John Adams – Blu-ray Disc Review

June 5, 2009 – 1:18 PM - Posted by: Danielle Byington

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Blu-ray Disc Review

4 out of 5 starsThe Movie Itself has an average rating of 8.9 on IMDb
4 out of 5 starsVideo Quality 1080p in VC-1 on THREE 50gb discs
4.5 out of 5 starsAudio Quality DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio
2 out of 5 starsBonus Materials are in Hi-Def & include Trivia Tracks
Rated:Not Rated
Year: – 2008
Length: – 501 minutes
Studio:HBO (Warner)
Region:Region 1 (A)
Street Date: June 16th, 2009

Overall VerdictRecommended

Buy it for $46.49 @
Buy it for $46.49 @

— Review written by: Danielle Byington


The Series Itself is Directed by Tom Hooper, and written by Kirk Ellis, based on the book by David McCullough.

Part I: “Join or Die
Set in 1770, in this episode, we witness the events of The Boston Massacre; John Adams (Paul Giamatti), well-known lawyer of Massachusetts, defends the British soldiers who committed the acts in their defense from a riot. His success with the trial gains him attention from the state’s government, though after witnessing a public tarring and feathering over an import ship of tea provoked by John Hancock (Justin Theroux), John Adams decides to speak against the British repression, representing Massachusetts in the Continental Congress, leaving for Philadelphia while his very pregnant wife Abigail (Laura Linney) stays behind with their other three children.

Part II: “Independence
Set in 1775, in this episode, John Adams is disgusted by the scenery of slaughter nearby his home, as confrontations with the British have been made very close to his family’s new residence in Concord. He is also extremely frustrated with other delegates who do not share his same vision of independence, making him a slightly unpopular face. Though his ideas are shunned by some, his nomination of George Washington (David Morse) to take charge and lead the army is a successful one. With the advice of his wife, and a certain Benjamin Franklin (Tom Wilkinson), he continues with his ideas, pursuing the help of those with like minds (such as Thomas Jefferson (Stephen Dillane), and comforting the paranoia of those with an opposite disposition, spawning the creation of the Declaration of Independence. As John Adams‘ is accomplishing his vision, his wife and children aid the war effort, though find themselves threatened by Small Pox.

Part III: “Don’t Tread on Me
In this episode, Adams along with Franklin, travels to Europe to build foreign alliances to sharpen the independence of the colonies. Their first stop is in France, meeting with King Louis XVI (Damien Jouillerot). It is in the decade just before the French Revolution overthrows the court of King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, as in this visit, the royal members are living in extravagance; a quality not so well agreed upon by Adams. Franklin, on the other hand, is very welcomed by the court, as his intellectual qualities give him a poetic essence that this foreign culture adores. Perhaps in outrage for again being unpopular, Adams argues with Franklin about how the politics of the French court are garbage, as all involved are infatuated with sexual deviancy. This leads to Franklin removing Adams from the mission of diplomacy in France, though Franklin himself stays, and is successful with the victory at Yorktown. After leaving Paris, Adams journeys to the Dutch Republic, seeking financial assistance. With the victory of Yorktown, he is successful in obtaining the American Government’s first loan.

Part IV: “Reunion
In this episode, Adams is informed of the end of the Revolutionary War/defeat of the British. He is then called upon in Paris as negotiations of The Treaty of Paris are underway. While overseas with Franklin and Jefferson, he is visited by his wife, as well as later informed that he has been appointed the first United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom, forcing him to relocate to the British court of St. James. This does present an awkward meeting with King George III, though their discussions actually go well; however, Adams is simply an unfavorable man in British territory, being one of the faces behind their loss of control of the colonies. Soon, he does return to Massachusetts, where he is present for the first presidential election, being elected vice president himself, under the first president, George Washington.

Part V: “Unite or Die
With the beginning of this episode, Adams is in the Senate, and a debate with others over matters such as what to call the new president. Adams is desperately frustrated with his position, as he does not have enough power to declare a firm decision. Part of his feelings of exclusion come from not being part of Washington‘s inner circle of members, further straining his ties with Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton (Rufus Sewell). The significant historical action in this episode is the pursuit of enactment of the Jay Treaty, which is quite the responsibility for Adams to ratify, followed by his own election as the second president.

Part VI: “Unnecessary War
Set in 1797, in this episode, the emphasis is mostly on Adams‘ own term as president as he deals with the differences between the Republicans and the Federalists, parties led by Jefferson, and Hamilton, respectively. Adams personally has no strong opinion for either side, with creates a problem with his relationships between the two party leaders, and perhaps creates a persona to his public as a president who can not make a decision. Again, Adams loses popularity with the people, thus loses the next presidential election to Thomas Jefferson, forcing him to move out of the White House, and back to Massachusetts to spend the rest of his days.

