1964's "The Fall of the Roman Empire" was the last of Samuel Bronston's 'epic trilogy', three remarkable films ("Empire", "El Cid", and "55 Days in Peking"), that stand alone in their sheer opulence and spectacle. Sadly, "Empire" would fail at the box office, forcing Bronston to shut down much of his Madrid studio, but he was justifiably proud of the film, nonetheless; it tackled a seemingly impossible subject (the collapse of Imperial Rome) on a grand scale, with intelligence and a surprising compassion. The time frame of the film (the era of Caesars Marcus Aurelius and Commodus) would, in fact, prove so richly dramatic that Ridley Scott would return to it in "Gladiator", which, in many ways copies "Empire" (and would win the 'Best Picture' Oscar, to boot!)
The back story of "Empire" is every bit as remarkable as "El Cid"; this had been a pet project of Bronston's for years, and with the backing of the Spanish government, and brilliant director Anthony Mann on board, he planned it as the follow-up to "El Cid", creating massive sets of both Rome and northern Europe, in Madrid, and locations throughout Spain.
Bronston felt a major male superstar would be needed for the production to 'work', and courted Charlton Heston, so memorable as "El Cid". But Heston felt the story paralleled much of "Ben Hur", and when he was informed that Sophia Loren (who he had not enjoyed working with, in "El Cid") would again be his leading lady, he turned the role down. Bronston, anxious to retain his services, then showed him the script of "55 Days in Peking" (which wouldn't involve Loren), and he expressed interest. Bronston, amazingly, tore down ALL the "Empire" sets, and built 'Peking', to accommodate Heston! "Empire" would be put on hold until "55 Days" was completed.
The delay would result in greater financial difficulties (as the Peking film wasn't the critical and commercial hit "El Cid" had been), as well as other problems. The original choice as Commodus, Richard Harris, did not get along with director Mann, and would be replaced by Christopher Plummer (Harris would eventually portray Marcus Aurelius, in "Gladiator"). Replacing Heston as the lead would be Stephen Boyd (after Kirk Douglas turned down the role). While a very competent actor, Boyd lacked the charisma and star power to attract audiences. The production hit snags in a number of areas, further draining the strained budget. Ultimately, it would have needed to be a blockbuster to recoup the costs...and, sadly, it wasn't.
Still, the film is a joy, in many ways; Alec Guinness, as Aurelius, and James Mason, as a Greek philosopher/ex-slave, are both superb; Sophia Loren is breathtakingly beautiful; Plummer is every bit as good as Commodus as Joaquin Phoenix would be, a generation, later; the battles and Rome sequences are visually stunning; and Dimitri Tiomkin's dazzling score is one of his best.
"Fall of the Roman Empire" has truly grown in stature, over the years, and the Miriam Collection edition, with restored picture and sound, commentaries, and wonderful special features, promises to be a 'must own' for every film buff!
on February 13, 2008
At long last the epic FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE is becoming available in the aftermath of the release of EL CID. This was the movie that destroyed Samuel Bronston's studio. Much of the story would later be the basis of GLADIATOR. A terrific cast: Stephen Boyd as Livius, Sophia Loren (was there ever a more beautiful star?) as Lucilla, Christopher Plummer (in a wonderful over the top performance) as Comodus and Sir Alec Guinness as Marcus Arilias. To this add John Ireland, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quayle, James Mason and Mel Ferrer. Colossal sets and set piece battles with thousands of extras that today could only be done by CGI, this is an epic in every sense. A failure at the box office in it's time. The author, John Logan, of the GLADITOR screenplay says he was unaware of this movie when he was hired by Ridley Scott. Perhaps, the stories both use the same chapter in history and real persons. Both have Comodus die in hand to hand combat with the protagonist. Neither is true but never let a little thing like the truth ruin an entertaining film. This appears to be the old roadshow edition with intro and exit music. Films like this, so prevalent in the 1950's until the early 1960's are now a thing of the past. A pity, in their day they really were spectacles in the best sense. Highly enjoyable fare!
on March 27, 2001
Martin Scorsese once said about THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE that it has the beauty of a lost art. True, Hollywood can never film a film of this grandiose scale (nowadays CGI would replace those hundred of extras, but CGI can never be as good as the real thing) that deals with profound themes, usually considered to be "commercially unnatractive". Still, if cinema is an art form (and the Oscar people pretentiously call themselves Academy of Motion Picture "ART" and Science), then they should sometime try to make a film like that, or at least honour them when they are made, instead of praizing such well-crafted nonsense like GLADIATOR. Hollywood has forgotten its rich history and heritage. What a shame.
THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE is an intense, powerful drama about corruption of power. Anthony Mann's meticulous, sharp-edged, and in this case extremely cold-blooded direction powerfully points out how the Roman Empire, at the height of its power and glory, started its degradation and eventually will fall apart. That might happen to any kind of powerful society --history has proven so-- , that when a society gets too much power, the power itself becomes the motivation for corruption and destruction. This film is not a shalow fascistic glorification of power that GLADIATOR is, but an inteligent, profound and ultimately tragic analysis of human behavior.
Not to say that it is not visually atractive. Mann was always a creator of powerful, eloquent imagery. Simply, he doesn't waiste pictorial beauty as Ridley Scott did in GLADIATOR (or even more in HANNIBAl, for that matters). He is one of those great masters who knows how to amplify a good story with powerful imagery, to show the story even more than telling it with dialogues. So instead of filling a whole picture with post-card-like images, he punctuates strong dramatic monent withe powerful shots--no waste.
The film was shot in Ultra Panavision 70, which is an VisitaVision camera with an anamorphic lens attached to it. It was probably the most versitile system among those large format (65mm) system of the 60's. With amazing image clarity, yet one could move the camera almost as freely as in regular 35mm. When somebody like Anthony MANN was gievn such a camera, the result is astonishing (another, arguably better example is EL CID).
The irony is that, to portray the corruption of power, one has to show the power itself--in this case a huge number of extras dressed as roman soldiers, The film was hot in spain, and all those extras was furnished by general Franco's fascistic military regime. Franco loved movies, but apparently never realised that the film he helped making was a critical metaphore of what he was, the "ideology" that he stood (or he pretended he did) for.
A flawed film, perhaps, but a striking, beautiful piece of filmmaking.
on May 12, 2004
The screenwriter of "Gladiator" claims not to have seen "The Fall of the Roman Empire" before writing the Ridley Scott film. That's odd since both films are bookended exactly the same way. Both open with Emperor Marcus Aurelius deciding that his son Commodus should not be emperor (a decision that leads to his murder). Both end with the fight between Commodus and the army commander within the shields of the Pretorian Guards. As a matter of fact, neither of these events are historically accurate.
Marcus Aurelius (according the Edward Gibbon and other historians) dealt the Empire a long-term blow when he broke with tradition by choosing his only surviving son, Commodus, to be his successor, rather than following the tradition of chosing the best man for the job and officially adopting him. To the consternation of his legions, Aurelius never chose a military commander over his own son. When you decide to abandon actual history at the very beginning of your story, the rest falls apart.
Secondly, Commodus was murdered by his concubine (who drugged his wine) and a wrestler (who strangled him) in his palace. In fact, it took a few days for everyone in Rome to come to finally believe that he was actually dead. HE WAS NOT KILLED in a single-handed combat with the commander of the army (either Stephen Boyd or Russell Crowe).
Third, there is no historical evidence that a group of barbarians were burned alive in the Roman forum, as this 1964 film depects. The screenwriter seems to have simply lost his grip on any sort of reality and went totally "Hollywood."
Samuel Bronson (the producer) spared no expence to actually build an exact replica of the Roman Forum (rather than do it digitally as in "Gladiator"), so the scenes shot on this set are truly spectacular. The set (built in Spain) was said to have stood intact for some years, even after Samuel Bronson Productions went bacnkrupt (over this very film). I have no idea if it's still standing.
Christopher Plummer is too old to play the actual Commodus, who was only a teenager when he ascended the throne. However, the script actually does justice to the spirit of the historical character of Commodus, and Plummer brings the man to vibrant life. Both Stephen Boyd (as the army commander) and Loren (as Commodus' sister) seem wooden and fail to establish any on- screen chemestry to their love-stared characters, although Loren's legendary beauty is well worth the price of admission.
Alec Guiness, James Mason, Anthony Quayle and Mel Ferrer all do an excellent job with their roles, although Omar Sharif has little to do since his scripted character is only one-dimensional.
