strings. The voyage across the ocean is much more intense and feels like “Amistad” more than the original and some of the incidents that were disturbing in 1977 are brutally intense here (for a TV show that is). There are some changes I really liked, like Kunte Kinte joining the Ethiopian regiment for the English, but then there were some changes that really didn’t seem to fit the era. Especially when Kunte and Kizzy both kill a white man and there is no reprisal by powers that be. Just something that doesn’t seem to be something that would have been glossed over in that day and age, no matter how satisfying it is for modern audiences.
The acting was near flawless across the board. Malachi Kirby does an amazing job as Kunte, emoting great energy and passion in every scene that he is in. The same goes for Forest Whittaker, who has long since started to slack off in his older age, but seems to be on the rise with this and “Star Wars: Rogue One”. I noticed that they made the decision to have one actor play Kunte Kinte throughout his life instead of how they chose Levar Burton and John Amos to play the different ages of the man in the 1977 show. With advances in modern CGI and makeup it works a lot better than it would have 39 years ago, and thus I have to agree with the decision make to keep the actor the same across the board.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=77826[/img]Shot on Arri Alexa digital cameras, “Roots” 2016 looks markedly different than the older 77 film stock that was used back in the day. Crystal clear and razor sharp, it acts as a mirror into the past and looks stunning in its own right. Colors tend to be filled with earthy browns during the first chapter, with Kunte Kinte living in Africa, but once he hits the differing plains of the U.S, the color palette opens up quite a bit with rolling green hills, blue waters and dusky barns. Primaries are striking and full of vibrant saturation, while black levels remain inky and deep. The only faults I could find with the black levels (besides a flicker of crush) was some banding that would come and go at will (the worst is actually a few minutes into the film as Kunte Kinte is named by his father. Just look at the night sky as it bands all over). Fine detail is spectacular, as it allows the viewer to see every pore on the African’s abused faces, every sweat stain on their shirts, and ever fiber on the roughhewn clothing.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=77834[/img]The 5.1 Audio track that Lionsgate has given us is quite the beauty as well. It is vibrant and full of life as the surrounds are constantly lit with all sorts of activity from the slave raiders to the boat they transport them in on, to the revolutionary war and beyond. You can hear the creak of saddle leather softly under the sound of clopping hooves, and the dull thud of an axe ad Kunte chops wood off to the side. Vocals are crisp and clear, locked up front in the center channel where they belong and perfectly balanced with the rest of the track. LFE is tight and powerful, adding weight to the gunshots in the revolutionary war, or the sounds of billy clubs beating a slave near to death. It’s a fantastic audio experience and one that is a hefty upgrade over the TV version that played on the History Channel some time ago.
• Roots: A History Revealed
I don’t think that this version of “Roots” is going to gain the international and time honoring that the 1977 version was acclaimed for, but it is just as excellent a tale in its own right. There is a sense of power and immeasurable beauty in the telling of the heart wrenching tale, and this is not just a simple case of cashing in on a name and trying for a quick money grab. There was a lot of time and effort spent in making this, with Levar Burton actually coming back for a quick cameo and a producers chair to make sure it was done right. While I ALWAYS recommend the original for viewers of classic cinema and new viewers alike, I will still recommend this one almost as much, as the series has managed to capture the essence of the time once more (albeit with a few modern changes). Audio and video are top notch and they were kind enough to give us a whole other disc to house the special feature on (even though that may not have been necessary with only one featurette on board). Highly Recommended.
Starring: Jonathon Ray, Jonathon Rhys Meyers, Herbert Cavalier Jr.
Created by: Bruce Beresford, Thomas Carter, Phillip Noyce, Mario Van Peebles
Written By: Alex Haley, Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal, Alison McDonald, Charles Murray
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 389 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: August 23rd 2016
Buy Roots 2016 Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Highly Recommended
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