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As I read the book, I thought the miniseries was wonderful. I waited
nine months to see this when I learned that while visiting the Adams
Birthplace last year in Quincy, the miniseries was in production.
However, the miniseries was very condensed from the book. I figure I would see more action on the high seas, including Abigail's travel on the ship, and a lot of letter writing between Adams and Abigail.
I am glad that closed-captioning was included, because I would have had a very hard time trying to hear and understand what the players in the miniseries were saying.
As I don't have any series about the early history of America, this tops them all.
This series is consistent with its title ,it tells the story Of John Adams.Unfortunately,i hoped to see some of the war going on,but there was none in this.Every battle is just mentioned by someone telling Adams what happened or by some wounded retreating soldiers.There is no war in this.All there is,is a bunch of middle-aged people arguing over whether they should fight a war.Thats in the first episodes.I really had enough and didn't watch the rest.Giamati is a decent actor but lacks any charisma whatsoever,after a while you just get bored watching him. John Adams was important to the revolution but more important were the people who fought and died in this war,but this series doesn't seem to think important to concern itself with the actual fighting.Very disappointing,for what it is,it is well made but i think a movie about the revolution should have some actual revolution in it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have to be honest and admit that once I realized this series was
going to be filmed in its entirety with the use of shaky cameras,
contrived picture framing, and crooked horizon lines, any ability for
me to be objective about rating this series on other merits became a
somewhat futile exercise.
It's bad enough that one has to put up with that obnoxious methodology in movies like the Bourne Supremacy which are set in current times, but that "trendy" style of filming is a jarring hindrance to a viewer's desire to become lost in history from two centuries past. In other words, it's quite a challenge to feel you are in the 1790s when the film style is more like a cheesy 21st century episode of Boston Legal. The self conscious camera gimmicks prevented me from giving the story, the acting, the period details, etc. anything that may have been due.
In fact, it got to the point where instead of taking the film seriously, my family would laugh at every scene filmed at a 45 degree camera angle.
Beyond these camera antics, there is a real problem with the storytelling in this miniseries. It lacks instinct and is simply not compelling. After a somewhat promising starting episode, in which Adams finds himself defending British Soldiers for the Boston Massacre, the series quickly devolves into a progression of scenes that view like events listed on a timeline. And even then, some major events are told in such a deliberately understated way, these events often have no impact. The unimpressed viewer is left to conclude the following for example: "Oh- the Revolution must be over." Or, "I guess George Washington must have died." Ditto for Adams' son and daughter. And: "Did I miss something? Is Adams' presidential term over?" Or: When did his son become elected President?" Etc.
But then, on the other hand, the well-known fact that Adams and Jefferson died on the same day of July 4th is given such a prolonged and heavy handed treatment, it actually detracts from the magic of that strange historical coincidence.
The fact that Adams is depicted as being so surly, bitter and egotistical doesn't help either. One gets the impression after watching this miniseries that Adams' biggest frustration was that history would not give him as much love as Washington, Jefferson and Franklin. It is difficult to relish a prolonged miniseries with such an unlikable, uncharismatic leading character.
I found other roles of founding fathers disappointing as well, from the smarmy, decadent Ben Franklin to the Washington who was as stiff and wooden as the real president's false teeth. I can understand a filmmaker's desire to inject a realistic humanity into these historic characters, but one would think this treatment of the founding fathers almost seemed driven by a disrespectful contempt for all of them.
One element I can say I was pleased with was the opening title music composed by Rob Lane. It perfectly set the tone and mood for an epic, Revolutionary War period film. Too bad the miniseries didn't measure up at all to that inspiring music.
At any rate, we almost gave up on the series at the point where Adams becomes president, which you would think would be a gripping, climatic aspect of the miniseries. By that point the series had become so cumulatively dull and irritating it was becoming unwatchable even for the more tolerant members of the family.
It's a real shame, because such potentially educational and historical subject matter ordinarily would have been a very refreshing change of pace from the proliferation of Law & Order & CSI reruns that are shown around the clock on every other cable station these days.
While there's lots of good things in JOHN ADAMS there's too much fake
history to score this higher than a 6. Sorry, but Benjamin Franklin may
have been a devilish rogue in his later years but this series portrays
him as a low-life sleaze-ball. Similarly, Thomas Jefferson is portrayed
with no character at all (good or bad) just a pretty face. George
Washington gets no better treatment.
