Roots Movie Review

When you think of epic mini-series, what comes to mind? Rich Man, Poor Man? Shogun? More likely than not, it's Roots, the based-on-a-true story tale that spooled over 12 hours and six nights, the story of "an American family," albeit one that began captured in Africa in 1750, then sold into slavery in the U.S. colonies.

Roots begins with Kunta Kinte, emerging from childhood and undergoing warrior training in his tribal homeland. The slavers arrive soon enough, and after a harrowing three-month ride back across the Atlantic, Kunta is sold, becomes Toby under his new master, attempts repeated escapes, and eventually accepts his fate as he settles down with a wife and child. The Revolutionary War comes and goes, and Toby's daughter Kizzy is sold, becoming the mother of her new master's son, known as Chicken George. Chicken George in turn is sent to England to pay off a gambling debt. When he returns home after 14 years, he is a free man. The Civil War arrives, and the rest of the slaves are freed. Soon enough the family faces the perils of vehement racism and the KKK, and Chicken George finally leads his family to safety in a new settlement.

The entire adventure, which gives us glimpses at (by my count) six generations of characters, spans some 100 years. The unfortunate downside is that some of those 100 years are less thrilling than others. Roots starts to bog down on disc three (of its new six-disc DVD collection), when young Kunta (LeVar Burton) is replaced by old Kunta (John Amos). Amos isn't nearly the actor that Burton is, and combined with an hour of "Kunta hangs at home," the series really starts to flag. The appearance of a terribly grating Sandy Duncan (playing the daughter of a plantation family) is a nuisance through three of the six discs. Other supporting characters are fantastic, though -- notably Ed Asner as the reluctant slave ship captain and Louis Gossett Jr. as the fellow slave who first takes Kunta under his wing. By and large, the production is thrilling and full of emotion -- and genuinely informative (albeit, like all 1970s miniseries, considerably overwrought) about the history of slavery in America.

I'd recommend the DVD collection, which features interesting commentary vignettes from many of the cast members, but it has an unfortunate problem of turning its own subtitles on and off, seemingly at random. Needless to say, this is a nuisance even greater than Sandy Duncan.


Roots Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 1977


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