Cleopatra: Special Edition (3 Disc) (1963)

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Released 30-Oct-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Introduction
Audio Commentary-Jack Brodsky,Martin Landau,Chris Mankiewicz & Tom Mankiewicz
Featurette-Cleopatra-The Film That Changed Hollywood
Featurette-The Fourth Star Of Cleopatra
Featurette-Movietone News-East Coast Premiere
Featurette-Movietone News-West Coast Premiere
Theatrical Trailer-3
Teaser Trailer-3
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1963
Running Time 245:00 (Case: 249)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL
Multi Disc Set (3)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Rouben Mamoulian
Joseph L. Makiewicz

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Elizabeth Taylor
Richard Burton
Rex Harrison
Pamela Brown
George Cole
Hume Cronyn
Cesare Danova
Kenneth Haigh
Andrew Keir
Martin Landau
Roddy McDowall
Robert Stephens
Case Gatefold
RPI $39.95 Music Alex North

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (96Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.20:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles Czech
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Cleopatra is the kind of epic, grand scale movie seldom seen today and generally given over to the era of big productions designed to woo audiences back from the glowing idiot box and into cinemas where they belong - at least according to the studios of the time.

    The date is some two thousand years ago, and the great empire of Rome, under the command of Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison) is in need of an ally. The sultry and seductive Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor) seduces Caesar and uses his great power to regain control of her country of Egypt. The second part of the movie sees Caesar dead, and Marc Antony (Richard Burton) desperate for the affections of his once-master's lover. In succeeding, he loses Rome to Octavian (Roddy McDowell) who wages war and takes Rome for himself.

    The version of Cleopatra presented here is slightly over four hours, and split over two discs with a tastefully done and somewhat welcome intermission. There is a great deal of story in this movie, and though the pace is at times relaxed, this is in the end about the people, and not the lavish production - quite a departure from today's effects-driven films. The acting, especially by Richard Burton and Roddy McDowell is sublime; and Elizabeth Taylor is unquestionably perfect as the beautiful and passionate Cleopatra herself.

    Given the difficulties present during the three years it took to make the movie, it is remarkable that the story is as coherent as it is. A six-hour version is in the works, once missing elements are found and restored, but for now Cleopatra has never looked or sounded as compelling.

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Transfer Quality


    I was generally very well pleased with the transfer of this epic movie, and given the age of the source I find little to complain about. Certainly, appreciators of this movie will be satisfied.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

    The image has a slightly soft quality to it, with fine detail lacking the sparkle and clarity given to modern films, though still exemplary for a film pushing nearly 40 years. The quality of the image did tend to vary with regards to the amount of detail present at any given time; some scenes could look stunning, but scenes with masses of people and detailed sets tended to look harshly indistinct. Shadow detail was superb, apart for some day-for-night shooting which suffered in the expected manner. There was little to no grain present throughout.

    The glorious sets and costumes are nothing if not colourful, and they are represented very well by the transfer. Colours are not particularly bold, however subtlety abounds wherever the eye looks. Flesh tones were somewhat irregular and unrealistic at times, thought that could well be the results of visibly heavy make-up on the principal actors.

    No MPEG artefacting is present in any way, thanks to the movie being lavishly spread over two discs. Aliasing was under tight control, however some scenes did suffer for it slightly which gave away the video nature of the transfer and detracted from the film-like qualities otherwise exhibited, at least on my interlaced display. There were surprisingly few blemishes on the print, and the number of significant film artefacts could be counted on one hand, leading me to believe that the film has been archived with great care.

    Both move discs are RSDL formatted, with the layer changes occurring at 63:28 and 54:59 for Discs 1 and 2 respectively. The execution of these layer changes is superb and absolutely non-intrusive.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There is one soundtrack, being English Dolby Digital 5.1, and one commentary track running at a paltry 96 kilobits per second.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

    Dialogue was superb throughout the movie, and always clear and easily understood. A technique common to films of this vintage is screen specific panning of vocals, which I find to be a real treat; as characters move around the wide frame, their voices follow them between the speakers in a very fluid and effective manner sadly no longer practiced, no doubt due to the very real effort required. There are a few instances of vocal distortion during high volume levels, possibly due to the age of the element streams.

    The music ranges from garish to subtle, as does the presentation of it. Generally, the complex score is nicely recorded, having a very wide front stage presence. Fidelity is certainly limited by today's standards, and the high end is somewhat brittle and harsh at times. However, by and large this is a convincingly grand score befitting this scale of movie, though its style does betray the era the film was made in.

