DVDs: Bonus Points Movies

A DVD With a Strong Sense of History

By JEN CHANEY
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"John Adams," the exceptional miniseries about the second U.S. president that aired earlier this year on HBO, honors its promise to bring history to life. And I do mean life. While some films about the birth of this country serve as little more than cures for insomnia featuring Colonial-era costumes, "John Adams" brims over with wrenching drama and compelling performances, particularly from the always superb Paul Giamatti as Adams and Laura Linney as his stalwart wife, Abigail.

As strong as the miniseries was in its original broadcast form, the DVD of "John Adams" ($59.99) -- which arrives today in a three-disc set packaged smartly in a glossy, golden box -- takes the production to an even higher level. The optional pop-up historical guide, which allows viewers to read various facts and anecdotes as the action unfolds, turns the film into a valuable teaching tool, one that provides additional context about everything from the Sedition Act to the average height of the American male in the late 18th century. (It was 5'8, by the way.) For anyone who comes to "Adams" without a solid grasp of the details behind the Boston Massacre, or without having read David McCullough's Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same name, the text makes all seven-plus hours an even more enriching experience.

Happily, that isn't the only special feature in the collection. "David McCullough: Painting With Words" is a classy, 40-minute look at the author's exceptional career and creative process, while "The Making of 'John Adams'" lets Giamatti, executive producer Tom Hanks and others explain the labor and love behind the project. (Hanks also sings the praises of Colonial Williamsburg, where portions of the miniseries were shot. In an additional piece of promotion, the DVD comes with a free admission offer for the Virginia tourist hot spot.)

So if you are scrambling to find a Father's Day gift before Sunday, hold this truth to be self-evident: If dear old Dad is any kind of history buff, he'll be very happy to receive this DVD about one of the flawed-but-fascinating Founding Fathers of this nation.

Best Thomas Jefferson Bonus Point: In case you weren't convinced of Jefferson's cleverness, check out some of the pop-up historical facts about his life, including one that credits him with inventing a pedometer and the swivel chair.

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PHOTOS: 'John Adams' -- HBO; 'Funny Games' -- Celluloid Dreams Production

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