1776 Studio: Columbia Year: 1972 Rated: PG Film Length: 166 minutes Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (2.35:1) Waiting for the chirp, chirp, chirp of an eaglet being born The release of 1776 should have been a joyous event for fans of the film. Unfortunately, for the past year, we have heard nothing but discouraging news reports about how Director Peter Hunt butchered what we had hoped would be the ultimate Special Edition presentation. Mr. Hunt seems to easily forget that it has always been the fans who originally fell in love with this movie that have kept its spirit alive, and had pushed Columbia to release it on DVD (more on that in a few moments). After all, 1776 is a tough sell. It's not only a musical, but a musical about the founding fathers of our country and days leading up to July 4, 1776. From the outside, the notion of making such a musical seems absurd. However, in 1969, the Broadway play went on to win BEST MUSICAL beating out the very popular HAIR. To understand why the initial news of this DVD release upset so many fans who felt they were being shortchanged, one must be taken through the entire history of this film from theatrical release to home video. In The Beginning 1776 opened at the 46th Street Theatre on March 16, 1969 with a cast that featured William Daniels (John Adams), Howard Da Silva (Benjamin Franklin), Ken Howard (Thomas Jefferson) and Ronald Holgate (Richard Henry Lee). The production enjoyed a run of 1,217 performances. In 1972, Director Peter Hunt brought the Broadway show to the screen with Daniels, Da Silva, Howard, and Holgate reprised their roles. Before the film was released, it went through massive edits cutting the story into a more streamlined vehicle. The cut even included the song Cool, Considerate Men. Most of the additional cuts were done were for the benefit of pacing, while eight solid minutes of the song Cool Considerate Men were removed after a negative reaction from the White House. I so vividly remember the first time I saw 1776, at the age of 9. It was playing at Radio City Music Hall. Back then, you paid one price for a movie followed by a stage show. This was perhaps my very first visit to one the most beautiful theaters in the world where an organist played before the start of every show. At that early age, I was immediately awestruck with the film. Not only did it contain the most poignant moments, and the sweetest love songs I'd ever seen in movies, but I was impressed with the performances by William Daniels (John Adams) and Howard Da Silva (Benjamin Franklin) who seemed all-too-real to me up there on the screen. By the time the film was over, I felt I had experienced a most enjoyable history lesson. A Fan's Dream come true: Laserdisc SE To fully understand why this DVD was originally reported as an atrocity to fans everywhere, one needs to go no further than the laserdisc release of 1776. In 1992, something wonderful happened. The on-line community received word that Joseph Caporiccio and Michael Matessino had unearthed almost 40 minutes of cut material from the original film. Both men pored over the lost material that included a stereo soundtrack and fragments of "Cool Considerate Men" that were painstakingly edited and synchronized to the stereo tracks. (photos from the laserdisc release) Also added was an OVERTURE and INTERMISSION that featured additional orchestration of the musical soundtrack. The Pioneer 1992 release to laserdisc was a monumental event that gave fans the opportunity to watch a completed 180 minute version of 1776. It became the most ambitious video restoration ever performed. Though the added footage was mostly in rough form, it was still something that made every fan's jaws drop. It became the most talked about Special Edition within the on-line forums, and to this date, has become one of the most sought after collector's items on laserdisc. Approaching Columbia Pictures to release DVD Back as early as 1998, I and a few other fans had written letters to Columbia Pictures urging them to release 1776 in the exact form that it was released on laserdisc nearly 6 years before. A letter that I had personally written to the head of Columbia's DVD division came back with an initial reply that they were unaware of the laserdisc release but would look into it. Further email conversations with them indicated that they were very much interested in having the film restored to DVD in the exact manner in which it was restored to laserdisc, with the hopes that new and better original source material could be found. It was the fans that had contacted Columbia and got the ball rolling based on what they had seen on the laserdisc Special Edition. Enter Director Peter Hunt. From the moment Peter became involved with restoring this film to DVD, the project suddenly took a nose dive. Those closely associated