Rome-Complete First Season (2005)

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Released 6-Mar-2007

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-8
Alternate Subtitles-All Roads Lead to Rome
Featurette-Friends, Romans, Countrymen
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Shot X Shot: Caesar's Triumph
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Shot X Shot: Gladiator
Featurette-The Rise of Rome
Featurette-When in Rome
Gallery-Photo
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 2005
Running Time 594:53
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Multi Disc Set (6)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Michael Apted
Steve Shill
Timothy Van Patten
Alan Taylor
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Kevin McKidd
Ray Stevenson
James Purefoy
Polly Walker
Kerry Condon
Lindsay Duncan
Tobias Menzies
Ian McNeice
Ciaran Hinds
Case ?
RPI $79.95 Music Jeff Beal


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
German
Dutch
English for the Hearing Impaired
German 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

    There have been several dramatic TV series dealing with the history of ancient Rome. The best known is of course I Claudius ( BBC 1976), though an earlier Granada Television series The Caesars (1968) is widely praised. More recently have been two series that were widely panned: Empire (2005) and Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire (2006). The excellent HBO series Rome now comes to DVD and unlike these series deals in detail with the events leading up to the demise of the Roman republic.

    The events in Rome commence in 52BC when Caesar (Ciarán Hinds) has just defeated Vercingetorix and subdued Gaul. Back in Rome the other consul Pompey (Kenneth Cranham) and the Senate are wary of Caesar's popularity and designs on becoming sole ruler. Pompey's links to Caesar are severed when his wife, Caesar's only daughter Julia, dies in childbirth.

    Two members of Caesar's troops are Centurion Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) and legionary Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson) - both real historical figures. They were mentioned in Caesar's own writings on the conquest of Gaul, the incident he relates being somewhat re-enacted as their introduction to us. In this series Vorenus has a wife Niobe (Indira Varma) in Rome that he has not seen in 8 years, while unlike the dedicated and moral republican Vorenus Pullo, is a jack-the-lad womaniser with a discipline problem. We follow these two characters as they move in and out of events and the albeit fictional involvement they had in some of the key moments depicted in this series.

    Mirroring their adventures are those of the Roman aristocracy. Caesar's niece Atia (Polly Walker) is a schemer who will stop at nothing to gain power and influence, which causes some discomfort and distress to her daughter Octavia (Kerry Condon) and son Octavian (Max Pirkis). Her key rival is Servilia (Lindsay Duncan), Caesar's lover before he left for Gaul.

    The Senate too wants to save the Republic from Caesar's ambitions, and are represented by Servilia's son Marcus Junius Brutus (Tobias Menzies), Cicero (David Bamber), Metellus Scipio (Paul Jesson) and Cato the Younger (Karl Johnson). Caesar's faction is mainly Mark Antony (James Purefoy) and Caesar's Greek slave Posca (Nicholas Woodeson), while other historical figures appear, notably Cleopatra (Lyndsey Marshal).

    The tale told during these twelve episodes is a compelling one, chronicling the end of the Roman republic and the dramatic lives of the protagonists, spiced up with sex, nudity and violence. There is also considerable use of outdoor location shooting which adds to the scope of the production. Much effort has been expended to ensure historical accuracy through the costumes and sets, which are remarkable for a TV series. The depiction of religious observances and everyday details, and the use of much salty and saucy language and different styles of speech for the aristocrats and plebs, make this seem more like a real world.

    Some dramatic licence has been taken. There are omissions of several characters, such as Atia's husband, which were undoubtedly done to make the story less complicated. Julia's death occurred in 54 BC, but we see Caesar hearing of it two years later. The real Pullo was a centurion, but he is shown here as a legionary. Plutarch's account of the death of Cato is more gruesome than depicted here. Not that this really matters, as this is a dramatic series, not a history lesson.

    The performances are excellent throughout, without any major star names in the cast. The producers wisely decided to employ mainly British and Irish actors, so there are no distracting accents and no obvious dubbing (most of it was shot at Cinecittŕ in Rome itself, with Italian extras and bit-part players). Occasionally the story veers into melodrama but these moments are brief.

    The television presentation of this series in Australia was unfortunate to say the least. It was cancelled from the original timeslot after two episodes, then rescheduled for late night screening with little fanfare. Further, the local broadcaster showed the cut BBC version. As far as I can tell the DVD contains the original HBO version. The BBC cuts appear to have been done as much to fit the running time into programming schedules as for censorship reasons. For example the first three episodes were edited down into two, making for some gaps in the narrative. Some of the saltier language was also removed. No wonder people are turning away from free-to-air television in favour of pay TV, DVD and illegal downloads.

