Who would have thought that all the petty squabbling that lead up to the thirteen American colonies declaring their independence from Great Britain would for make a great Broadway musical. When you think about it, the idea sounds kind of dry and boring, yet somehow, 1776 managed this impossible feat by turning dusty historic figures into living, breathing men with the same hopes, aspirations and flaws as everyone one else. Also, it didnít hurt that the book to 1776 is quite witty, and wasnít afraid to release the tension built up in the story with healthy doses of humor. On top of all that, 1776 featured delightful and memorable songs that went a long way to further the plot, instead of bringing the action of the play to a screeching halt.
When producer Jack L. Warner decided to bring 1776 to the screen, the intention was to make a film that was very close to the original Broadway production. The film version of 1776 retained the same writer to produce the screenplay, the film the same director as it had on the stage, the same choreographer would be employed for the musical numbers, all of the songs would be making the transition to the screen and so would much of the Broadway cast. While the obvious intention was to make an "opened up" film record of the Broadway production, the movie that premiered in theaters in 1972 ended up being drastically cut by its producer. Over the years, the film version of 1776 has won a large and loyal fan base, many of which longed to see the uncut version of the film.
In 1992, the cut and previously assumed destroyed footage was unearthed and pieced together for a special edition Laserdisc release. While the reconstructed Laserdisc release represented the complete Broadway score and every bit of footage that could be found, the condition of the restored footage varied wildly- all the way down to segments appearing in black and white. With the passing of another ten years, 1776 has had the opportunity to undergo a real restoration that brought the reinstated footage up to the same caliber as found in the 35mm general release prints. The 2002 restoration and DVD release of 1776 ($25) allowed the filmís director Peter Hunt to return the movie to the cut he envisioned for its 1972 theatrical release, which unfortunately removes segments contained in the 1992 Laserdisc reconstruction. I guess the extra footage contained only on the 1992 reconstruction of 1776 makes the Laserdisc an even bigger collectorís item than it was before.
As I stated above, 1776 tells the story of the squabbling that occurred amongst the representatives of the thirteen colonies prior to the decision of the Continental Congress to declare independence from Great Britain. John Adams (William Daniels) leads the call for the colonies to declare independence. Unfortunately, Adams is disliked by many of his fellow delegates and his proposal remains stalled. However, with the aid of his ally Benjamin Franklin (Howard Da Silva), Adams is able to get a Southern delegate to bring the proposal to the floor. Of course, bringing the proposal of independence to the floor is only the first step; Adams still has to fight opposition from various delegates with their own agendas- the most vocal of which is John Dickinson (Donald Madden). When it looks as though independence is about to be squashed on the floor of congress, Adams is able to postpone a final vote until a formal declaration can be written. The job of writing The Declaration Of Independence falls to Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard); however, the young delegate canít seem to get past a case of writerís block caused by his need to spend some quality time with his wife Martha (Blythe Danner), whom he hasnít seen in six months. The impressive cast of 1776 also features John Cullum, Roy Poole, David Ford, Ron Holgate, Ray Middleton, William Hansen, Virginia Vestoff, Emory Bass, Ralston Hill, Jonathan Moore and James Noble.
Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has made the restored directorís cut of 1776 available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for 16:9 displays. This is an absolutely gorgeous transfer that would make one doubt that the movie ever appeared in any other form than the version contained on the DVD. Every additional frame of the directorís cut is seamlessly integrated with the theatrical version making it impossible to tell what has been added to the body of the film without already being familiar with the various versions of 1776. An occasional blemish is about the only sign of age one will encounter at any point during the presentation.
The image on the DVD is clean, sharp and very well defined for a movie that is thirty years old. There is a bit of grain here and there, but nothing at all bothersome. Colors are generally vibrant and wonderfully appealing. Flesh tones arenít wholly natural, but they still do manage to look good. There are no problems with chroma noise of smearing of the more intense hues at any time during the movie. Blacks are accurately rendered and contrast is generally smooth; however, shadow detail and image depth are somewhat limited, either by design or due to the nature of the early seventies film stocks used. There are no noticeable signs of digital compression artifacts during the presentation, despite the fact that the restored version of 1776 runs one hundred sixty six minutes.
For this release, 1776 has been upgraded to a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. Utilizing the original stereo music recordings as a starting point, the new mix gives the soundtrack a sense of presence that it has never had before. The forward soundstage seems livelier and more engaging than it did on the stereo Laserdisc, plus the addition of musical fill in the rear channels give the soundtrack a more enveloping feeling. There is good channel separation across the front, and the rears occasionally feature sound effects. Dialogue is localized to the center channel, coming across crisply and with full understandability. The bass channel is surprisingly active, providing the music numbers with a resounding oomph! Of course, the fidelity of the recordings themselves is limited somewhat by age, so one isnít going to find the heightened clarity or the distinctiveness in the orchestrations that are present in newer recordings. Still, I found this soundtrack to be a marvel for its age and production history. Subtitles have been provided on the DVD in English and French.
The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some interesting supplements. Director Peter Hunt and screenwriter Peter Stone are on hand for a detailed running audio commentary that touches on all phases of the production of 1776- from its development for the stage, the transition to film, the cutting of the film, and most importantly, its final restoration to its current form. This is an excellent commentary for fans of this particular production, since it covers all the bases. Also included on the DVD are screen tests for William Daniels, Ray Middleton, James Noble, Leo Leyden and Rex Robbins, all of whom appear in full costume. Closing things out is a theatrical trailer for 1776 as well as bonus trailers for OLIVER, THE TAMING OF THE SHREW and PAL JOEY. The only thing noticeable omission from the supplements is the footage contained in the 1992 reconstruction that did not make the directorís cut.
1776 is a wonderful film made even more wonderful by its restoration. Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment and Sony Pictures Entertainment have to be congratulated for the time and effort that has gone into bringing the film back to its original cut. The DVD looks and sounds incredible, making it a must have for fans.
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