Monday, March 17, 2008

Thoughts on "John Adams," Round 1

After literally months of intense anticipation, the day of deliverance has finally arrived! HBO's new blockbuster miniseries "John Adams" aired for the first time last night, giving its audience a double feature of sorts, as they aired the first two parts of this seven-part miniseries.

So what did you all think? Did you find these initial two parts entertaining? Were they historically accurate in your opinion? What did you like/dislike about it?

As for myself, I realize that there were several small specifics that were not as accurate as they could have been. It is virtually impossible to get all of the small details completely accurate in any portrayal of the past, so I will not dwell on these. Besides, I am sure that many a historian of the American Revolution will be sure to point out every single one of these historical "infractions." Instead, I will focus on some generalities (both good and bad) that I observed from last night's show.

The Good Stuff:
1.) HBO did (in my opinion) an excellent job of recreating the 18th century colonial world. As one can imagine, colonial America in the 18th century was a difficult place in which to live. After all, colonial America was essentially on the fringe of established civilization. This show did a wonderful job of bringing to light those difficulties that made life hard for many colonists. The scene where Abigail Adams decides to inoculate her family is an excellent portrayal of how hard these times could be.

2.) This miniseries has also done an excellent job of portraying the American Revolution as an intense, confusing, and scary time for its participants. In today's America, the Founding Fathers and the American Revolution are often romanticized to death, which prevents us from understanding the true nature of their accomplishments. This film, however, effectively demonstrates the fact that the American Revolution was anything but certain for its participants. The portrayal of fighting and arguing in the Continental Congress helps to capture this in the film.

3.) The John/Abigail relationship is captured with incredible accuracy. HBO should feel good about how they portrayed John and Abigail's marriage in these first two parts of the miniseries. It was very well done in my opinion.

Things to be Desired:
1.) I think that starting this miniseries in 1770 was a bad idea. It omits too much of the initial conflict between Boston and Britain. There is no mention of the French & Indian War, the Stamp Act, the Declaratory Act, etc. These are extremely important factors that shaped the Britain/Boston feud. I understand that the film has to omit some stuff (even if this miniseries were 1000 hours long it could never capture it all), but for an American audience that is sure to be unfamiliar with this time period, a brief introduction into these events would certainly have helped.

2.) These first two parts of the miniseries move very quickly through six years of extremely important history (1770-1776). Again, I understand the need for this, but I feel that the audience loses out on so much history. There is a great deal of important information that is breezed through, recieving nothing more than a brief recognition.

3.) The role of John Adams in the early years of the American Revolution is a little overplayed. Don't get me wrong here, John Adams was a very important figure at this time. The film, however, depicts him as the principle player in the revolution in many cases. I wish that this film would have portrayed the fact that Samuel Adams and John Hancock were the main movers and shakers during the initial years of the American Revolution. Again, I understand why the focus is on Adams. After all, the miniseries carries his name. I just wish that there was a little more of a focus on the contribution of the other characters.

Again, these are just some general factors that I noticed in last night's show. Overall, this film is excellent! I found myself enthralled with the storyline from beginning to end. I cannot wait for next week! Now that we've declared independence, the series is sure to pick up steam!


Lindsey Shuman said...

I agree with your general summary of the first two "John Adams" installments. Overall, the film is very well done. I believe that the major problem of this film - and it is likely to continue throughout it - is the fact that it moves very quickly through the entire story. The seventh installment is supposed to finish with the death of John Adams. Covering the entire life of Adams will, unfortunatley, force the miniseries to move at a very fast rate, leaving much of the important history out. I guess that is the price we pay. In the end, i'm glad to see a film done on the revolution.

Steve Becknall said...

I liked what I saw from last night's show. I did not like, however, the fact that Hancock and Sam Adams were associated with the tarring and feathering scene...that never happened. I also think that the scene where Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson were debating the Declaration of Independence was not accurate. They should have also put Washington's acceptance speech in the congress instead of as a side-bar discussion between Adams and Washington.

My favorite scene was the Adams speech of a "free country." VERY well done in my opinion.

christopher said...

Thanks for providing some additional insight into the HBO production. I really enjoyed watching the show, and I also enjoy checking this site to hear what is being said about it. It provides some much appreciated clarity. Keep it coming!

Anonymous said...

An excellent show. I was entertained.

David Mabry said...

I am back!!!! Ever try to review the reform movements and teach the Missouri Compromise and the Monroe Doctrine in one day? Whew!!!
Anywho, I wanted to point out that the tar and feather scene may just have been representative of the street violence prevelant on the streets of Boston. There were plenty od street toughs getting busy, hanging people from the Liberty Tree, beatings, breaking every window in the lt. governor's house amongst other things. There happens to be an excellent book...."Paul Revere and the Time He Lived In" by the inestimable esther Forbes. Since I was only previously familiar with her Newberry Award winning "Johnny Tremain" which has been force-fed and thus reviled by generations of students. ( I use "My Brother Sam Is Dead" by Collier and Collier). It is excellent peek into colonial Boston, meticulouly researched andweel-written. It was a pleasure to read.
I agree the first installment was overall well done. But it would not taken much to show that several of the soldiers from the Boston Massacre were convicted of manslaughter, they were not all acquitted. Also, more a little more of Sam Adams, John Hancock and Dr. Joseph Warren or other prominent Sons of Liberty (Paul Revere) could have had a little more attention. I think a general viewership would have been a little more intersted with passing characters they would have recognized like Paul Revere.
I am with Steve about the tarring for a particular reason, since they stripped his pants I will have to edit or have a harder time securing permission for classroom use.
Also, Sam Adams may have had money at one time...but by the time of FCC he was broke. Hancock was bankrolling him. It is said that Sam Adams wrote the letters, Hancock paid for the stamps.

Brian Tubbs said...

Finally saw it myself. Okay, I agree pretty much with Brad's summary. I will add the following critiques:

1) No mention of Thomas Paine. I'm not a Paine fan, but Common Sense was enormously influential in shifting public opinion toward independence. I know Adams was no fan of Paine, but it's really a shame that the film couldn't at least mention Paine.

2) There was no need to make John Hancock (and Sam Adams) responsible for the tarring and feathering scene. I'm glad the scene was in there, but it was not necessary to tarnish those men's reputations in portraying it. There's no evidence that i'm aware of that either of those men directly supported or participated in the tarring and feathering of Loyalists.

3. The actor portraying Washington does a good job, but GW is shown as being TOO old in the film. This seems to be a trend among many Revolutionary War documentaries and films, but Washington was 43 at the time of his being named Commander-in-Chief. GW looks like he's in his 50s or 60s in this miniseries. I'm sure the war aged him quickly, but no need to show him as an old man at the beginning of it.

Brian Tubbs said...

To follow up, though, I must commend Tom Hanks, the cast, and HBO overall. They did a splendid job.

I particularly liked how well they reconstructed the 18th century, their handling of the Boston Massacre, and the debates within the Continental Congress. Great job in the portrayal of John Dickinson!!! That character (esp that final speech) was extemely well played.