Empires-The Roman Empire: In the First Century (Roadshow) (2001)

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Released 8-Apr-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio
Trailer-The Empires Series
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 218:03 (Case: 220)
RSDL / Flipper No/No
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Margaret Koval
Lyn Goldfarb
Studio
Distributor
SBS
Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Sigourney Weaver
Case Amaray-Transparent-S/C-Dual
RPI $49.95 Music Dana Kaproff


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.75:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.75:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    This two disc set contains four episodes in the Empires series, a series of television programmes that looks at various historical eras, not all of an imperial nature. This set looks at the history of the Roman empire in the first century AD.

    I have to admit being disappointed by these episodes, perhaps because my expectations were high. Rather than a detailed look at the early Roman empire, this is a superficial run through the major events of the time, with some lapses in taste and some major irrelevancies included. And it is a bit dull as well.

    I am not certain what the producers had in mind, and perhaps there was some confusion in their minds, as this series wanders all over the place. The first episode deals with the career of Augustus, who brought the Roman Republic to an end and set up the structure of Imperial Rome that lasted for the best part of a century. For some reason, the producers have decided to counterpoint his career with that of the poet Ovid, who was renowned for his risqué and salacious poetry. Selections from his surviving poems are read, while we are shown some lewd frescoes from the era. I think most of these frescoes were found in the ruins of Pompeii.

    The second episode looks at the reigns of Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius. For some reason, about ten minutes are spent on the career and crucifixion of a prophet from an obscure cult in Judea. While these were contemporary events, they had little or no impact on Rome or the Empire during the next hundred years.

    Episode three details the end of Claudius and the reign of Nero. Again we have a lot of discussion of the Jewish rebellion, the career of the Jewish historian Josephus and the spread of Christianity. The rebellion was a fairly minor event in the scheme of things and Christianity was still insignificant at this time.

    The final episode looks at 69 AD, the so-called "Year of Four Emperors" and the rise of Vespasian. Well, that's what it should have done, but the first three Emperors are ignored and we just get Vespasian, Domitian and Trajan. Even then, most of the episode is given over to Pliny the Younger.

    The series relies on a lot of re-enactments, which are basically people dressed in Roman gear wandering through forests. There are also brief grabs from a few talking heads, but in keeping with the philosophy of the series there is no real depth to what they say. The level of insight is obvious when one of these academics likens Nero to Elvis. The series is narrated by Sigourney Weaver, who does not bring much life to the text. This series might be interesting to someone who knows nothing about the era, but otherwise I would recommend that you invest in I Claudius instead which, while fictional, contains a wealth of historical detail and is entertaining to boot.

    The four episodes and their running times are:

Order From Chaos (53:54)

Years of Trial (54:43)

Winds of Change (54:42)

Years of Eruption (54:44)

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    The video is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.75:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced.

    The video is not especially sharp. It has the look of an NTSC to PAL transfer, with insufficient detail being present for the PAL format. The lack of 16x9 enhancement means that the already fuzzy-looking video is made to look worse when zoomed in on a widescreen display.

    Colour is average. You can tell what the original colours must have looked like, but there is a drabness to the transfer that mutes the richness of the colour. There also appears to be some oversaturation at the red end of the spectrum, almost to the point of colour bleeding.

    Being a video original, there are no film artefacts of any note. Apart from some very mild aliasing that I might not have noticed if I had not been looking for it, there is nothing of note in terms of film to video artefacts or compression artefacts.

    Optional English subtitles are provided. These subtitles are in yellow and look quite readable. However, they are not 16x9 friendly, being placed mainly in the area immediately below the image. This means that if you want to use the zoom function on your display so that the image fills the entire screen, the subtitles cannot be seen.

    Both discs are single layered, so there is no layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The single audio channel is English Dolby Digital 2.0. No surround encoding is present.

    The spoken word comes across distinctly. I do not think anyone will have trouble understanding what is said, as most of it is delivered deliberately and clearly.

    Music for the series is by Dana Kaproff, and it complements the series nicely. In episode two, the merrymaking music sounds like something by Nino Rota out of a Fellini film, which might not be totally inappropriate.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    In my opinion, no extras have been included in this two-disc set. The Extras option on the main menu takes you to a screen where you can switch subtitles on or off, and includes some advertising for the Empires series. The same extras appear on each disc.

Main Menu Audio

    The static main menu has music from the series played as background.

The Empires Series

    This is merely some advertising for other releases in this series. Each screen displays the covers from two releases. If you select a cover, some text is displayed. The text is a blurb for that release.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This series has been released in Region 1 on a single disc (presumably a flipper), also without 16x9 enhancement. No reviews are available, so in the absence of any reason to prefer one over the other, this must be draw.

Summary

    For me, a disappointing series which gives little insight into the period covered.

    The video transfer suffers from a lack of 16x9 enhancement as well as conversion from NTSC to PAL.

    The audio transfer is satisfactory.

    There are no extras of any value.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Thursday, April 01, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V596 for surround channels; Yamaha AX-590 as power amp for mains
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Richter Harlequin; Rear: Pioneer S-R9; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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