After working more than 25 years as a TV and film writer, Abby Mann parlayed his success as creator of the original "Kojak" series to realize his dream project on the famous Civil Rights leader. Functioning as writer and director, Mann assembled a stellar cast of the top African American actors and many up-and-coming actors, including Howard E. Rollins, Jr. and Ernie Hudson, and filmed scenes at vivid locations.
Most of the actual production details aren't covered in the DVD's quartet of featurettes, as the focus is on addressing past and present prejudices in America, and King's efforts to create rapid change without using violence. The first featurette is a straight conversation between Mann and singer Tony Bennett (given third billing in the series, although he only appears in Part 3), who supported King's non-violent cause by traveling with him on several occasions. Bennett also describes his own experience with racism during WWII, and the events that mitigated his stance as a pacifist.
"The Struggle" and "The Civil Rights Movement" featurettes largely incorporate interviews with Mann, actor Ossie Davis, and Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer, and serve to address the political and social climate that motivated King to take action, when complacency and despair were the norm. Davis is particularly eloquent in citing key historical moments that precipitated factions of African Americans to push harder and force change, and why King became so deeply involved in the desegregation movement. There's some thematic replication within the interview segments, but overall the featurettes do an excellent job in conveying the nobility of King's cause, his impatience, and the twisted irony of King's pacifist tactics being met by such ugly verbal and physical violence.
"The Making of King" largely covers the steps that led to "King" being greenlit by NBC, and Mann's own friendship with King and his wife; Ossie Davis also knew King, and his recollections are accompanied by some rare stills. There's also brief nods to Emmy Award Nominated leading actors Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield, although more practical production details should have been addressed, such as the location work, and the film's gorgeous visuals. Cinematographer Michael Chapman ("Taxi Driver") gave the film a subdued, yet diverse colour scheme, and the mini-series fluidly incorporates vintage newsreel and recreated news footage for added verisimilitude.
MGM's transfer is made from a really gorgeous print, although there's a peculiar bright hazing that occurs in certain scenes with bright, white textiles and lighting. The mono mix is straightforward, and Billy Goldenberg's Emmy-winning score comes through nicely. (Like the film proper, the featurettes heavily rely on words and lengthy, emotive, contemplative faces. The making-of featurette uses more film clips and Goldenberg's music, but producer/director Craig Carson's decision to play the same thirty-second music cue in a permanent loop is grating, and amateurish.)
"King" is an impeccable production, and Mann's screenplay is a judicious and beautifully balanced work of historical facts, dramatic highlights, and emotional intimacy. A superb production.
© 2005 Mark R. Hasan