Because of its over-all production values, and an appropriate and moving musical score, this becomes a satisfying, eye-popping, "they don't make them like this anymore" epic. It must be seen in the Widescreen format to do it justice.
on March 12, 2008
Released one year after "Cleopatra," Anthony Mann's "Fall of the Roman Empire" (1964) is not a great film, but is noteworthy for the quality of the production, the assemblege of a splendid cast, and the fact it truly signified the end of an era in filmmaking.
The film was remade, sort of, as "Gladiator" by Ridley Scott, but it is Mann's film that is far superior cinematically. What is immediately striking about "Fall" is the number of historically accurate sets (over 20 in all) depicting the Roman capital at the time of emperor Marcus Aurelius and Commodus all handcrafted by scores or set designers and craftsmen in Spain long before computer animation was ever heard of.
While critics at the time scoffed at the fact that a film could compress Gibbon's opus into a film over 188 minutes, Mann does succeed in capturing really the "beginning of the end" by depicting the frustrations of a philosophical emperor's (Marcus Aurelius) 20-year reign now in its twilight, filled with small but bitter barbarian battles and frontier wars, who leaves behind a spoiled and twisted son (Commodus) who squanders such ideals and leaves the empire in chaos.
Spending much of his $16 million budgeted for the film on sets (an enormous amount of money circa 1964), we see a vision of Mann's Rome (and the Roman Forum), not only architectually accurate but of tremendous breadth and scope. The Temple of Vesta, the Curia, the Arch of Titus, The Temple of Jupiter, are all rendered with tremendous authenticity. Certainly, a Rome even Nero would be reluctant to burn!
Interior sets are also equally impressive decorated with garlands, frescoes, pools, and columns modelled on the Pompeian style. Like the sets, the costume design, cinematography courtesy of Dimitri Tiomkin, and even the stuntwork (overseen by Yakima Canutt), are all first class. Even noted historian, Will Durant, author of the nine volume opus, "The Story of Civilization," was both a consultant and advisor for the film.
All in all, the film authentically captures all the grandeur and decadance that was Rome, so why only four stars? Perhaps the problem lies with the two leads Livius (Stephen Boyd) and Drusilla (Sophia Loren) with a love story that fails to convice and somewhat drags the principal story down. However, they manage to do what they can with these rather bland roles.
James Mason (Timonides) and Alec Guinness (Marcus Aurelius)are both impressive in their respective roles, and Christopher Plummer, plays a Commodus a bit too refined to be that sinister and half-mad, but it all seems to work apparently well in this film. The final scenes are a subtle reminder that great empires do not fall to outside foreign influences before they first fall from within.
on February 27, 2008
If you enjoyed Gladiator with Russell Crow you will undoubtedly enjoy this film for the simple fact that the story line is the same.
Story Line: Decadence of Rome after the death of Marcus Aurelius (Alec Guinness); the fall from grace of Rome's greatest general (Stephen Boyd); romance between the general and the emperor's daughter (Sophia Loren); and the struggle for power between the general and Commodus, (Christopher Plummer).
There is a lot more attention to detail in Fall of the Roman Empire with more plot twists and character development than Gladiator, although slower in pace. By no means is the story slow or uninteresting, just more drama and less video action - for the mature adult who appreciates plot development before the action begins.
This film was made with the same mindset as films like Ben-Hur, Spartacus, and Ten Commandments, meaning; huge budgets, a massive sets, cast of thousands and costume designs that surpasses any film of its time. Along with all this you get one of the finest casts ever assembled. There are no computer generated images in this film so the thousands and thousands of extras you see in this film are real!
See this film on the largest TV screen you can get your hands on and get ready to be impressed.
MORE INFORMATION ON THE DVD:
The Fall of the Roman Empire is also available on a three-disc Limited Collector's Edition, including exclusive bonus materials such as commentary by the producer's son Bill Bronston and film expert Mel Martin, a reproduction of the original 1964 souvenir program, a behind-the-scenes look at the real fall of the Roman Empire and much more.
