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BLU-RAY Restoration Review
on May 20, 2015
At last available on Blu-Ray, 1776 is Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone’s unique musical on the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The straightforward Columbia film version, directed by Peter H. Hunt – repeating his stage duties – captures the essence of its source with a top notch cast mostly returning from the Broadway stage, including William Daniels as John Adams, Howard Da Silva as Ben Franklin and Ken Howard as Thomas Jefferson.
There have been numerous cuts of “1776,” starting with a 141-minute theatrical version producer Jack L. Warner supervised, one that removed the song “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men,” arbitrarily trimmed a pair of others and discarded various dialogue exchanges. It was also released in mono. Pioneer’s Special Edition laserdisc from the early ‘90s restored all the missing bits, some from a rough B&W workprint, plus remastered the soundtrack in stereo for the first time. This 177-minute version, which Hunt signed off on at the time, came complete with an “editorially created” Overture and Intermission and has been the preferred choice for die-hards fans of the film, even after Hunt’s DVD “Director’s Cut” debuted a decade ago. The latter Hunt reworking ran 165 minutes but missed several components of the longer version, including the unexpurgated versions of early songs “Piddle, Twiddle and Resolve” and “The Lees of Old Virginia.”
Sony’s highly anticipated new Blu-Ray restores the “Piddle, Twiddle” and “Lees” numbers to their full length for the first time in HD – and since their laserdisc appearance – in a new “Extended Version” running 168 minutes. This version, exclusive to the Blu-Ray, is missing the controversial Overture/Intermission but only about a minute of actual footage from the laserdisc (a shot of Jefferson looking out a window at a little girl; Lyman Hall walking into Congress; and brief footage of a lamplighter at work while Franklin steals a piece of fruit from a Philadelphia market). Subsequently, this new edition should satisfy many viewers as it finally includes all the unexpurgated musical material from the picture in a beautiful 4K mastered transfer.
It should be noted, however, that those missing bits are not included in this disc’s deleted scenes section, making that old Pioneer release still a valuable one for collectors. Instead, Sony’s deleted scenes section merely includes the “Piddle Twiddle” and “Lees” extended bits separately with Hunt’s commentary, along with an a cleaned-up line of dialogue, “Privy,” that has been replaced for this edit. Sony’s Blu-Ray also includes Hunt’s 165-minute “Director’s Cut,” and it should be noted several sections of Ray Heindorf’s sometimes unnecessary underscore have been removed – with one restoration from the DVD version – here, again making the Pioneer laserdisc edition relevant for fans.
The 1080p (2.40) high-def transfer offers a colorful, marvelously detailed 4K image, and the 5.1 DTS MA stereo audio bears the widest channel separation heard since the laserdisc release. Extra features, in addition to the underwhelming deleted scenes, include a new, only sporadically interesting commentary with Hunt, Daniels and Howard, plus the DVD’s commentary with Hunt and Peter Stone, who has since passed on. A full array of screen tests, several seen here for the first time, and a pair of trailers round out a must-have release for “1776″ fans, available June 2nd from Sony with a digital copy also on-hand. Bravo!