David McCollough's book was not only real history but much more entertaining. Truth usually is more interesting than spin. Given the task of filming John Adams great story, HBO has simply tossed interesting history in the trash and invented their own (badly). Some of the best tales in the book are skipped over, such as Abigail Adams transatlantic crossing and what sea travel was really like, how easy it was to die in voyage.
I suppose it's better that the coke sniffers at HBO did this series than some of their other recent trash, but really, with Sopranos and Deadwood both gone, who needs HBO? And who needs false history? Don't blame the public. The John Adams book, as well as the recent Ben Franklin biography, the Alexander Hamilton biography and the Theodore Roosevelt biography --- all were phenomenal best sellers.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Only Parts One and Two have been shown so far. Part One establishes
John Adams' personal and professional life in Boston, his strong sense
of justice, and his relationship with the angry separatists of The Sons
of Liberty. Part Two takes him to the Continental Congress is
Philadelphia and his role in the preparation of the Declaration of
Independence. Ancillary history lessons involve such things as
artifacts, trades (the making of rope), the general eidos (a dockside
littered with oyster shells), and early techniques of vaccination (or,
more accurately, inoculation, since the live virus was used, straight
out of someone else's smallpox pustule -- ugh).
Paul Giammatti has a face and figure that are about as unprepossessing as they come. I suppose he was deliberately chosen to demonstrate that powerful political figures like John Adams don't necessarily look like Charlton Heston. If that was the intent, it was successful. Giammatti has a pudding face that seems to belong more to a frustrated clerk than a power broker and president. Laura Linney is quite good in the role of his wife, Abigail. While Adams paces around, moaning about things, she sits quietly and listens to him and sometimes, suppressing a bitter smile, her face lowered but her eyes alert, she offers reassurance or advice. Some of her jibes sound a little anachronistic. I mean, complaining about women's rights -- not impossible, that is to say, just improbable. In part 2, the acting honors should go to Stephen Dillane who plays Thomas Jefferson. Not that he's a perfect replicant. He's so dour he simply can't be the same guy who introduced ice cream to Monticello. The actor seems too short for Jefferson and resembles him not in the least, but, man, he brings out the character in the guy. Historically accurate or not, it's a fine performance.
I'd like to give the production some bonus points for the extent to which they stuck to some rather demanding standards of period detail. And for choosing as their subject a guy who was heavily involved with the nation for a couple of decades without necessarily being a Byronic figure. (No duels for John Adams.) And no particular signs of charisma either. And an extra bonus point for bringing up one of those wars that we'd all like to forget about, since the UK is now America's closest ally -- damned near our ONLY ally as this is being written. Accordingly, though, the screenplay is even handed. Yes, the Boston "massacre" took place (seven dead). But, as Adams proves in court, it was hardly all the fault of the British musketeers who were being bombarded with sharp debris and whirling clubs and taunted to fire. The incident has come down through American myth as an unprovoked slaughter and it's nice to have the record sharpened a little by means of a contemporary look at it.
Maybe I'll let it go with the observation that the strongest opposition to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence came from the delegate from Pennsylvania, Dickenson, and for good reason. Boston was founded by Puritans who came to believe that they had a lock on morals and weren't bothered if they were compelled to force their vision on the rest of the country. Born leaders. That's why Massachussetts has been called "the mother of presidents." But Philadelphia was founded by Quakers, among whose chief values were humility, a belief in equality, and a distaste for war. Pennsylvania has always had a habit of hiding its light under a bushel basket. The commonwealth has given us only one president, the ever-popular James Buchanan, a bachelor whose most enduring legacy is associated with his beautiful niece, Harriet Lane, who shared the White House with him. (Can I recommend reading E. Digby Balzell's "Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia"? Is that permitted?)
I was anxiously awaiting the start of this mini series. I was so looking forward to this series as my family is related to Abigail. Unfortunately, I couldn't get past the first part. The camera was rarely still. I didn't feel I was walking through the events with the actors if that was the objective. Motion sickness became a distinct possibility. So many close ups! I was very disappointed. Had I wanted to watch old family movies, I'd have dug out the 8mm projector and had the same effect. I can't rate the series because I couldn't watch it. What could this type of camera work possibly add to the film? I tried again with some of the other parts but had lost the continuity by then.
