Friday, July 24, 2015

1776 Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Allie Schembra
This musical retelling of the American Revolution’s political struggle in the Continental Congress to declare independence was nominated for both an Academy Award (Best Cinematography, Harry Stradling Jr., 1972) and a Golden Globe (Best Motion Picture-Musical/Comedy, 1972). Brought to the screen by legendary producer Jack L. Warner, 1776 was shot with most of the original Broadway cast, and features William Daniels (The Graduate) as John Adams, Howard Da Silva (The Blue Dahlia) as Benjamin Franklin, Ken Howard (“The White Shadow”) as Thomas Jefferson and Blythe Danner (Meet the Parents) as Martha Jefferson.
Film (2 1/2 out of 5 stars)
In June of 1776, the Continental Congress is still meeting in Philadelphia discussing the possibility of independence from England.  John Adams (William Daniels), one of the most vocal of representatives is not making any friends with his ranting. As they continue discussions, it looks like the Colonies will not have enough votes to declare their independence. During these discussions, the men get constant updates from George Washington, who is already leading the troops. These updates are mostly depressing and the men feel they are losing and will be labeled traitors and executed once the fighting is over.

However, as the men debate the issues, there is already a separation between the north and south and Adams wonders how he’s going to convince the others to vote for independence. He discusses the topic with Benjamin Franklin and by letter with his wife, Abigail. When delegates call for a vote, in a last-minute attempt to delay the vote and garner enough support, Adams suggests writing a declaration and getting all the issues down on paper. John Hancock, who is leading the congress, assigns Adams, Franklin and Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard) to write the declaration and give them three weeks. The three men decide who will write the document, and Jefferson is chosen. But two weeks later, when Jefferson still hasn’t made any progress, Adams sends for Martha (Blythe Danner), Jefferson’s wife.  Once Martha arrives and Thomas is able to spend some time with her, he finally completes the declaration.

The men present the declaration to the congress and as expected, a great debate ensues. The delegates suggest changes to the declaration and make edits to suit their needs. At each preliminary vote, the delegates remain split – north to south, with New York abstaining at all votes. When South Carolina asks for the passage regarding slavery to be stricken from the document, Adams refuses. After talking with Franklin and Jefferson, Adams soon realizes that if he wants the votes for independence, that passage needs to be removed. Once the passage is removed, the men vote for a final time and the vote for independence is unanimous. However, one delegate cannot agree and after his partner delegate vote yes, he excuses himself from the congress and leaves. With a larger war for independence on the horizon, the men sign the Declaration of Independence.

Sooooo, history and musicals, two things I really like. One would think they would work better together, but unfortunately, for me, 1776 wasn’t as spectacular as I had hoped it would be. Everyone knows the story of the Continental Congress and how the Declaration of Independence came to be the document that provided the guidance for the United States to become its own county. Making that into a musical was iffy at best, and while I did enjoy the music and the songs, it seemed a little forced to me. The acting was good; each of the actors was well-cast and portrayed their characters believably.

Being a musical from the 1970s, 1776 was a bit dated and played less like a movie and more like a musical being filmed. It wasn’t terrible, it was average. The direction was good and flowed well with the story and the songs, but the choreography at times also seemed a little forced. I just couldn’t really get into it like I had hoped I would. Normally, I love musicals, but unfortunately, this one missed the mark.
Video (2 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The 1080p high-definition 2.35:1 aspect ratio presentation for 1776 was okay.  It was blurry and a bit cloudy at times and there were a few parts that had a faded line at the bottom of the screen.  The colors could have been bolder and brighter, but the picture flowed smoothly from scene to scene.  I wasn’t impressed with the transfer to Blu-ray.
Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The best part of 1776 was the English 5.1 DTS-HD master audio. The dialogue was clear; the musical numbers were well-done; and there were no volume issues. The musical numbers were catchy and I found myself humming along to songs I’d never heard before. This is a soundtrack I would gladly purchase and add to my collection of Broadway musicals.
Extras (3 out of 5 stars)
Surprisingly, I enjoyed the special features.
  • Commentary with Director Peter H. Hunt, William Daniels and Ken Howard (Director’s Cut Only)
  • Commentary with Director Peter H. Hunt and Screenwriter Peter Stone (Director’s Cut Only)
  • Deleted and Alternate Scenes – Five deleted or alternate scenes from the movie, including reprises of a few of the musical numbers and scenes with director’s commentary
  • Screen Tests – Nine screen tests available individually or as a play all option. Screen test include: William Daniels as John Adams, William Daniels and Howard Da Silva as John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, William Hansen as Caesar Rodney, Patrick Hines as Samuel Chase, Daniel Keyes as Josiah Bartlett, Leo Leyden as George Read, Ray Middleton as Colonel Thomas McKean, James Noble as Rev. John Witherspoon, and Rex Robbins as Roger Sherman. These were fun to watch. I always like seeing the tests actors do before they get their parts. It’s kind of like watching their audition.
  • Theatrical Trailers -- Both the teaser trailer and the theatrical trailer shown individually or in a play all option.
Summary (3 out of 5 stars)
While I didn’t enjoy the film as much as I thought I would, I always enjoy seeing the actors who portrayed the characters reprise their roles for the screen. 1776 likely works better as a musical on stage, but on the small screen as a film from the 1970s, it missed the mark a bit. I have actually been debating on whether or not to buy tickets for the stage production the next time it comes to town on tour and seeing the film helped sway me toward purchasing tickets just so I can see how it’s done on stage. This will be either a hit or a miss with the viewer, there really is no in between and unfortunately, it was more of a miss for me.

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