The epic event of the year comes to DVD in the mini-series EMPIRE. Complete with unrated and extended scenes, EMPIRE is presented for the first time as a seamless feature. The Roman Empire is plunged into chaos when Julius... more » Caesar is assassinated and his power is passed on to his 18-year-old nephew Octavius. With his guardian, former gladiator Tyrannus, Octavius is forced into exile to escape those who wish to sever Caesar's bloodline permanently. Under Tyrannus' tutelage, Octavius prepares to face off against the treacherous Marc Antony and fulfill his destiny as the leader of Rome. EMPIRE boasts "powerful acting," says the Wall Street Journal, with a hot young cast that includes James Frain (24), Colm Feore, Jonathan Cake, Santiago Cabrera, and Emily Blunt. Filmed entirely in scenic Italy, EMPIRE tells the thrilling story of a hero's rise amidst the greed, intrigue, and lust of ancient Rome.~« less
Should have been inspried by "I Claudius" rather than "Gladi
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 07/27/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"It would be easy to castigate "Empire," the eight-part minis-series aired on ABC this summer, by looking at how little it has to do with the actual period of Roman history beginning with the assassination of Julius Caesar and ending with the crowning of his nephew Octavius as Augustus, the first Roman emperor. However, it is not like people are really familiar with Roman history or can be motivated to care about such trivial facts from the past. Furthermore, it is clear the producers of "Empire" want you to be thinking more of "Gladiator" than "I Claudius," and want to beat HBO's "Rome" to the punch as well. That is why I have decided to take a different line of attack and chastise writer Tom Wheeler for ignoring the glory that was Rome in the movies. Wheeler might be able to get away without reading Plutarch or Suetonius to develop this story, but ignoring "Julius Caesar" and "Cleopatra" is arguably a bigger affront to the gods.
The story of how Octavius became Augustus ("the boy who became a god" according to "Empire") is certainly a story worth telling. In terms of movies and mini-series there is a gap between the Octavius we find at the end of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" and Elizabeth Taylor's "Cleopatra," and the Emperor Augustus we meet at the start of "I Claudius." Great things were expected of Julius Caesar, but not Octavius, so the fact that he succeeded is a riches to royalty story of some interest. However, while Wheeler's script is interested in this transformation it does not make the transformation all that interesting.
Julius Caesar (Colm Feore) is at what would prove to be the heights of his power although he has still greater ambitions. Well aware he is the eye of Rome's political hurricane, Caesar gives the gladiator Tyrannus (Jonathan Cake) his freedom and hires him as a bodyguard. Unbeatable in the arena, Tyrannus has an Achilles heel in his love for his wife and son, which means he is not there when Brutus (James Frain) and Cassius (Michael Maloney) strike down Caesar in the Senate. This time, after doing his variation on the "Et tu, Brute?" line Caesar survives long enough to tell Tyrannus to make sure he keeps Octavius alive. The unspoken charge is that Tyrannus will help Octavius (Santiago Cabrera) grow up, so that instead of being a spoiled patrician he can become (wait for it) Caesar.
"Empire" keeps trying to set up action sequences where Tyrannus has to save Octavius's life, but this is not "Gladiator." The political intrigue is more interesting and the biggest problem is that the most fascinating character in the cast is Marc Antony (Vincent Regan). When Caesar dies and names Octavius his heir, Antony does not even blink. Was he passed over because Caesar found him unworthy or because the assassination came before Caesar was thinking long term? Regardless, Antony looks at Octavius and does not see a Caesar. The screenplay quickly removes the assassins from the scene and what we end up with is a life or death struggle between Octavius and Antony. Fortunately Octavius has the will of Caesar, the help of not only Tyrannus but Antony's foe Cicero (Michael Byrne), and the good wishes of the Vestal Vrigin Camane (Emily Blunt). All Antony has on his side is a smart wife, but she has no legions, where as Octavius stumbles across a lost one in the woods.
Octavius does have a few moments where you see the spark that will make him emperor, but there is no clear motivation for his evolution besides the fact the story assumes it takes place. Besides twirling his swords Tyrannus has little to really say in terms of instruction, and Cicero, who would have plenty to say, decides to be overly cryptic for a great orator. The sets look great and the casting is solid if not stellar. Regan stands out because he is given the most to do and does it well while the rest of the cast struggles with the by the numbers approach to political ascension. I find myself wishing that the death of Caesar had happened later in the story (akin to where Wild Bill Hickock buys it in the first season of "Deadwood"), not only because it would give Feore more to do but also because he could have started grooming young Octavius.
This last period of Civil War before the birth of the Roman Empire was filled with fascinating characters, important battles, and dangerous political intriques (Cicero was not only killed, but had his hands cuts off and a pin put through his tongue because of that attacks he wrote and spoke against Antony). Clearly the model for "Empire" is "Gladiator," but it should have been "I Claudius." Certainly a Roman soap opera played out on a grand stage would have made much more compelling summer fare. I will confess to having higher hopes for "Rome," which will focus on the last years of the reign of Julius Caesar."
