Updated: Feb 14, 2021
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
British actress Cynthia Erivo plays Harriet Tubman the most famous conductor of the Underground Railroad, who also led under the command of Colonel James Montgomery, 150 black Union soldiers in the Combahee River raid freeing over 750 slaves in South Carolina.
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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2019; PG-13 for thematic content throughout, violent material and profanity including racial epithets; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, Apple (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: Commentary by Director/Co-writer Kasi Lemmons
CYNTHIA ERIVO was nominated for her performance of Harriet Tubman in the film by Kasi Lemmons who co-wrote and directed. It's a great match for a great film.
Lemmons is primarily known as an actress and that background serves her well here. She also wrote and directed “Eve’s Bayou” and “Black Nativity” so she’s no stranger to the helm. Norfolk, Virginia-born Gregory Allen Howard of "Remember the Titans" and "Ali" co-wrote the script. My group of film watchers fell in love with Erivo for as Darlene Sweet in “Bad Times at the El Royale” (2018). Like Lemmons, she brings a wealth of experience to “Harriet,” with a Tony-winning performance as Cece in the Broadway revival of “The Color Purple,” and other stage and film roles. The English-born Erivo is also Oscar-nominated with Joshuah Brian Campbell for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures for “Stand Up,” the movie’s theme (video below).
With the interest in diversity and black history, it’s surprising a film about the American abolitionist Tubman has never been made before. Perhaps it’s because these elements were waiting for the right artists. Lemmons’ commentary describes the research involved in writing the script, as well as casting and production choices. She provides a clear picture of Tubman’s life without sensationalism. Viewers have already seen the brutal treatment endured by American slaves – the whippings, rapes, and destruction of families – in other films. Lemmons decision to show the results of that treatment and quest for freedom makes moving and enthralling film experience. We may come into the film knowing Harriet Tubman's triumphs, but Lemmons and Erivo maintain suspense throughout.
(1) It's 1849, Harriet is known as Araminta “Minty” Ross, a slave in Dorchester County, Maryland. She has visions, which she feels come from God. (2&3) She's also married to a free black man John Tubman (Zackary Momoh), who lives off the farm. He's consulted a lawyer who says a will left by her owner’s great-grandfather stating that both Minty and her mother should be freed when her mother turned 45. (4) John and Minty want to start a family and ask Mr. Brodess (Mike Marunde) if he'll honor the will? He tears it up, and his wife Eliza (Country singer Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland) and son Gideon (Joe Alwyn) affirm his actions.
The story begins pre-Civil War. Born into slavery, Harriet Tubman endured the horror of slavery. A blow to her head resulted in lifelong pain, dizziness and fainting spells. During those spells, Harriet experienced visions she felt came from God. She used those visions to elude slave catchers and bring 70 people, including family and strangers, to freedom during 13 rescue missions through the Underground Railroad. We get a clear look at the actions involved and Harriet’s fierce determination to “live free or die.” We also get a sobering look at those who would have stopped her, including black informants and slave catchers. That's caused an uproar among some who can’t believe a free black man would betray his own. Sadly as Simmons points out, greed has no color barrier.
When the Civil War begins, Harriet works for the Union Army as nurse, scout and spy. Later, she becomes the first woman to lead an armed expedition of black soldiers during the raid at the Combahee Ferry freeing 700 slaves. After the war, she became a champion for woman’s suffrage until illness took her.
“Harriet” is as much a compelling adventure as an homage to one of America’s most loved heroes.
Filmed throughout Virginia including Richmond, Petersburg and Charles City, “Harriet” is another 4K exclusive for streaming sites. Sharpness is in a dead heat between 4K streaming and the physical 1080p disc, captured on 6K digital cameras, but both sourced from a 2K digital intermediate (2.39:1 aspect ratio).
HDR toning brings more controlled shading, highlights and stable contrast. While darker, details in the 2160p become a bit sharper, especially in shadows. The 1080p provides a warmer, richer palette and also boasts good highlights, contrast and detail. Landscapes look gorgeous, especially during a sunset scene. Interiors sparkle with detail to the point we can see woodgrain on the floors. The variety of fleshtones is natural and do not diminish during different light levels.
(1) After the death of Gideon's father, he plans to sell Minty. (2) Minty tells John she's running away and heading north. (3) The first night on the run Minty ends up at her father's place (Ben Ross), who's a free man. He hands her a carved image of himself and says, "I'll be with you." (4) Next to Rev. Green's church, and Minty tells him, "I want to be free." Rev. Green responds, "Fear is your enemy. Trust in God and the North Star will be your guide." (5&6) Blacksmith Thomas Garrett (Tim Guinee) gives Minty a warm bed and clothes and takes her to the border of Pennsylvania a free state. She heads to freedom.
A DTS-MD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack delivers clear dialogue, effects and score by Terence Blanchard who also composed scores for Spike Lee’s “BlacKKKlansman,” “25th Hour” and “Inside Man.” He also wrote the score for Anthony Hemingway’s “Red Tails.”
This is an energetic, well-balanced and consistently good mix. Deep bass is used during fight and battle scenes, chases and gunfire. It is loaded with surround activity delivering sound throughout the room and enveloping viewers. It’s one of the best for home theaters.
In addition to Lemmons’ excellent commentary on Universal Picture’s presentation, find seven deleted scenes. Most are good enough to have remained in the film, but would have driven “Harriet” over its 125-minute runtime.
Short featurettes include “Her Story,” where cast and crew talk about Tubman’s influence. “Becoming Harriet” focuses on Erivo, her casting and what she hoped to bring to the part.
Erivo is joined by a great cast that includes Leslie Odom Jr., Clarke Peters, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Henry Hunter Hall, Janelle Monae, Omar J. Dorsey and Joe Alwyn.
“Harriet” is easily one of the best and most accessible movies on black history in America – and celebrates the best anyone could aspire to be.
— Kay Reynolds and Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch producer
(1) Minty gives William Still (Leslie Odom Jr.), chairman of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, her slavery story and escape. Then she changes her name to Harriet Tubman. (2) Harriet returns to Maryland to rescue her husband John and the rest of her family. (3&4) Rev. Green's church has become a major stop on the Underground Railroad. (5) Harriet leads the way to cross a body of water during the cover of darkness. (6) Harriet and members of her family arrive at the Anti-Slavery Society headquarters in Philadelphia.
(1&2) Harriet gives a passionate abolitionist speech in Albany, New York, at the home of U.S. Senator William Seward. "I ain't giving up rescuing slaves because it's far." (3) Eliza Brodess rallies local farmers with a plan to capture Harriet. (4) Harriet rescues her mother from the Brodess farm. (5) Harriet and Gideon have one final showdown. (6) A closing credit portrait of Cynthia Erivo as Harriet captured in a 19th-century photography style.
STAND UP VIDEO