    A second season of Rome has been made which is currently screening on HBO. Unfortunately the programme will finish after this second series, mainly because of the exorbitant cost of production. I suggest that given the issues with the TV presentation in this country you may be better off waiting for the DVDs to be released to watch the second series.

Episode 1: The Stolen Eagle (50:10)

    Caesar's conquest of Gaul is complete, but his standard is stolen. Vorenus and Pullo are sent to retrieve it and find more than they bargained for. Meanwhile following Julia's death Pompey turns away from Caesar.

Episode 2: How Titus Pullo Brought Down the Republic (47:57)

    Mark Antony is elected tribune, and the maneuverings of Pompey, Cicero and Cato come to naught when their plan to isolate Caesar comes unstuck. Meanwhile Vorenus finds his welcome home after eight years away to be less warm than he anticipated.

Episode 3: An Owl in a Thornbush (42:31)

    As Caesar crosses the Rubicon an unwilling Vorenus is sent as a forward scout, with Pullo in tow, naturally. Pompey and his allies decide on a tactical retreat from Rome.

Episode 4: Stealing from Saturn (52:13)

    Caesar enters Rome and renews acquaintance with Servilia. Vorenus leaves the army to become a merchant, with mixed results, while Pullo is forced to return his find.

Episode 5: The Ram Has Touched the Wall (49:43)

    Atia's scheme to drive a wedge between Caesar and Servilia pays off. Vorenus returns to the army when his nest eggs falls through and an alternative line of work proves unamenable. Caesar drives Pompey from Italy. Just about John Bennett's last screen appearance as an elderly priest.

Episode 6: Egeria (52:58)

    Mark Antony bends the senate (represented by Simon Callow) to his will. Caesar runs into trouble in Greece and calls on Antony's help. Atia imposes on Octavian to takes his first big step to manhood, in a brothel run by Lynda Baron (Arkwright's love interest in Open All Hours).

Episode 7: Pharsalus (53:44)

    Vorenus and Pullo are shipwrecked on a small island en route to Greece, from which they escape in unusual fashion. Caesar routs Pompey's army. The alliance against Caesar breaks up, and Pompey attempts to escape to Egypt.

Episode 8: Caesarion (51:00)

    Caesar pursues Pompey to Egypt, where he arrives in the middle of a conflict between Ptolemy and Cleopatra that threatens civil war. Caesar decides to remain with a small force and intervene by diplomacy. Vorenus and Pullo are sent to rescue Cleopatra from her brother's clutches.

Episode 9: Utica (51:19)

    Caesar's grip on power is consolidated, while the spurned Servilia seeks some means of revenge. Octavia is sorely misused. Vorenus awaits the revenge of a local gangster but is saved accidently by Caesar's appearance.

Episode 10: Triumph (50:43)

    Caesar holds his triumph in the Forum, while Pullo decides to free his slave Eirene before marrying her. But things don't go according to plan.

Episode 11: The Spoils (46:45)

    Pullo is sentenced to die in the arena for killing one of Caesar's opponents. While Caesar tries to nullify all opposition to his rule, Vorenus discovers that he has to compromise his beliefs as magistrate. In the arena Vorenus finds that he cannot help but intervene.

Episode 12: Kalends of February (45:50)

    Following his actions in the arena Vorenus finds himself rewarded beyond his dreams. Brutus is convinced to join the conspiracy against Caesar, and Servilia exacts her revenge on Atia. Tragedy strikes the household of Vorenus.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The series is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

    It was originally shot on 35mm and was broadcast in high definition by the local television licensee.

    I would have much preferred to see this in one of the new high definition video formats, as the compression artefacts which appear might have been virtually eliminated. However the transfer is still good, being sharp and (at least for objects in the foreground) detailed. The video quality is affected by artistic considerations. There is a lot of brown in the colour scheme, and this extends to flesh tones, which often have that "clay face" effect. Secondly a lot of natural lighting is used. Interiors are much dimmer than you would see in any Hollywood depiction of the ancient world, which is more realistic of course but makes some scenes slightly murky and shadowy.

    There are no film artefacts. Film to video artefacts are present. Edge enhancement is visible in many scenes. Some aliasing occurs infrequently and there is Gibb Effect in most scenes. Some of the battle scenes exhibit macro-blocking artefacts.

    Overall the video presentation is as good as could be expected from a DVD transfer. On my 86cm TV it looked a lot better than when projected, and the increased brightness made the interiors look more detailed and less murky.

    Optional subtitles are provided in several languages. Both English and English Hard of Hearing subtitle streams are included. I sampled these on several episodes. They are in clear white font and are a good size. The subtitles are not verbatim as some words and phrases are omitted to fit the dialogue on the screen, but nothing important was lost.