Anachronistic sword and sandal
SereneNight | California, USA | 07/13/2006
(1 out of 5 stars)
"I enjoy Roman history, so I rented "Empire" on netflix. I admit, I could barely sustain my interest as I watched a group of gladiators fight (one with a full facial tribal tattoo), versus our hero, anachronistically attired Tyranus. Come on people. This is the height of the Roman empire. Characters are dressed like braveheart extras or rejects from the world wrestling federation.
Next, we see young Octavius flirting with a vestal virgin. Come on people? A vestal virgin? They were kept under lock and key and chaperoned. Roman women were not roaming around on the streets and speaking their minds to rich upperclass men unless they were loose.
This was overall, pretty cheesy, and worse boring- I'm having trouble maintaining my interest."
Don't even rent this
JS | Wiesbaden, Germany | 02/15/2006
(1 out of 5 stars)
"When I watched this, I decided I had a moral obligation to warn people from buying this DVD set!!
The good: The series was filmed in Italy, and the actor who plays Anthony is pretty good. That's it.
The bad: The film is a direct rip off of the movies "Gladiator", "Spartacus", and even "The Beastmaster". And every character fits some Roman cliche: The hero is surrounded by corrupt senators, a wise poet, his love interest is a Vestal Virgin, and he's saved by a gladiator time and time again.
And forget history. The writers just made it up from scratch. That wouldn't be so bad, except that the story they came up with is far less interesting than what really happened. And incredibly, in the interviews section, one of the writers said he wanted to present a "realistic" picture of Rome! Just a few of the departures from history: Somehow they forgot to even mention Cleopatra in this conflict, and they also forgot that the decisive battle between Anthony and Octavian was fought at sea, not land. Its also nice to know that ancient Rome was an integrated society like the USA, with the same black/white ethnic mix and even a black man as its most powerful general!
There's one scene that's so ridiculous it defies belief. An animal trainer villian dressed like the "beastmaster" lets loose his trained snakes (there is no such thing as a "trained snake"!!), which kill an entire mansion full of guests at a party, with the bodies laying around covered in blood - I'm not joking here!
Jeez, at least they could have thrown in some gratuitous nudity, or something! If you want to see a better version of the events of this period, I would recommend instead the HBO "Rome" series, the "Cleopatra" mini-series starring Timothy Dalton, or the Elizabeth Taylor version of "Cleopatra". Or even read Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar", its far closer to actual History."
Read the history, skip this awful series
Paul R. Thomas | Myrtle Beach, SC United States | 12/19/2005
(1 out of 5 stars)
"The real story of Octavian's rise to power, the real events, his real personality and that of Antony and others in the real story is so much more interesting than any fictionalized account could be --- especially one as awful as this. The story line of this series is stupid: Ceaser frees a gladiator/slave to protect Octavian, octavian runs into hiding and is eventually sold as a slave all the while being saved again and again by the faithful if crabby and under-appreciated gladiator and the inability of the near-satanic Cassius and swishy Brutus to kill him off. From one impossible situation to the next, Octavian's spoiled and wimpy self manages to suffer ill-deserved dumb luck. Octavians character in the series is the exact opposite of what is well described in authentic history; ditto for Antony, Brutus and Cassius.
All the events, characterizations and situations of this film are just plain silly. But again, why? when the reality of this historical episode and the people who were involved in it is so fascinating?? Sex, murder, intrique, wanton destruction, glory, its all there in the real thing and, unlike this series, it makes for a ripping good story. If the acting talent and resources employed to make this series had been put to a serious attempt at historical (and entertaining) film making it could have been great."
Great movie within it's scope and genre.
Stuart Winer | Boston, MA USA | 03/31/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I quite enjoyed watching this. I thought it was well-written and produced, with good dramatic touches. It's at least two steps up from the drek miniseries that are produced for the sci-fi channel or FX by the bushell lately.
But it's not a truly great work. This is basically a revisit to the substance and style of Russell Crowe's Gladiator, which was itself excellent, but time has passed and this feels like a well-intentioned retread instead of an original work.
They should have filled out the cast and modeled it after the Soprano's, or copied the style of the BBC's sublime I-Claudius directly. But they don't appear to have the talent or nimble touch for that kind of character-based work.
Still, young Octavian makes several key decisions and grows in the role, and many characters had mixed motives and some real depth. It didn't talk down to the audience. They really needed to make a longer miniseries for everything to come to full fruition.
So there was something there. So one should enjoy this for the well-written, fun, heavy-handed historical soap opera as it is. It's a worthy, enjoyable entertainment."