'The Roosevelts: An Intimate History' [Blu-ray]
(Peter Coyote, Paul Giamatti, Edward Herrmann, Meryl Streep, et al / 7-Disc Blu ray / NR / 2014 / PBS)
Overview: The Roosevelts: An Intimate History chronicles the lives of Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor Roosevelt, three members of the most prominent and influential family in American politics. It is the first time in a major documentary television series that their individual stories have been interwoven into a single narrative. This seven-part, 14 hour film follows the Roosevelts for more than a century, from Theodore s birth in 1858 to Eleanor s death in 1962.
Blu ray Verdict: Ken Burns is renowned for his documentaries - two of my favorites are Baseball (1994) and Jazz (2001). The power he wields is measured by his ability to get 14 hours of documentary not just researched and filmed, but also broadcast via PBS. Think how many Hollywood producers can't get the green light for a 90 minute pet project. Mr. Burns is a national treasure who creates national treasures, and his latest is some of his finest work yet.
Focusing on an incredibly prominent American family - one that dominated politics and history for years - the stories are presented in chronological order, interconnecting the biographies of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor with the key events in history that they helped shape. But it's not all politics, as we also learn about the families and the individual make-up (flaws and all) of the 3 principals. We learn of the Republican Roosevelts of Oyster Bay and the Democrats of Hyde Park.
Mr. Burns has set the bar very high for his productions, yet somehow we still managed to be struck by the photographs, archival footage and insights of these people and the times. The sheer number of previously unseen photographs and footage is staggering. Add to that the commentary from writers and historians, and it's easy to imagine this being the foundation for a high school or college history course ... one that students would actually enjoy.
There are seven parts to the whole, each presented in chronological order: Pt 1 Get Action 1858-1901, Pt 2 In The Arena 1901-1910, Pt 3 The Fire of Life 1910-1919, Pt 4 The Storm 1920-1933, Pt 5 The Rising road 1933-39, Pt 6 The Common Cause 1939-44, Pt 7 A Strong and Active Faith 1944-62.
We witness the rise to power and fame for TR, FDR and Eleanor. The deaths of each is also highlighted, as well as their respective impact on politics and history. It's not surprising that some of the character flaws and even questionable political decisions are glossed over, but this is not without it's acknowledgment of such.
The insight into the obstacles all three Roosevelts overcame is fascinating. We hear recordings of each, and the voice acting fills the gaps - Meryl Streep as Eleanor, Edward Herrmann as FDR, and Paul Giamatti as TR. Peter Coyote does a nice job throughout as the narrator, and numerous other actors are utilized through the production, including the final screen appearance of Eli Wallach.
This is an incredible documentary covering some giants of US politics and some of the most historical events each with visual and audio depth that makes this an extraordinary viewing opportunity. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
13 Bonus Videos
Making of The Roosevelts
Deleted Scenes with an Introduction by Ken Burns