Part VII: “Peacefield
In this episode, decisions of politics are not exactly involved, as this final part of the series focuses on the miseries Adams deals with at home with his family.

Overall, the miniseries is a great representation of the events leading to the country’s independence from King George III. The series doesn’t come across as merely a biographical drama of John Adams, but really as the story of the first half-century of the country, and depending on which way you look at that, some have mixed feelings, as they had perhaps expected a more personal character portrayal, which is present at times, particularly in the final episode, but the majority of the series is certainly a history of the beginning of the United States. However, the miniseries definitely presents history in a non-boring fashion, being generally entertaining, with an excellent touch of production design efforts, receiving a “4 Star Rating“.

Video Quality on this release is in full 1080p using the VC-1 codec on THREE BD-50‘s (50 gigabyte, dual-layered Blu-ray Discs) in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The first thing I have to mention about the video quality relates to the cinematography; there is an abundance of the use of Dutch (diagonal) angles, handy-cam shots, as well as shots using spherical lenses, and whatever the creative intent was behind the decision to do this here, there, and everywhere through out, I’ve discovered in several threads that audiences were apparently annoyed by this, though it was merely artistic intent. Anyways, these Dutch angles and such do provide more intensity of content in scenes such as the trial involving Adams defending the British soldiers, and for means of video quality, do make for some good facial close-ups of the cast, showing-off some detail in the typical subjects (pores, and hair), as well as period distinct wardrobe and wigs. In regard to the detail, it is slightly above average, and is generally as basically pleasing as another recent HBO release, “True Blood”. I think fans of period oriented films/shows/series were certainly hoping for more, as a less soft picture would have really showcased the production efforts. Another thing worth noting is a particular moment in “Part II: Independence” at a run time of about 1 hour and 17 minutes, in which the video fluctuates horridly, presenting for a few seconds what basically resembles raw footage, and then shifting back to the typical look.

Disc 1 uses 36.0GB total, Disc 2 uses 42.8GB total, Disc 3 uses 39.8GB total.

Other topics such as the color palette, which is vivid in particular scenes, especially those involving the red coats of the British soldiers, and the excessive white make-up worn by the royal French court members, making for a nice high contrast look. The color palette does shift to a more dull, depending on the scene/lighting, especially with the high population of browns and neutral tones that are suitable to the period. Fleshtones are accurate, the black level is solid, though more inky at times than others, and there is very little film grain/noise present. Overall, the film does bare a pleasing decent quality, though just enough to earn a “4 Star Rating“.

Audio Quality on this release is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. When it came to the video quality on this release, the slightly better than average detail, but clarity of picture, was an “on-the-fence” decision, but the audio track found on this release provides more certainty. The soundscape is definitely used well, whether it is to present random ambient sounds/foley to further induce a setting to the audience, or the sounds of battle, which are certainly a highlight, along with the score, on this audio track. The subwoofer presents quite a bit of bass presence, primarily from more intense moments within the score, and the blasts of canons, which really have some nice realistic depth. The score, composed by Robert Lane and Joseph Vitarelli does make an appearance in all channels, with lots of rich tones of brass used. Dialogue is presented audibly from the center front channel with no issues. This audio track is simply well-done, and makes the title worth owning, earning itself a “4.5 Star Rating“.

Bonus Materials on this release are presented in High Definition, using Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, with the exception of the trivia tracks that can be played with the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track.

  • Facts Are Stubborn Things” is a track option with historical trivia that pops up at the bottom of your screen, providing information regarding the action of the scene.
  • Who’s Who in History” is a track option that presents biographical information to the founding-father characters who make an appearance through out the series.
  • David McCullough: Painting with Words” (HD, 40 minutes) an informative supplement regarding the author of the book-turned-miniseries, as he discusses his inspirations and attraction to the life of John Adams, and the intriguing story behind the birth of the United States.
  • The Making of ‘John Adams’” (HD, 29 minutes) shows viewers the research, labor, and efforts behind the production of the miniseries, including looks at the set construction and design, historical research, special effects, make-up, costumes, and more.

Also, each disc also offers the convenience of options to inform the viewer of text summary pertaining to each part of the miniseries, as well as a reminder of what was on last.

Blu-ray Disc packaging:


coming soon!

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  1. One Response to “John Adams – Blu-ray Disc Review”

  2. I’ll go as far to actually explain why we don’t have full resolution (1920×1080) screenshots of this yet available in our review. The reason is that we are having trouble getting VC-1 to decode the way we do screenshots, which is now being done on a Windows 7 RC1 installation on a newer PC. Our old machine was well old, and was using Windows XP SP3.

    By Justin Sluss on Jun 5, 2009

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