Compelling, dark entertainment, though not very accurate
MartinP | Nijmegen, The Netherlands | 04/05/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The ingredients do not necessarily suggest a successful TV-series. There's extreme, relentless, at times mind numbing violence, graphically depicted; barely a single sympathetic character is in sight; there is not the slightest hint of anything humoristic (well, except for Ian McNeices delicious newsreader); and as always actual historical fact is twisted and turned into something that may be suitable for entertainment purposes but rather (over)stretches credulity at times - one wonders why, because it's not as if these people actually were a dull bunch leading uneventful lives. Yet "Rome" is strangely haunting and compelling. Often it does a good job of transporting the viewer to a world unencumbered by Christian sensitivities, particularly in its love of bloodsports, its dealings with slaves, and its relaxed attitude to sex and public nudity. Full frontal male nudity is not eschewed, still the final frontier in film-making. Also, and more importantly, "Rome" conveys the constant sense of tension, intrigue and threat dominating the lives of those in power. Finally, a fairly good job was done of giving a realistic impression of the city itself in those final decades before the birth of Christ. It is, however, weird and rather silly that the characters speak English but throw in occasional Latin. The perfect, smudge-free make-up and excellent teeth also make you wonder (Suetonius describes Octavian's teeth as "few, small and decayed"). Typically, many of the main dramatic historical events are not shown, but only told in flashback. For instance, we do not witness Mark Antony's finest hour, his eulogy at Caesar's funeral, that swayed Roman public opinion against the assassins. Several decisive battles, including that of Actium, are also conveniently skipped.
The story is told from the vantage point of two soldiers, one eventually rising through the ranks, the other only finding a settled existence towards the end. Both are, though in name only, based on historical characters. Gruff and dutiful Lucius Vorenus is haunted by personal tragedy. He struggles with his role as a father and his allegiance to a loosing party, that of Mark Antony; struggles that at one point will land him as the leader of a band of hired assassins. His unlikely friend Titus Pullo leads an aimless existence that never manages to be carefree and that only gains some focus whenever some fighting is to be done. The plot has been constructed around the far-out premise that the whole birth of the Roman Empire pivoted on the actions of these two men, rather than those of Julius Caesar and his ilk. The idea has been woven into the story so tightly and cleverly that it is surprisingly easy to suspend disbelief.
The first season is the more consistent and compelling of the two, dealing with the battle between Julius Caesar and Magnus Pompey. The strife between the families of Caesar and Brutus is exemplified by their two matrons Atia and Servilia, both in their way as vicious and devious a schemer as you're ever likely to see. The development of the relationship between Vorenus and Niobe is believable and quite touching. The second season then depicts the power struggle between Mark Antony and Gaius Octavian, and introduces the exotic element of Egypt, where Cleopatra's court appears to be some kind of whorehouse and the Queen herself a scantily dressed upmarket prostitute. Halfway through this season the story start to get ragged, and some plotlines hang by a precariously thin thread (the way Vorenus discovers his daughter's betrayal is like something out of an uninspired Miss Marple episode). A Jewish subplot is randomly tacked on and feels like a cumbersome invention to burden the story with irrelevant premonitions of Christ. Furthermore, it doesn't help that a substantial number of the more interesting characters, notably Cicero, Servilia and Brutus, are killed off. The "Xena, Warrior Princess"- act of Gaia in the battle of the Collegia is probably the low point of the series. Fortunately, things are pulled together for the final episodes, where the story is satisfyingly wrapped up and the viewer is indeed left, in Octavian's words, with the sense of having travelled a long road.
History buffs will find ample cause to be annoyed nonetheless. Many events are fabricated, characters are missing (where are Octavia's husband Claudius Marcellus, Atia's husband Lucius Phillippus and Marc Anthony's wife Fulvia?), people weren't really in the places where we see them at the moment we see them there (Caesar wasn't killed in the Senate, Cicero wasn't killed at home), and several details of costume and ritual are anachronistic or invented. Alexandria is shown as some rustic backwater rather than the dazzling metropolis it was. Characters are sometimes almost insultingly distorted. Cicero wasn't the abject hypocrite and coward he's been made into by the makers of the series. He delivered the Philippics against Antony himself, and was a figure of great power and huge popularity. Atia gets even worse treatment: described by Tacitus as one of the most admired and devout matrons of Rome, who couldn't bear crude language and was deeply serious, she is turned into a foul-mouthed, violent she-devil. Generally speaking it is a pity that most of the characters are rather flat and stereotyped. It sometime makes it hard to believe when they do change, as when the cynical libertine Mark Antony suddenly waxes philosophical after loosing the battle of Actium. Easily the most complex, fascinating and moving character in the series is that of Brutus, played with consummate skill and total conviction by Tobias Menzies. It is a great pity that the scriptwriters did not retain for him his dignified suicidal death, but instead have him madly confront an entire legion on his own, and die a death mirroring that of Caesar - the symbolism is very trite. Such concerns may seem academic, but in this TV-dominated age its only too likely that many will think that after watching "Rome" they actually know something of Roman history. Not so - but they will have been splendidly entertained. "
Rome is Excellent
RKA | NEW YORK | 12/15/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Brilliant series that is hard to believe was made for TV, even if it is HBO. Top notch production featuring excellent writing, performances, cinematography, action etc. The gold box special at 60 bucks for both seasons 1 and 2, is a steal considering other sites are selling this set in excess of twice that. Lots of worthwhile extras. And to all those fans complaining about the initial high price.., Blame HBO for overpricing their stuff, not Amazon.com. Grab this set before the price goes back up."
B.T. | the South | 12/15/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Rome is an excellent show and this current Gold Box deal ($60 for the set)is a fantastic deal. I am a bit fuzzy on the exact history but from what I knew and was able to research, it is pretty accurate if not a bit "sex and sandals." The basic storyline of the two best friends is at the heart of the series and makes it worth watching. This would be an excellent gift for someone who enjoys history or historical dramas."
One of the Best shows put on TV
P. J. Mathews | Fairfax Station, Virginia United States | 12/15/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is easily one of the best shows that has been on TV. It's a dramatic, politico-intrigue thriller, and it's pretty accurate to the broader strokes of history (by TV/film period drama standards) -- perhaps though I don't expect the same level of exacting adherence to historical fact as the previous reviewer who complained that Cicero wasn't actually in Rome during an important vote. The acting is superb and the cinematography lives up to the high standards set by other HBO shows.
All the reviewers who gave this box set a low rating for its price: you are not helpful -- The price fluctuates, but the product doesn't change. I agree with what you are saying that it is stupid how these WERE priced more as a boxset than individually, but you should add your comment about the price to the end of your post as a footnote -- and you shouldn't incorporate it into your rating of the ROME series (maybe minus one star if you feel it's a huge ripoff, but make that clear). Any semi-conscious consumer knows $180 is a rip-off, to say nothing of the fact that we all have different price points. All of you are being so unhelpful while being self-righteous/whiny it is ridiculous."
James C. Ward | Tuscaloosa area AL, USA | 03/10/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you enjoy history and historical drama, this is a great series for you. Very high production values, real historical characters that come to life, and excellent writing make this a smash hit. This series is produced by HBO, which is known for high quality work. Also, this series has been highly rated by critics and the public. You will see much violence, blood, and passion, which is an historically accurate look at the 1st century Roman Empire. The are many characters you'll both love and hate, and will enjoy watching how they evolve as the story unfolds over the course of two seasons. Highly recommended."