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John Adams (HBO Miniseries) - Blu-ray DVD / television miniseries DVD / historical drama DVD DVD review
JOHN ADAMS (HBO MINISERIES) Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America curledupdvd.com rating: 5 stars
Featuring: Paul Giamatti, Laura Linney, Stephen Dillane, John Dossett, Sarah Polley, David Morse
Distributor: HBO Home Video
DVD release: 16 June 2009 Runtime: 501 min.
(3 discs)
Format: Color, DTS Surround Sound, Subtitled, Widescreen, Blu-ray
DVD features: 1080p High Definition, Aspect ratio 1.78:1, Audio tracks (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 - English; DTS Digital Surround Stereo - French, Spanish), Subtitles (English SDH, English, French, Spanish), Facts Are Stubborn Things (onscreen historical guide), Who's Who in History (character bios), David McCullough: Painting with Words, The Making of John Adams

HBO's John Adams is one of the best miniseries I have seen in years. Not only is it highly entertaining; it's also quite informative about one of America's more underappreciated founding fathers.

Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by David McCollough, the seven-part series follows the first 50 years of the United States of America with Adams as our guide. As played (brilliantly) by Paul Giamatti, Adams did not often make a good first impression. To be blunt, Adams was a short, stubborn, bald, irascible Yankee farmer who lacked the charm of Franklin, the stature and dignity of Washington, and the elegance and passion of Jefferson. Yet Adams was brilliant and fiercely determined to see the birth of this new nation and to help it succeed. Perhaps the greatest triumph of the book (and the miniseries) is that it shows how Adams was just as crucial a cog in the birth of this nation as the more celebrated founding fathers.

This miniseries follows Adams from his stint as a lawyer during the time of the Boston Massacre to his death in 1826. Among the many informative aspects of the series:
  • How Adams, successfully, defended the British soldiers on trial for murder for their role in the Boston Massacre. Though his victory made him extremely unpopular at the time, his cousin Sam Adams (yes, the beer is named for him) saw how a man who would put the law before any personal bias he must feel would be an invaluable asset to the revolutionary cause.
  • How he became impassioned toward the cause of independence from Britain and felt a formal declaration needed to be framed-yet knew he lacked the gift of pen to write such a monumental document. He knew that the younger representative from Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, was the author the document needed.
  • How Adams endured rather unsuccessful, often strenuous, years in Europe as an ambassador to the new republic. He lacked the charm of Franklin, and more damagingly, was not fluent in French, which led him to "bomb" as an ambassador in France. Furthermore, he was the first ambassador of the new county to travel to Great Britain, where his meeting with the former ruler King George was tense at best.
  • How clashes in George Washington's first cabinet between Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton led to the creation of political parties in the US (followers of Hamilton were first known as Federalists, and later Democrats, while followers of Jefferson were soon to be known as Republicans). Adams' siding with Hamilton led to a strain in his friendship with Jefferson.
  • How Adams became the first president to actually move into the White House. In some remarkable scenes, the White House is shown as an unfinished structure, built by slave labor, sitting nearly alone in a cleared forest.
  • How Adams resumed his friendship with Jefferson and continued exchanging letters with him until the day both died. Eerily, both founding fathers actually died on the same day - July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day the country they helped create was born.
I have yet to scratch the surface of this remarkable series. It is rich in information about both Adams and the other founding fathers and seamlessly blends history with a moving portrait of his 54-year romance with his wife, Abigail (a woman steadfastly independent yet loyal to the end to her husband). Played by Laura Linney, Abigail emerges as a heroic figure - fiercely independent yet in love and truly devoted to her husband (the series is historically accurate in noting that Adams addressed his wife often as "my best friend" and "my ballast").

I highly recommend this miniseries, both a highly entertaining one and not just a history lesson. The series succeeds in pointing out the amazing luck of the U.S. in having a group of extraordinary men together at the time of its creation - and how the underappreciated John Adams was a vital member of that group.

Extras for the Blu-ray include two useful pop-up features:
  • Who's Who in History: a brief portrait and biography of key players in the miniseries
  • Facts are Stubborn Things: An exclusive onscreen historical guide that will offer further detail on key moments in the series.
Disc 4 also features:
  • The Making of John Adams
  • David McCollough: Painting with Words - An entertaining and informative biography of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

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reviewed by Trent Daniel
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