    The discs are all dual-layered. On disc two I noticed a layer break during one episode, but otherwise the layer breaks are either well-placed or the episodes are each contained on one layer.

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

Audio

    Audio is provided in Dolby Digital 5.1 format, in English and several other languages.

    The audio is generally very good. Separation between the channels is excellent. There are ambient sounds and music from the rear channels as well as directional effects. The subwoofer is used mainly to add emphasis to the music, but there are times when the effects also have a decent bottom end.

    The dialogue seems a little backward in the mix, and I had to turn the volume up to hear some of it. A few actors speak their lines very quietly. Louder dialogue is easy to hear. Audio sync is fine, though there are a few looped lines of dialogue where the sync is slightly off.

    An excellent score by Jeff Beal has a very idiomatic flavour and includes memorable theme music. Like any good score it complements the action and is never intrusive.

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

Extras

    The extras are strewn amongst the first 5 discs, while the sixth disc contains two featurettes and a photo gallery. All of the featurettes are widescreen but are not 16x9 enhanced, disappointingly. All of the featurettes have subtitles.

Main Menu Audio and Animation

    Music from the score and animations with scenes from the series.

Audio Commentaries - Cast and Crew

    There are no less than eight episodes which have audio commentaries. The commentators are Bruno Heller (executive producer, writer) and historian and documentarist Jonathan Stamp (historical consultant) on episodes 1, 2, 7 and 12, Ray Stevenson on episode 5, director Steven Shill on episode 8, director Jeremy Podeswa on episode 9 and Kevin McKidd on episode 11.

    The commentaries from Heller and Stamp are informative. For example the animations seen in the opening credits do mean something, though they are shown almost too quickly to register. Most of their discussions are taken up with pointing out historical accuracies in costumes, sets and customs. There are quite a few dead spots though. Stevenson gives a good, laid-back commentary that is easy to listen to. Shill spends a lot of time talking about how he blocked out the action and the actors. The disappointment is McKidd's commentary, in which he spends too much time explaining the story and the character's motivations.

Text Commentary - All Roads Lead to Rome

    An unusual text commentary in that it is in the form of occasional pop-up boxes with historical background to the events, customs or people depicted on screen. There are also some occasions where clicking the Enter button interrupts the playback and shows some full-screen explanatory text. The information is supplied by series consultant Jonathan Stamp, who also appears frequently in the featurettes. While this feature is activated subtitles are deactivated, and while the main audio can be changed the commentaries cannot be played.

Featurette - Friends, Romans, Countrymen (11:04)

    This featurette is on disc one and is basically an introduction to each of the characters, with comments from the cast. Some of these comments are regurgitated in later featurettes.

Featurette - Shot X Shot: Caesar's Triumph (22:54)

    This featurette is on disc four. It looks at the conception, design and execution of Caesar's triumph in the Forum.

Featurette - Shot X Shot: Gladiator (23:04)

    This featurette on disc five examines the gladiator sequence in Episode 11, from how historical accuracy was intended, to how the visual effects and special effects were done.

Featurette - The Rise of Rome (23:39)

    This and the following featurette are on disc six. This one examines the sets and visual design, in terms of historical accuracy and dramatic potential. It also looks at the costumes. Interestingly the entire massive set was constructed using fibreglass, without any stone whatsoever.

Featurette - When in Rome (22:44)

    The cast and crew discuss the efforts to make the society of Rome come alive, with particular effort to reflect the role of religion in everyday life and the pre-Judeo-Christian worldview. The violence and sex is justified because of the increased ratings, er, um, the brutal and visceral nature of the Romans' brief lives. Ahem.

Photo Gallery

    52 photographs and publicity stills taken on set. The photos are 16x9 enhanced and quite sharp and detailed.

R4 vs R1

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

    This set of six discs seems to be much the same as the US Region 1 release. Apart from the latter being in NTSC instead of PAL, it also includes the small continuity pieces at the beginning and end of each episode, where the main events of the previous or next episode are shown.

Summary

    An excellent series well worth owning on DVD, having substantial replay value.

    The video quality is excellent.

    The audio quality is excellent.

    More commentaries than you can poke a gladius at, with more relevant material in the featurettes.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Monday, March 05, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS9100ES, using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-HS60 LCD Projector projected to 80" screen. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD Player, Dolby Digital and DTS. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES for surrounds, Elektra Reference power amp for mains
SpeakersMain: B&W Nautilus 800; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Tannoy Revolution R3; Subwoofer: Richter Thor Mk IV

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Highly Recommended - Anonymous
Rating? - Shane A REPLY POSTED
re: Rating? - Shane A REPLY POSTED
OFLC Rating - Aaron Jakes
DVD versus TV - Anonymous
DVD Versus TV - Blade66
What killed Rome on channel 9 - Cupboard23