with Peter began reporting back to this forum that the movie would not be restored to the 180 minute laserdisc release. A restoration clouded in controversy Reports of original color negatives being found including those for "Cool Considerate Men" became news of joy for fans everywhere? But why was this footage not unearthed almost 10 years prior? Reports that someone at Columbia's vault purposely hid the footage started coming to light. In addition, there were many questions concerning the OVERTURE and INTERMISSION sequences that were added to the laserdisc release. These were not part of the film's original release, and were manufactured by Joe Caporiccio who wanted to relive his glory days of watching movie musicals that contained an overture and intermission. Director Peter Hunt obviously had a problem with these manufactured sequences and probably felt that securing musical rights to include these in the DVD release would be a far too painstaking effort. Fans of the movie who had seen the 1992 Special Edition laserdisc release had every right to be upset over this DVD release. They were the ones wrote letters to the studio lobbying for them to release the 180 minute version. And while Peter Hunt has every right to release this film the way that he deems fit, you can't help but be outraged that he and Columbia did not go the extra mile to secure rights for the extra material and release an elaborate edition that contained BOTH versions. What is in this DVD and What is Not Realize, that the 180 minute time includes the OVERTURE and INTERMISSION music which accounts for about 7-8 minutes, so really only about 6 minutes of actual footage were taken from the long LD version, which adds up to the bits missing from Piddle Twiddle, Jefferson and the children, and the reprise of "The Lees of Old Virginia". Peter Hunt wanted this to be his personal cut of the film. His reasoning was that he wanted this movie presented in a manner that newcomers would readily be entertained, rather than presenting a movie that would satisfy the fan base. For that reason, fractions of the film were removed. (photos from the laserdisc release) The two major cuts to this DVD are about 4 minutes of "Piddle Twiddle" which have been removed, as well as 2 minutes of the refrain of "The Lees Of Old Virginia". It is absolutely beyond me why Peter Hunt chose to remove 6 minutes of material that ultimately added to the magic of this film rather than weighing it down. Those 6 minutes removed are a major blow to this version. Also missing are the OVERTURE, INTERMISSION which were manufactured by Joe Caporiccio for the laserdisc and never included at any time in the film's release. The movie starts with the Columbia logo, as music fades in to the film's original credits that were seen for the first time on the laserdisc SE. The closeups of Adams cringing during the final vote for independence have also been removed. Instead of the close-ups on Adam's face, the entire sequence remains one entire long shot as seen in the theatrical version. What has been added, as far as I can tell, is a 10-second sequence right after Cool Considerate Men that takes place on the steps of Congress, where a comment is made about borrowing a dollar from "those guys". (photos from the laserdisc release) Peter Hunt also made some choice decisions not to include some of the newly found footage, including a scene where Jefferson is looking out at a bunch of kids playing war in the outdoor yard. A scene of Jefferson smiling at a young girl was removed considering new evidence about Jefferson. Hunt felt that this scene suggested Jefferson as a pedeophile, which is an absolutely absurd conclusion to derive. It seems odd that Hunt would not have control over putting in, at the very least, the full length versions of Piddle, Twiddle and Resolve; and The Lees Of Old Virginia, if only as supplemental extras. THE GOOD NEWS Having read all of the above, you would think that I would be gravely disappointed in this new DVD release. Nothing could be further from the truth. I didn't want to watch this disc. I had felt that the laserdisc version was the ONLY version worth watching. With an open mind, I agreed to review this DVD. I am now happy to report to you that this DVD surpasses all my expectations. The bottom line is this: Besides the OVERTURE and INTERMISSION, only 6 minutes have been cut from the laserdisc release, as already described. It is extremely painful to see these sequences gone, but 85% of what was discovered for that laserdisc release is still included, and what's more, this is not work print footage. Read on... How is the transfer It's almost amazing that a man can be moved to near tears from watching one of his all-time favorite films presented in a manner that has never been seen before. The transfer of 1776 is nearly PERFECT! First of