'Rome' raises the bar for history-inspired TV shows
A. Dent | Minas Anor, GD | 12/10/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
Rome wasn't built in one day, we all know that and its story can't be told over 2 seasons but this is probably the best we're going to have, audio-visually, for a long time to come. This is an interrupted, extremely ambitious and, eventually, unaffordable HBO project meant to illustrate the process though which an up and coming but flawed - expansionist, aristocrat driven, slave labor dependent - republic morphs into an equally or more so flawed, unsustainable empire. [Hmmm... lessons to learn? Anyone? Anyone?]
HBO and the producers of the show should be commended for doing everything in their power to stay as close as artistically possible to the historical record, whatever was available, of the period - and 'Rome' covers Cesar's climb to power and the period shortly thereafter, up to Octavian's triumph and transformation into 'Augustus' - the struggles, the intrigue, the atrocities - and how the events it triggered affected the aristocrats and the plebes, rich and poor, citizens, free men and slaves. The point of view and the storytelling shifts or swings between the history makers - Cesar, his family, Octavian, the aristocrats opposing Cesar - and two more or less ordinary Forrest Gump-like Roman soldiers who find themselves involved with almost everything historians wrote about those years and are also depicted during their more ordinary moments.
'Rome' is a feast to the eye, at least in the Blu-ray version that I'm watching. The colors are vibrant and the details on ornaments, wall graffiti, costumes, makeup are as accurate as they come. I would say almost the same about the sounds of Rome but we know so much less about the music of antiquity... Due to obvious budget constraints, camera angles are almost always narrow, focusing on specific buildings or people with the occasional, probably CGI-produced, panoramic shots. And no large, uber-expensive battle scenes but that's okay because the overall story is told well. I don't believe we ever see more than a few dozen humans on any scene but we should admire the director and the camera people even more for their ability to maintain our suspension of disbelief with the limited means at their disposal. Having some of the scenes shot on location - 'Rome' was made in Italy at the Cinecita studios - makes watching even more enjoyable.
THE BLU-RAY EDITION
The Blu-ray edition excels in every aspect, from packaging to the quality of the actual episodes to the Blu-ray specific extras.
The two season's 22 episodes of about one hour each are delivered on 10 discs. They come inside an amazingly beautiful book-like binding with each disc on its own 2-page presentation/display that consists of one picture on the left page and some details on each of the episodes on that specific disc on the right-side page which also holds the disc. There are additional pages that contain titles or some artwork for a total of 30, thick cardboard, full color pages. It's nice that a cloth bookmark was added to help keep track of where one may be with the viewing. The box the book slides in is color-coordinated with the book covers - dark, weathered dried-blood reddish-brown with gold lettering and accents. Simply amazing.
Each episode is presented in 1080p, 16:9 screen and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround sound for English and German as well as DTS Digital Surround 2.0 for Spanish, French, Castilian and Polish (voice over). Subtitles are available in dozens on languages.
Blu-ray specific extras include the invaluable "All Roads Lead to Rome" - a historian presents the historical fact as the episodes run, a 'must watch' when 'Rome' is viewed the second time around because the abundance of information would make watching it the first time too distracting. Also Blu-ray specific is 'Bloodlines', another interactive guide that shows and helps us understand the connections between the various Roman families.
In addition, 13 of the 22 episodes come with audio commentary alternative sound tracks from the cast and crew - presumably to be listened to on the third watching of the series. There are also a number of the usual 'behind the scenes' and 'how did we make this' featurettes.
Not surprisingly, I will rate 'Rome' as a 5-star. It's not perfect but it doesn't need to be so to earn its stars - Amazon's five stars mean 'I love it' not 'it's perfect'. And I absolutely love it. In fact, I am going through the second watching now - the one with 'All Roads Lead to Rome' turned on - and I love 'Rome' even more.
My only issue is that which earned 'Rome' its MA (mature audiences) rating. I am quite frustrated for not being able to watch 'Rome' with my kids in the same room. I know that some would call it 'butchery' but Blu-ray technology should allow for a 'cleaned', PG-13 version that kids could watch too because I can see how watching a show like this, especially with the historical interactive guide turned on, would make some curious enough to actually read more on the topic.
Anyone considering watching 'Rome' in a 'family' setting should be aware that the show is rated TV MA and for good reason. 'Rome' attempts to accurately depict the Rome of 2000 years ago where sexual inhibitions were all but absent, most women were viewed as 'property' and slaves were numerous. You WILL see explicit sex, frontal male nudity and covering your kids eyes won't be enough - consider earplugs or frequent use of the 'mute' button because the sounds of sex are even more explicit than the images. Besides engaging in sex largely for amusement, violence was part of the Roman way of life - torture, gladiator and other arena fights, assassinations were common. Well... those were the Romans - love them or hate them."