* Reproduction of original souvenir program (Collector's Edition only)
* Six color production stills (Collector's Edition only)
* Feature commentary by the producer's son Bill Bronston and film expert Mel Martin
* Rome in Madrid featurette
* Fall of the "Real" Roman Empire featurette
* Making of Fall Of The Roman Empire featurette
* Hollywood vs. History featurette
* Encyclopedia Britannica on the Roman Empire -- 5 featurettes (Collector's Edition only)
* Original theatrical trailer
on February 18, 2008
This movie filmed in Ultra Panavision 70, cost over $20,000,000 to produce in 1963 which would be equivalent to 200 million if produced today and you see every penny of it on the big screen. It stars some of the greatest actors of all time which includes Sophia Loren, Stephen Boyd, Alec Guinness, James Mason, Christopher Plummer, Anthony Quayle, John Ireland, Omar Sharif, and Mel Ferrer. The music is incredible; it was nominated for an Academy Award and Golden Globe (Won) for best original score. This movie was long overdue on DVD including the remaining Bronston Epic- 55 Days at Peking which is due out in July. Experts say, the only reason this film did not recoup its losses in the theater, is by 1964 movie audiences had grown tired of the Roman Epics as it followed great movies such as Ben-Hur, Spartacus, Cleopatra, etc, so they considered it a timing issue rather than the quality of the motion picture. I highly recommend this 3 hour adventure (185 min. including Overture, Intermission and Exit music) , enjoy the film.
on April 30, 2008
This review is from; The Fall Of The Roman Empire (Two-Disc Limited Collector's Edition) (The Miriam Collection)
FIRST OF ALL, THE LIMITED, COLLECTOR'S EDITION ACTUALLY HAS THREE DISCS!
I have been waiting for the new DVD set of "The Fall of the Roman Empire" for a long time ever since I had to put up with the less-than-satisfactory, inexpensive import DVD (which I fed to the lions!) that was the only available DVD of this film prior to the Miriam release. It's a spectacular film about the Roman Empire, but what really makes this film remarkable is the sheer scope about how it was filmed back then. Besides the grade-A cast of stars, it was the magnificent sets, lavish costumes and thousands of extras that contributed to the epic's stature. In the modern age of computer generated graphics and special effects, it's always refreshing to look at classic films that had to do things the "old-fashioned" way.
I like this movie, but the dilemma that came up when I purchased the Miriam DVD set was which one do I buy? After considering the two disc set, I bought the limited collector set with the extra goodies. There was only a $10 difference from the store I bought it from, so it was up to me to see if the difference was worth it. Hard to complain for a measly ten bucks but here it goes. Keep in mind both sets have two identical DVD's but the limited collector set differs in the following;
First of all the limited collector set is packaged in a decent, but modest-sized, cardboard box. The same size box if you own any other Miriam titles such as "El Cid". Thankfully, not an oversized box like the "Bladerunner" briefcase or the "Battlestar Galactica" cylon-head box (which are cool by the way, but awkward). Inside the box are a nice set of six production stills which look like mini lobby cards. The booklet is described as a reproduction of the 1964 program. Its 32 pages are filled with mostly color and some b&w photographs. Text about the film's production are on only about five or six pages so the whole book is pretty much a picture book. The DVD's are packaged in the same, snap-plastic DVD case as the two disc set, but the third disc exclusive to this set is packaged inside. A double disc swinging tray is inserted to hold all three discs. There are three discs even though the DVD's outer-case insert indicates two discs (but the outer box indicates three discs, confusing eh?).
The third disc primarily contains short films produced by the Encyclopedia Britannica in 1964 about the history of Rome. Specifically about 1) Life in Ancient Rome (13 minutes), 2) Julius Caesar: Rise of the Roman Empire (21 minutes) and 3) Claudius: boy of Ancient Rome (16 minutes). There are two brief introductions by the director, Bill Deneen (in modern day) and a vintage introduction (from 1964). Both intros are about three minutes each. The short films are educational in nature and they are filmed on the incredible "Fall of the Roman Empire" sets. None of the feature film actors are in these film shorts. The actors portrayed have some "wooden" performances, but the "mini" films have interesting content complete with informative narration and limited, actor dialogue. Although the acting in these mini films are so so which wasn't the intent of these educational minis, the sets are still wonderful to look at. You have to give Encyclopedia Britannica credit for being able to take advantage of all the props and sets to accomodate their educational and informative tasks in 1964. Overall the Britannica mini-films look like the type of films you might have slept through when you were in high school, but as an adult now they are very interesting to me. Certainly all of the films are short enough to see in a one, short viewing. In fact, I recommend that the third disc is viewed prior to watching the feature film.