all, this is the first time the film has been seen anamorphic widescreen. The picture field has suddenly become wide open, with images that are razor sharp showing detail and clarity never-before-seen. I just sat there in total amazement, not quite believing I was watching a transfer that looked this good. It actually looks as if the movie was filmed in the past decade rather than 30 years ago. The continuity of extra added material is flawless. On the laserdisc, it was easy to see when the extra scenes were added as all of it was off work print, plagued with an awful amount of film debris and loss of color and detail. The scenes are presented here for the first time off of the original negatives, and they are seamless. You can't tell that they were ever added. The only complaint I have is that the faces of the characters have an orange cast to them. I don't know if this was done intentionally or not, but it doesn't look natural. The new 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is also something that will blow you away. You have never heard 1776 sound this good. Realize that the film was recorded in stereo, but Warner never mixed it to stereo. It was released to theaters in mono. For the laserdisc release, the original stereo tracks were found and were synchronized to the film. What this did was separate all the dialogue and music between the two front stereo channels. What has been done here, is a total new 5.1 mix that makes this film sound completely unlike anything you have heard before. All the dialogue has been mixed squarely to the center channel with absolutely no bleeding. The main score and film action rests squarely across the front two speakers with beautiful stereo separation. What this does is reduce the "shrill" sound that all previous versions produced. The sound is now much tighter, sounding more professional with an orchestra that comes across with more substance and bass than ever before. The rear channels mostly add an "echo" effect to the film score, as expected. What I did not expect was the addition of effect sounds to the rears such as when Franklin (Da Silva) is sitting in the garden posing for his portrait. The sounds of chirping birds can be clearly heard in the rear channels. Most impressing of all, is how great the songs sound and feel. Yes, I said feel. The music has never sounded so rich and robust. The LFE channels are extremely active as my subwoofer pounded away with each beat of the instruments. You haven't lived until you heard how good "The Lees of Old Virginia" and "Cool Considerate Men" are reproduced across 5 channels that provide robust bass-filled sound. Special Features Surprisingly, the added material here is very slim, though what has been added is very special since it is material that has previously not been included anywhere before. To begin with, the film features a running audio commentary with Director Peter Hunt and Writer Peter Stone. My biggest complaint against Columbia (and Grover Crisp) is that the scenes removed from this Director's cut were not included in the supplementals. It seems that the only way the excised footage will ever be seen is by those who own the laserdisc release. The biggest surprise on this DVD is the inclusion of five Original Screen Tests for actors William Daniels (John Adams), Ray Middleton (Col. Thomas McKean), James Noble (Rev. Jonathan Witherspoon), Leo Leyden (George Reed) and Rex Robbins (Roger Sherman). These are individual tests done in full costume, filmed against a totally white background. Very interesting to see after all these years and very funny to hear James Noble flub his lines and say "shit!". The film's Teaser Trailer is here, along with trailers for: Oliver; The Taming of the Shrew; and Pal Joey. Final Thoughts For the longest time, I was leading a brigade of anger towards Peter Hunt for his decision to butcher the laserdisc release that has become the bible version of this film for all the fans that had seen it. I never wanted to watch this DVD. Now that I have, my opinion on it has totally changed. This newly restored Director's cut looks and sounds incredible. After all, this was produced at Columbia's Hi-Def center, and you can expect nothing short of miracles from that studio. It is important to know that other than the OVERTURE and INTERMISSION, only 6 minutes have been cut from what was seen on laserdisc. The rest of it is all here, all seamlessly presented without any blemish or degradation in the transfer. Frankly, it will only take most fans about 20 minutes to realize that this DVD is the most incredible version of the film since the laserdisc release. While its very painful to see that Director Peter Hunt cut 6 minutes from this film that were vital to its enjoyment, you can easily overlook all of it once you watch and listen to 1776 as never before. A terrific job!