From its widely imitated and parodied opening image of baby Kunta Kinte being held aloft by his proud parents, Roots asserts itself as both history and mythology, and somehow spends the next 573 minutes living in both storytelling spaces. It seems hard to believe, given its still-undefeated status as the top-rated miniseries ever, but the four-disc Roots: 30th Anniversary Edition marks the cultural milestone’s first proper DVD release in the United States. (It was previously available only on VHS and imported PAL discs.) This version is loaded with extras, including a documentary that aired in commemoration of the 25th anniversary.
But the main draw is still Roots itself, which holds up well despite production handicaps. ABC, then the lowest-rated network, greenlighted the production because it figured it had nothing to lose; the correspondingly lean budget shows in “crowd scenes” that don’t seem populated enough, and in the visuals, which are more often functional than beautiful.
None of this matters in light of Roots’ urgent depiction of a free country built with slave labor, its overwhelming narrative drive and its all-star team of actors: Leslie Uggams as the adult version of Kinte’s daughter, Kizzy; LeVar Burton and John Amos as young and old versions of Kinte; Ben Vereen as Chicken George, and Ed Asner as Captain Davies, the slave master who kidnaps our hero. — Matt Zoller Seitz