It seems like yesterday when I was a kid in school and was watching Roots based off the famous book by Alex Haley with my fellow classmates. I was glad to have my eyes opened about slavery at such a young age but especially saddened about the terrible events it brought on not only for blacks, but for anyone that was involved and suffered for it. Now this legendary series finally makes its way to the realm of high definition in the Roots: The Complete Original Series Blu-ray set. Featuring all eight episodes as they originally aired on television across three discs, it goes without saying that this is an epic experience that should be mandatory viewing for everyone and their families everywhere.
Alex Haley’s story follows the noble Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton’s breakout role), a young man who is abducted from his African village and shipped off to America to be sold into slavery. Being young and of strong will, he attempts to escape many times until one day when he caught and injured badly to insure he’s unable to run away again. It is from here we follow his life as he becomes an adult, has a child who we then follow when they’re grown, and after that as Kunta’s family and descendants endure hardships while making their way through events in U.S. history such as the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, to being free by the emancipation proclamation.
One of the best things about this series is the high production values that went into making it, especially with the cast who would go off to become even bigger stars after this experience. Some of them include Louis Gossett Jr., John Amos, Sandy Duncan, Chuck Connors, Ed Asner, Lorne Greene, Scatman Crothers, George Hamilton, Richard Roundtree, Maya Angelou, OJ Simpson, and Cicely Tyson. For a show to be forty years old, Warner Bros. has done an amazing job cleaning up and remastering it in high definition, as everything looks as good as it possibly can given its age. The only nitpick I can say about the visuals is that it’s shown in the original 4:3 fullscreen ratio, but those who don’t mind bars on the sides of their widescreen TVs will be okay.
Of course with this being on Blu-ray, there’s a nice set of special features to view once the series is done, with some extras being made just for this release. “Roots: The American Story Continues” is a brand new extra featuring Whoopi Goldberg, James Earl Jones, Blair Underwood, Debbie Allen, Tavis Smiley, Shonda Rhimes and Reverend Al Sharpton discussing how Roots changed their lives and the world. This feature also has Dr. Rex Ellis of the Smithsonian Institution talk about how Alex Haley inspired the Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C, as Christopher Haley shares stories about his uncle Alex and how he continues what he started as a historian on slavery.
“The Cast Looks Back” is another new extra that features LeVar Burton, John Amos, Louis Gossett Jr., Ben Vereen, Cicely Tyson, Ed Asner, and Sandy Duncan as they discuss and share stories about the 1976 filming of Roots and how the miniseries changed their lives on and off set. There’s also plenty of other features such as LeVar Burton: Original Screen Test, an Alex Haley Interview by David Frost, The Struggle to Make Roots and so many others that will keep viewers watching and learning about this series and the impact it made which continues to this day with the History Channel’s recently released remake.
The Roots: The Complete Original Series Blu-ray set is one of those shows that everybody owes it to themselves and their ancestors to watch and be heartbroken by slavery and thrilled by the bits of hope thrown in. Thanks to the power of Blu-ray the series has never looked or sounded better, has a wonderful set of extras, and can now and should be in every Blu-ray owner’s collection.