In conclusion I recommend the collector set only if you are willing to learn a little more about Rome besides the nice documentaries and behind-the-scenes already included in the two-disc set. It was purely a stroke of genius for the Encyclopedia Britannica to have the incredible resources provided to them by the "Fall of the Roman Empire" film crew at their disposal in 1964. I think it is disappointing that the viewing time on the third disc is only about an hour long, but the mini films are interesting for some of the historical facts dramatized in an educational format that you or others (maybe your kids?) can enjoy again and again in just a short viewing. The physical extras are nice to look at and then stash away, but the third disc has some invaluable information for those that are curious and want some more insights about one of the most fascinating empires of all time.
Interest in this 1964 film from director Anthony Mann was revived by the Oscar winning success of "Gladiator." Not only does "The Fall of the Roman Empire" has some of the same characters, primarily the Emperor Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodos, but there is also a Roman general who was a better son to the Emperor than his own flesh and blood. There is even a gladiator fight; but there is also a chariot race and actor Stephen Boyd, so you might end up being reminded of "Ben-Hur" as well. Judged by the standard of "history," this is clearly the more accurate film, for what little that is worth by Hollywood standards. After all, at the end of this three-hour film you find out that this is really just the BEGINNING of the Fall of the Roman Empire...
After two centuries of bloody rule by the Caesars, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Alec Guiness) wants to return the Roman Empire to the idealized state of the Republic. But while the Emperor valued virtue, his son Commodus (Christopher Plummer) is a bad seed. Consequently, the Aurelius takes the unprecedented step of naming his successor to be the General Livius (Stephen Boyd), commander of the Northern legions, who agrees with the Emperor's vision for the future of the Empire. Commodus makes this all moot by having a slave (Mel Ferrer) murder the Emperor. Once he is in charge, Commodus exiles Livius to the frontiers of Germania and sells off his own sister, the woman the general loves, Lucilla (Sophia Loren), to the King of Armenia (Omar Sharif) to cement an alliance (and, one suspects, to add insult to injury for Livius).
Despite all the relationship issues "The Fall of the Roman Empire" consistently goes with spectacle over story during its three hour run. Guiness has the best performance in the film and he gets killed off early on. Boyd is not a dynamic enough actor to make the part of Livius more interesting, but his nature reticence works for his character, at least in the first half of the film. Loren is given very little but to stand that and look lovely and emotionally distraught over the latest turn of affairs. James Mason has a couple of really nice speeches to deliver as Timonides, the advisor to Auerlius. Plummer provides a really edgy performances as the mentally unstable Commodus; the question is simply whether you think he goes over the top or not.
However, whatever limitations of the story or uneven performances by the principles, the production design and action pieces are well above average. Certainly worth one look for fans of Roman Empire films, but it is not likely to become a favorite. There are those who think this film holds the record for most extras in a movie and while that might have been true at the time "The Fall of the Roman Empire" was made, Sir Richard Attenborough had 3,000,000 extras for the funeral scene in "Gandhi" in 1980. I have no clue what computer generated film now holds the record, but for the sake of argument we will assume it is "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" until the final film in the Trilogy comes out. Oh, and if you want a final link between this film and "Gladiator," actor Richard Harris, who played Marcus Aurelius in that film was originally signed to play Commodos in this one. I wonder why they did not ask Christopher Plummer?
on February 18, 2008
This movie filmed in Ultra Panavision 70 cost over $20,000,000 to produce in 1963 which would be equivalent to 200 million if produced today and you see every penny of it on the big screen. It stars some of the greatest actors of all time which includes Sophia Loren, Stephen Boyd, Alec Guinness, James Mason, Christopher Plummer, Anthony Quayle, John Ireland, Omar Sharif, and Mel Ferrer. The music is incredible; it was nominated for an Academy Award and Golden Globe (Won) for best original score. This movie was long overdue on DVD including the remaining Bronston Epic- 55 Days at Peking which is due out in July. Experts say, the only reason this film did not recoup its losses in the theater, is by 1964 movie audiences had grown tired of the Roman Epics as it followed great movies such as Ben-Hur, Spartacus, Cleopatra, etc, so they considered it a timing issue rather than the quality of the motion picture. I highly recommend this 3 hour adventure (185 min. including Overture, Intermission and Exit music) , enjoy the film.