• King

    Released by: Olive Films
    Released on: January 27, 2015
    Director: Abby Mann
    Cast: Paul Winfield, Cicely Tyson, Tony Bennett, Roscoe Lee Browne, Lonny Chapman, Ossie Davis, Cliff DeYoung
    Year: 1978
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister from the American South who rose to international fame during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ’60s. Using a nonviolent approach fashioned after Gandhi’s peaceful attempts to free India from British rule, King helped organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott (after Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man), the Albany Movement, the March on Washington, and the three Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights Marches. He was a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization aimed at securing equal rights for minorities, and he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. In addition to his civil rights work, he also sought to end poverty and spoke out against the Vietnam War. These were just a few of the high points of his relatively short career, which ended tragically when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

    King was a great man, an outspoken advocate for equal rights regardless of the color of one’s skin. His most famous speech, known today as the “I Have a Dream” speech and delivered during the March on Washington in 1963, is one of the most famous in U.S. history, second only to Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” After his death, conspiracy theories abounded, some of them plausible; James Earl Ray pleaded guilty to and was convicted of King’s murder, though he later recanted his confession.

    While there have been numerous documentaries and news programs dedicated to Dr. King since his death in 1968, there have been relatively few biopics. This television miniseries was the earliest. (Other TV versions of his life were made in 1985 and 2000, and in 2015 the theatrical film Selma was nominated for Best Picture and Best Original Song Academy Awards.) Commonly subtitled The Martin Luther King Story, this miniseries traces King’s life from his humble beginnings to his role as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. Yet, despite being a little over four hours and thirty minutes in length, it manages to give short shrift to some of King’s most crowning achievements in favor of a more intimate, and not always truthful, lionization if its central character. That King was indeed a great man is without doubt, yet, by portraying him in such perfect terms, director/screenwriter Abby Mann does him a disservice, not always making it possible for the audience to identify with the man as a human being.

    The miniseries focuses on King’s relationship with his wife and his parents. There’s a surfeit of talk, with little action to help move things along. It’s a stage play x 2, as dry as desert dirt, though the performances—particularly from Paul Winfield (as King Jr.), Cicely Tyson (as Coretta Scott King), and Ossie Davis (as King Sr.)—are mostly terrific. The director’s attempt at creating the milieu of the era through Tyson’s hairstyles and clothing damages the film to some degree, yet it doesn’t detract from Tyson’s performance itself. A few of the smaller parts are filled by actors who can’t act, but given that this was a television production made on a (relatively) small budget, that can be forgiven. One of the miniseries' more interesting aspects is its use of some of the Movement’s historical participants—Tony Bennett, Julian Bond, Ramsey Clark, and Donzaleigh Abernathy—who play themselves. Not all are great actors, but they do lend an aura of authenticity to the otherwise stale proceedings.

    King is far from a great program; it isn’t even a good one. It was nominated for numerous Emmy awards, a few of which were deserved, but as a historical exercise—a first attempt by Hollywood at recasting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in filmic terms—it fails. It is of interest primarily for its central performances.


    King comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Olive in an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080p. That it’s presented in 1.78:1 is not entirely apt, given that the film was shot for television, where it played in 1.33:1. That said, it also played in European cinemas, where it would have been matted. (It should be noted that the version included on the BD is not the European theatrical release; it is the complete miniseries, with each episode containing opening and closing credit sequences.) The presentation here is clearly matted, as can be seen in the tightness of the image; while most of what’s missing from the frame comes from the bottom of the image, there are times when the tops of people’s heads are unfortunately severed. But to be honest, this isn’t nearly as problematic as it sounds. In some ways, the widescreen format gives the miniseries a stronger cinematic look than a full-frame presentation would have done. Speaking of the image, it’s a surprisingly good one. True, there are moments when it’s a tad soft (most of which come from the original photography), but in general it features a great deal of detail, particularly in the clothing patterns of various female characters’ hats and dresses. There are also ample outdoor shots that benefit from the higher resolution. Color reproduction is solid—it's vibrant without looking unrealistic—though there are occasional shots that suffer from a strange wobble and ghosting effect (check out, for instance, what is happening to white space at the 1:00:30 mark). Occasional speckling and blemishes are also noticeable but not really distracting, while grain is mostly subdued (there is minor crush in dark sequences). All in all, Olive’s release is visually pleasing if not perfect. An episode guide is divided between the miniseries' three components, and there are 23 chapter breaks, making navigation fairly easy for viewers searching for a specific scene.

    The film’s soundtrack is provided in English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The film’s score won an Emmy, and it would have been nice to get it via a score-only track. Regardless, the DTS-HD MA sounds good; there are no issues with music drowning out dialogue, nor does the sound jump and drop. There are no subtitles.

    Olive has enhanced its release of King with a number of informative extras. “Recreating History: The Making of King” is a 15-minute featurette that contains interviews with Abby Mann and Ossie Davis, both of whom discuss their own backgrounds as a jumping point to discussing Dr. King, the film, and the conspiracy theories surrounding King’s murder. “In Conversation with Abby Mann & Tony Bennett” is exactly what it sounds like: Writer/director Abby Mann interviews Tony Bennett about his personal interactions with Dr. King as well as his own experiences with prejudice. It runs 19 minutes in length. “The Struggle” is a 20-minute featurette that focuses on the struggles of African Americans during the years leading up to, during, and following the Civil Rights Movement. Ossie Davis and Kenneth C. Ulmer, Bishop of Faithful Central Bible School, are interviewed. Davis and Ulmer return for “The Civil Rights Movement,” another 20-minute featurette that focuses on the historical Dr. King and his leadership during the historic struggle for equal rights for African Americans.

    All of this is crammed onto a single 50GB disc, but, despite the huge amount of information, there are no serious compression issues.

    The Final Word:

    King is weak tea as both art and history, but it’s worth a look for its central performances. Olive has stocked its BD release with terrific extras that explore the period in which Dr. King lived and worked, and the film looks good in general, even if it is occasionally marred by ghosting.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Is this the one that we were talking about, Chris?
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      Yep, it sure is.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Casting looks good, at least.