Plot: What’s it about?
Although the colonists have been put through their paces by the British authorities, not everyone wishes to sever the old ties. But as July 4, 1776 draws near, congressmen John Adams (William Daniels) and Benjamin Franklin (Howard Da Silva) have a plan to buy some time, although they’ll need some help from Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard). As the two attempt to persuade the remaining colonies to band together and form a new union, they want Jefferson to pen a Declaration of Independence. The road to getting all the colonies to agree will be a rough one, as all the military efforts seem to fall flat, one after another. This bad news causes most of the slave owners, land holders, and businessmen in the congress to be negative about independence, since it looks as if it could spell certain doom. And as one single naysayer can put the brakes on the entire process, it will be a most difficult task to make independence happen. Can these congressmen somehow pass their vision of freedom along to the doubters, or will the colonists choose to remain loyal to Britain, forever altering the historical landscape as we know it?
A musical based on the Founding Fathers? I know it sounds far fetched, but 1776 is a terrific picture that blends history, music, humor, romance, and drama, without missing much of a beat in terms of entertainment. Of course, one could simply find immense humor in the premise of 1776, seeing Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and all the other famous founders sing & dance, often in scenes ala Cop Rock. I mean, right in the middle of a session on how to grasp true freedom, a song breaks out about hot it is inside the room and if you ask me, this is the kind of entertainment Hollywood needs to bring back to life. I know it sounds like 1776 is just a farce, but that isn’t the case, there is some real, albeit unusual magic to be found here, as all the pieces just seem to fall into place. The musical numbers are a lot of fun, the writing is superb for a musical, the costumes & production design are top notch, and the cast, led by William Daniels (The Blue Lagoon, Blind Date) is simply superb in all respects. So sit back, relax, and enjoy director Peter H. Hunt’s definitive version of 1776, thanks to this restored director’s cut.
This restored director’s cut is not the same version as seen in Pioneer’s special edition laserdisc release, but to be honest, the changes are not that monumental. As this disc serves as director Peter H. Hunt’s definitive vision, he chose to leave some brief snippets that amount to around six minutes out, mostly small trims from various scenes. Hunt also had the overture & intermission removed, since these were never part of the film’s heritage, until someone decided they wanted to have them in the special edition release, so the materials were created and put into the picture. I do wish that the six minutes of trims were still present, but I don’t miss the overture & intermission in the least, since these elements were never part of 1776’s intended presence. As I said, those six minutes are missed and should have been included as supplements, but this is Hunt’s vision and as with any filmmaker, his vision is what matters. So I know some of you will be let down the cuts, but we always claim to want what the director wants, so let’s practice what we preach and be pleased to have Hunt’s intended version at last. I will still hold on the Pioneer laserdisc, but this edition is still a worthwhile one and belongs in the collection of any 1776 fan.
Video: How does it look?
1776 is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. On the laserdisc version, the added scenes were taken from a workprint and it showed, as the image dropped off in terms of quality, but that is not the case here. The restored scenes look just as good as the theatrical scenes and in this case, that means they look excellent. The print has minimal wear signs, so the grain and marks from the laserdisc have vanished, with only minor defects still present, which never hamper the experience. The colors are a little muted, but this is intentional and black levels are stunning, a vast improvement over prior editions. I was taken back by how good the movie looks here, as Columbia has pulled out all the stops and fans should be thrilled.
Audio: How does it sound?
While the laserdisc release gave us a solid stereo presentation, this edition goes beyond that and offers a dynamic Dolby Digital 5.1 option. I had some doubts here, but this is a masterful and highly effective mix that makes the film sound so clean and crisp, you might not believe it is the same movie. But it is the same 1776, it just sounds so new here and thankfully, the hiss & shrillness heard on the laserdisc are absent in this mix. The surrounds enhance the score and even spark in some atmospheric presence, so the mix is strong all around and even the bass kicks with some power at times. The songs are wonderfully presented and vocals remain in fine form, both dialogue and lyrics well covered. This disc also includes English & French subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The main bonus here is an audio commentary with director Peter H. Hunt and screenwriter Peter Stone, who provide an ample amount of insight. While the topics of missing footage and the restoration process aren’t covered, the two do discuss the production at length, as well as other 1776 information. This disc also includes the film’s teaser trailer, as well as some screen tests, which are priceless inclusions, to be sure.