I was really, really excited about the prospect of this series during the viewing of the first several episodes. It only took me about 5 minutes to loose the idea of John Adams repeatedly saying, "W ENNNNNNNNN B C." I really think Giamatti and the rest of the cast has done a wonderful job. Unfortunately, I just can't concentrate on the film due to the 20 degree camera angles and I have not been able to watch it since episode 4 due to this. I keep expecting things to slide off tables in the middle of a scene. I just checked out a few minutes of episode 6 and there was a scene in a theater which looked as if it was filmed in the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I can only hope the DVD set has alternative angles to view the film, because I would really like to see the rest of the series. I just think I shouldn't have to take Dramamine to stomach watching it.
Unlike some other reviewers, I never read the McCullough book, am
neither incensed nor titillated by nudity, nor, although I love this
wonderful country, am I extraordinarily interested in John Adams or
many of the other founding fathers as individuals. I watched it for
entertainment (it WAS a TV show), and as entertainment it was just bad.
I felt like I was watching a big-budget, nine-hour soap opera Thanksgiving special. There wasn't a single subtle or even objective minute in the hours and hours this thing dragged on, just one heavy-handed, melodramatic, grossly overacted and manipulative set piece after another. I hated it. If it got a lot better near the end (which is practically impossible), I missed that, and I'm not even sorry.
I love history, but I'd rather let facts speak for themselves and be allowed to have my OWN reactions to them than be force-fed somebody else's highly-charged emotional responses to everything, as this thing did.
Hollywood produces nothing but junk any more, whether it goes to TV or the octoplex. Nothing but mindless, formula-driven, pre-digested garbage for the mindless violence- and laughtrack-dulled masses who would have a stroke if they suddenly had to figure something out for themselves. Thank God, there are still some imaginative, challenging, and creative independent filmmakers out there, even here in America, and the rest of the world is full of them.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I felt that every line was a hackneyed rehashing of 4th Grade history.
The characters gave no recitations that showed the considerations of
these tumultuous times. I was excited to order this set and
disappointed to finish it.
Boring is being kind. In comparison to Giamatti's role in the 1995 remake of Sabrina, I came away with a much lower opinion of him. There was no sense of urgency in the story. No sense of interest by the actors. I actually expected them to have David Morse chop down a cherry tree, since the writers had him saying every other American myth attributed to him.
Albert Finney's portrayal of Churchill so was much better than this soporific drivel.
It's my opinion that this should have - and could have -- been done much better.
I am a professor of early American history, and I love the
Revolutionary period. I had high hopes for this production. Certainly
the cast is remarkably well-chosen. Paul Giametti IS John Adams - what
a brilliant stroke. Laura Linney equally brilliant as Abigail, David
Morse eerie in his portrayal of George Washington (and that is a very
difficult personality to try to flesh out - it's not just the physical
resemblance), and who could complain with Tom Wilkinson as Franklin?
The attention to detail is correct and a marvel to watch.
But. The script is boring. How could they make such an exciting time in our history so boring? I can't figure it out - although taking the point of view of one of the crankiest of the so-called "founding fathers" might be one reason.
I blushed for the memory of Abigail Adams when the screenwriter had her moaning because John had to leave her yet again - for heavens' sake - the war lasted seven long years for Massachusetts militiamen, most of that time spent very far from home. They were paid in worthless currency, and when they finally came home, the state government tried to take their farms away from them, leading to Shays' Rebellion and, eventually the Constitution (and, by the way, a new legislature the next year, who stopped the foreclosures).
Abigail Adams was smart, she was resourceful, and Laura Linney portrays her well - but she was definitely NOT alone in having to run a farm without a husband beside her. At least HERS wasn't killed or maimed.
I did love the scenes of the Adams couple watching the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the cannon being dragged from Fort Ticonderoga (over the White Mountains). (Too bad they didn't also include how furious the New York militia were when Massachusetts filched what they considered should be THEIR cannon - although it was Vermonters who actually stole them in the first place). But very little else resonated.
There was so much diversity between states, and within the large ones. So much interesting going on. So little included in this series.
It's not factually misleading as The Patriot was, but ... it's so godawfully BORING.
I fear we've lost the point of view of the colonists - who bottled the British up in their "safe zones," in cities, for the British dare not set foot in the countryside. Hmm. Maybe that's just too familiar. Maybe we can't understand any more what the fight for liberty was all about.
What a pity. Brilliant actors, a fantastic set, an enticing topic - and thus far some of the most boring hours I've spent watching TV. (My husband, who is definitely NOT a historical scholar, shared that point of view by falling asleep soon into every episode thus far. He did not fall asleep during Band of Brothers.) Next time have Ken Burns write your script. Or at least vet it.
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