Tim Lasiuta | Red Deer, Alberta | 11/14/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
To paraphrase the United States recording industry mega hit, Superlatives are not enough.
Roman history, while always fascinating, has always seemed cool and static in North America. HBO, in "Rome", has breathed life into well documented time period. Those who not historically minded, will merely see this as a very well produced HBO drama. Being hstorically minded, I am thrilled that this period of history can see life.
In two seasons, viewers across North America thrilled to the power struggles within the Roman senate played out in venues from Gaul to Rome. Caesar and his men, in battle and out, realized that the power of plebian popularity. The death of Pompeys' wife, Julia, leads to a struggle for wifery, and eventually his death. The power play between Mark Anthony, Casesar, Vorenus, Pompey, Cato, and Brutus is fascinating. Social standing is valued, to the extent of sacrificing personal happiness. Integrity is merely the price of success. Ambition is the currency of Senate success.
The episodes included in the set are:
How Titus Pullo brought down the republic
An Owl in A Thornbush
The Ram Has Touched the Wall
Kallends of February
Son of Hades
These Being the Words
Tortoise and the Hare
No God Can Stop A Hungry Man
About Your Father
Dramatically speaking, this is a stellar production with outstanding performances. In reading about Rome, I was fascinated that full size sets were constructed for the series accurate to the period. Full scale models of actual artifacts were used in the production, and that is ambitious. I can imagine that once season 2 was finished, a museum is now well stocked, and even a Roman style theme park is now fully functional.
The bonus features just add more integrity to the series that was overdue, and will be missed.
I cannot say enough about this series. It is unfortunate that more episodes were not produced, but I can imagine that the production cost was prohibitive. Perhaps a Medici period drama might be next...
The most brutally realistic view of Rome ever and a great sh
Michael A. Weyer | 11/25/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"First off, if you do have the first two season sets of "Rome" on DVD already, no real reason to upgrade. The extras are all the same with no changes and the picture, if a bit sharper, is about the same too.
But if you haven't gotten this series, this is a great way to start. This is Ancient Rome the HBO way, which means amazing detail to history while mixing in contemporary language, scattered with curses, bloody violence and (this is Rome, after all), constant nudity. The story revolves around two soldiers, Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) and Pullo (Ray Stevenson) who find themselves involved in the dramatic events of Rome. From Julius Ceasar crossing the Rubicon and becoming emperor to meeting Cleopatra, Ceasar's death and the war between Octavius and Rome, the two are in the midst of it all while handling thier own personal dramas. In the first season, Vorenus has no idea his wife had a child with another man while he was at war while Pullo's hard-drinking and violent ways get him into trouble.
The acting is terrific from the two leads, McKidd cool most of the time, which makes his bursts of incredible violence more notable. Pullo is funny as a man who'd go straight through anyone in his parth and sees no trouble killing. Ciaran Hinds gives Caesar a proud air that makes you understand why people were willing to follow him while James Purefoy plays Marc Antony as an arrogant blowhard who still manages to power his way through the ruling class. The best of the cast, however, is easily Polly Walker as the deliciously wicked Atia, a woman willing to do anything (Blackmail, murder and use her body however she wants) to get ahead in Roman society.
The show is wonderfully researched, bringing the era to life like never before and showcases some nice bits of history. The language may be contemporary but the producers do try to show how it really was. Cleopatra, for instance, is attractive but short and hardly the supermodel figure so many movies portray her as while Caesar's assaination is less a careful plot and more a near-disaster. There aren't many actual battle scenes shown due to budget but the fights we get are pretty brutal and bloody like it really was and the show is great illustrating the complex political games of the time.
Season two does suffer a bit as it was midway through production the producers learned they would only get 10 episodes and no third season. Thus, the stories feel more rushed as they try to fit in as much as they can. They do a good job with the battle over Antony and Cleopatra (which is far less than the epic romance most think) and bring it to as good a conclusion as they can. Through it all, the epic bromance between the two leads pulls you in as you get sucked into their lives, through thick and thin and care for their final fates.
The extras are good as there are multiple audio commentaries and features on putting the show together, as well as recreating the time. The best bonus is "All Roads Lead to Rome," a great subtitle guide that explains many of the references, historical notes and more on the time, showing the amazing research that went into it all and you see how true to life it is.
It may have been short-lived but the series remains one of HBO's best efforts ever. Brilliantly acted and wonderful in detail, the show is a must-have for any history or drama buff to see in all its wild glory.