‘1776’ Review (4K UHD): Before Hamilton, There Was 1776

1776 Review

Back in 2015, a new musical debuted called Hamilton. You might have heard of it. Hamilton became a massive hit and was known for its more hip-hop genre musical score. But it also stood out because it presented a generally accurate historical portrayal of events. Whether you care for the music or not (I, personally do not, but I won’t get into that here) you could at least walk away having learned a little bit about American history and this little-known figure’s role in it. It turns out that nearly 50 years earlier there was another musical called 1776 that covered the founding of this nation leading up to the Declaration of Independence.

In 1969, a new musical debuted on Broadway. Written by playwright Peter Stone (Charade) with original music by Sherman Edwards (See You in September) it portrayed the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Specifically, it focuses on the efforts of John Adams to persuade others to vote for Independence from Britain.

The story takes place in Philadelphia where the 2nd Continental Congress is meeting. While George Washington is off actively fighting against the British, the Continental Congress debates and argues over seemingly minor issues while refusing to consider the big question of American Independence. With roughly half of the members wanting independence and the other half wishing to reconcile with England, it seems they’re at a standstill. The play generally focuses on the many political moves and games played for John Adams to get to a vote on independence. Spoiler alert – America does end up independent from Britain.

1776 4K UHD Trailer

1776 Review: What I Liked and Didn’t

What I Liked

The acting I this film is definitely above average. 1776 started off as a stage play that was adapted into a film. In this case, most of the original cast was brought in to star in the film adaptation. I think this led to a greater level of quality. The actors are obviously comfortable in their roles and lend to a greater sense of them being the people rather than just acting like the people. Some standouts are William Daniels as John Adams (he later was the voice of Kit on Knightrider and Mr. Feeny on Boy Meets World) and Blythe Danner as Martha Jefferson (she starred in Meet the Parents and is the mother of Gwyneth Paltrow). Several of the actors went on to be well-known in their own right.

As somebody interested in history, I found this to be a very entertaining take on the events. You see a LOT of people and names that were real that you may not even recognize. From a historical standpoint, the events were pretty accurate, though there obviously some license taken with the order of events and minor details. Also, you have to keep in mind that because these meetings were illegal and held in secret, they did not keep official records of the debates and details. Things had to be put together later from memory.

The music is actually pretty good. This started as a Broadway musical and still runs in contemporary times and, as with most musicals, the music is pretty strong. Sherman Edwards was a pop songwriter in the 1950s and so the music has a nice hint of contemporary (for its time). Much like Hamilton now, this musical leaned into music trends of the era for the basis of its score (but still relied on the classic musical styles).

What I Didn’t Like

I mentioned before that the musical is accurate in its portrayal of history but that isn’t 100% true. There are a few areas where it diverges, but those into history might argue they are few but important. For example, the film relies on Martha Jefferson and Abigail Adams as important storytelling functions but in reality, they were never there. None of the wives were there (except Mary Dickinson). The Liberty Bell was used in a way that just would not have been possible at the time. Probably most notable is when the southern delegates walked out over a clause denouncing the slave trade. In reality, most of the delegates from north and south were in favor of removing this clause and it was not yet a north/south issue.

1776 Review: Technical Aspects

Video Quality

The 4K restoration on this release is a beautiful, clean transfer. It is consistent with very natural colors, especially in the Director’s Cut, which looks slightly more realistic in its color palette. Darker scenes are sharp with no crush and no excess noise or grain. The picture is highly detailed and very sharp. The color is excellent, black levels are dark and inky, shadow detail is fine, and contrast is strong. The final product looks pristine and brilliant.

There is only one audio option on this release, an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/16-bit) mix. The original soundtrack in mono is not available so people that were huge fans of the original sound may not be used to what they’re hearing. The audio is beautifully balanced. Between the music, background noise, and dialogue everything is clear, and no hints of popping or issues. SDH subtitles are available. English subtitles are available for the commentary tracks, as well.

Special Features

4K ULTRA HD DISC

  • Includes both the 165-minute Director’s Cut and the 167-minute Extended Cut
  • Both versions are presented in 4K resolution with Dolby Vision, with Dolby Atmos + 5.1 audio

BLU-RAY FEATURE DISC

  • Includes both the 165-minute Director’s Cut and the 167-minute Extended Cut
  • Both versions are presented in High Definition with 5.1 audio
  • Special Features:
    • Commentary with Peter H. Hunt, William Daniels & Ken Howard (Director’s Cut only)
    • Commentary with Peter H. Hunt and Peter Stone (Director’s Cut only)
    • Deleted & Alternate Scenes with Director Commentary
    • 9 Screen Tests
    • Teaser & Theatrical Trailers

BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURE DISC

  • 1972 Theatrical Version of the Film (presented in HD with original mono audio)
  • 1992 Laserdisc Version of the Film (presented in SD with stereo audio)
    • Includes optional archival commentary featuring director Peter H. Hunt

1776 Review: Overall

1776 is an entertaining film that history buffs are sure you love. Yes, it has a few liberties taken for the sake of the story but it’s right much more than wrong. With the 4th of July coming up in just over a month it’s just in time for those looking for some patriotic viewing.

1776 Review:

Grade: A

1776 4K UHD is currently available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

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