    I was not terribly surprised to find almost no surround activity worth mentioning. This is a very frontal presentation, with the only real surround usage occurring during the ship battles in the sea, where the score is brought to the rear and the battle dominates the frontal stage.

    I was surprised, however, to find a great deal of powerful if somewhat sloppy subwoofer usage. It really would kick in at times and it did call attention to itself, being a little overpowering at times. However, it did help to add weight to the scenes in which it was used, even if it was heavy-handed.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Introduction

    Suitably grand main menu animation does well to set the mood, though the rest of the menus are static.

Audio Commentary

Featurette - Cleopatra - The Film That Changed Hollywood (2000)

    This is a superb documentary of not only the film, but of the business of movie making in the 50s and 60s, clocking in at 119:08 minutes in length, and presented in 4x3 and Dolby Digital 2.0 surround. The scale of the production and the nightmares encountered along the way are truly staggering, and almost incomprehensible. Everything about this movie was larger than life.

    It is clear early on that this movie would make or break 20th Century Fox. Struggling with poor attendances, and suffering a string of box-office flops, Cleopatra was to be the cash-cow that would save the studio, and in the process rewrite the way Hollywood functions. To get a glimpse of the enormity of the production, Elizabeth Taylor was originally contracted for the then unheard of figure of one million dollars, and she was given extraordinary powers, including directorial approval and the insistence that the film be shot using the Todd-AO process, developed by her husband. Massive sets were constructed at Pinewood studios in London, and filming began under the directorship of Rouben Mamoulian. Poor weather, the constant illness of Elizabeth Taylor (who nearly died of pneumonia), sixteen weeks and seven million dollars later he was sacked as a result of poor management and replaced with Joseph L. Mankiewicz who decided to move production to Rome - which meant the set at Pinewood had to be destroyed and rebuilt in Italy, a massive engineering feat in its own right. The script was completely rewritten, and new actors chosen. At this point, the studio had 10 minutes of usable footage and suffice it to say the executives were not happy.

    At the end of the day, and at a fabulous cost of forty-four million dollars, two movies - "Caesar And Cleopatra" and "Antony And Cleopatra" - each being three hours long were combined into the one four-hour epic presented on this disc. In adjusted dollars, it cost the equivalent of nearly half-a-billion dollars and took three years, thousands of cast and crew, two complete set builds and two directors and took some three or so years to turn a profit.

Featurette - The Fourth Star Of Cleopatra (1963)

    Quite a decent if dated look at the production, though without mention of the ugly bits (which were legion). Interesting facts include the creation of 26,000 costumes, 79 separate set constructions and a crew of 1,000 people. The fourth star, by the way, is the production itself. Presented in 4x3 and mono, this featurette has a running time of 9:08 minutes.

Featurette - Movietone News - East Coast Premiere

    Presented in black & white, mono and running for 3:54 minutes. A fascinating promotional film for the movie, focusing on the star-studded and lavish premiere of the 4 hour cut of the movie. Very interesting.

Featurette - Movietone News - West Coast Premiere

     Presented in black & white, mono and running for 2:22 minutes, this reveals a somewhat less-than-lavish premiere on the other side of the country, with a more cinema-friendly 3:15 hour cut. It is reported that Elizabeth Taylor was forced to see this cut at the direction of the studio, and at the completion ran to the rest room and was violently sick due to the total mess that the movie now was. We can be thankful we don't have that edit ....

Theatrical Trailer

    All theatrical trailers are 16x9 enhanced and presented in aspect ratios varying from 2.35:1 to 1.78:1. Fascinating to watch, they are all of good quality.

    Trailer A - 4:36 minutes, Trailer B - 0:43 minutes, Trailer C - 4:37 minutes

Teaser Trailer

    Also present are three so-called "Advance" trailers, which are essentially a static backdrop with "Coming Soon" overlaid on top.


    Five stills galleries round off the extras package, with over 240 images from all facets of production, promotion and exhibition.

R4 vs R1

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

    The R1 version is released under the impressive sounding "THX 5 Star Collection" banner, though in truth is essentially identical to our release.


    A staggering production that yields a very watchable and often powerful movie. Certainly, the enormity of the film cannot be argued, and the spectacle alone is worth the price of admission. Very good image and sound transfers along with truly worthwhile and substantial extras. I heartily recommend this film for movie buffs, lovers of classic cinema or those wanting some sense of scale in their life.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Paul Cordingley (bio)
Tuesday, November 06, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD-900E, using RGB output
DisplayPioneer SD-T43W1 (125cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DB-930
SpeakersFront & Rears: B&W DM603 S2, Centre: B&W LCR6, Sub: B&W ASW500

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