John Adams (2008) [Blu-ray]

Genre(s): Biographical / Drama / History
HBO || NR - 501 minutes - $79.98 || June 16, 2009
Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2009-06-15

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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

.:: V I D E O ::.

.:: A U D I O ::.

B L U - R A Y

Blu-ray Exclusives

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Director: Tony Hooper
Writer(s): David McCullough (book); Robert Lane (adaptation)
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Laura Linney, Stephen Dillane, David Morse, Danny Huston, Tom Wilkinson, Rufus Sewell

Supplemental Material:
  • 2 Featurettes
  • Trivia Track
  • Character Bios

Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 3
  • Widescreen (1.78)
  • English (DTS-HD MA 5.1), French (DTS 2.0), Spanish (DTS 2.0)
  • Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish

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.::THE FILM::.

The HBO Mini-Series, “John Adams”, is a project that could’ve been overwhelming but instead it provides a swift but still expansive portrait of the man who was integral to the establishment of the United States of the America.

I’ve always had an interest in various aspects of American history be it World War II and the numerous films that tell different stories of that war (Saving Private Ryan) or the very foundation of how the country was formed. “John Adams” takes a narrow look at this time period from the perspective of Adams and his family while war and conflicts raged on all around them.

While it doesn’t live up to the greatness that is “Band of Brothers”, “John Adams” is still a great mini-series thanks in part to an amazing performance from Paul Giamatti as well as Laura Linney. Giamatti is a rare actor in that not many can embody a historical figure but he does it completely taking a person like John Adams, whom not many American really know much about and he manages to flesh the man out from his beginnings as a meager lawyer to the Presidency and a more ego-driven period. It also expands Adams’ relationships with other historical figures such as George Washington (played by the underrated David Morse), Thomas Jefferson (Stephen Dillane), his brother Samuel Adams (Danny Huston) and the partially inauspicious Benjamin Franklin (Tom Wilkinson).

Overall, “John Adams” is a wonderful mini-series that, while not historically accurate at times (maybe played up for dramatic effect), is still a series that is worth watching whether you’re interested in the subject matter or not. Paul Giamatti does a fantastic job giving insight into a man and eventual President who isn’t that entirely well known. The series spans the course of 50+ years in relatively quick but an efficient manner.

The series was directed by Tom Hooper and adapted from David McCullough’s John Adams’ biography by Kirk Ellis.

Plot Outlines:
“Join or Die” — In an emotionally charged trial John Adams defends the British sentries involved in the Boston Massacre who contend they were provoked into firing on the assembled crowd. John's success brings him offers of positions in the Massachusetts government. But after John Hancock rouses a crowd to tar and feather a representative of the British East India Tea Company and the British respond to the growing unrest with oppressive measures, John instead speaks against the British policies and chooses to represent Massachusetts in the Continental Congress.

“Independence” — After viewing the dead and wounded on the battlefield of Concord, John Adams takes up the cause of Independence. Frustrated by the caution of delegates from colonies that do not share Massachusetts plight, the inexperienced politician is abrasive, obnoxious and even insulting. But with the advice of Abigail and Ben Franklin he soon learns he has allies, to cultivate them, to bide his time and to seize opportunities. Following John's nomination, George Washington takes charge of the army and enjoys successes despite supply shortages. Back at home, Abigail and the children risk supporting the war effort in most tangible ways but find Mother Nature more threatening.

“Don’t Tread on Me” — Over the emotional objections of Abigail, John Adam and his son endure turbulent seas and an encounter with the British Navy to join Ben Franklin on a diplomatic mission to Paris. But Ben cannot restrain John's abrasive personality which is even less well suited to Paris than Philadelphia.

“Reunion” — Following the surrender of the British, John secures a long sought loan from the Dutch and returns to Paris to oversee the peace treaty. John can no longer bear his absence from Abigail and invites her to Paris which immediately overwhelms her with its opulence. John is appointed ambassador to England but soon longs to return home to participate in the formation of the new government and, like Abigail, to be reunited with the children. They return home to an overwhelming welcome and John reluctantly returns to public service.

“Unite or Die” — John Adams chaffs under the mantle of Vice President for its utter lack of authority and responsibility. Despite his abhorrence of the divisiveness of political parties John is drawn to the Federalist camp favoring a strong executive. Divisions even reach into the President's cabinet, exacerbated by war in Europe.

“Unnecessary War” — Following the peace treaty with England, President Adams struggles to avoid war with France despite pressure from his Federalist cabinet and French provocation. John finds the price of peace to his career and the price of his long career of public service to his family is indeed high.

“Peacefield” — In retirement John Adams laments the perils of a long life; loss of loved ones and growing irrelevance. But out of tragedy John rekindles his broken friendship with Thomas Jefferson and lives to discuss John Quincy's ambitious presidential agenda with him.


All features have been ported over from the DVD release and the Blu-ray is separated in the same manor so this set also contains 3-discs and comes in the same kind of packaging, just slightly shorter (same width and depth).

The Making of “John Adams” (29:12; HD) – This is a fairly typical but still interesting ‘making-of’ featuring interviews with members of the cast (Giamatti, Linney, etc) and the crew (director Hooper, producer Tom Hanks and others). The featurette gives a behind-the-scenes look at building the set, designing costumes and other aspects.

David McCullough: Painting with Words (39:13; HD) is a great look at the “John Adams” author where he talks about history, how he approaches writing and the importance of writing.

Facts Are Stubborn Things is a pop-up trivia where you get some historical info. The back of the packaging says it’s an “exclusive onscreen historical guide” but this was available on the DVD version (assumedly via a separate track).

Finally there is the Who’s Who in History is a set of character biographies.


“John Adams” mini-series is presented in its original presented 1.78 aspect ratio and now in 1080p high-definition. This is actually my first HBO Blu-ray and all in all, the video looks quite good with some solid flesh tone coloring and backgrounds as well. Detail is very sharp and I notice no obvious signs of imperfections other than the occasional amount of grain or noise, but that was kept to the minimum.

The Blu-ray comes equipped with a modest but still impressive 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that is primarily used for dialogue and the scores by Robert Lane (episodes 1-4) and Joseph Vitarelli (episodes 5-7).


The Blu-ray release doesn’t offer any new features but the audio and video are certainly a noticeable upgrade over its DVD counterpart. If you already own the DVD version, the question is whether or not it’s worth paying for this version. Well, I think if you can find this at a good price, it very well might be. If you don’t already own it, there’s no reason not to especially if you’re interested in American history. Aside from that, you also get some great performances especially from Paul Giamatti and a host of wonderful supporting actors.