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The epic event of the year comes to DVD in the mini-series EMPIRE. Complete with unrated and extended scenes, EMPIRE is presented for the first time as a seamless feature. The Roman Empire is plunged into chaos when Julius Caesar is assassinated and his power is passed on to his 18-year-old nephew Octavius. With his guardian, former gladiator Tyrannus, Octavius is forced into exile to escape those who wish to sever Caesar's bloodline permanently. Under Tyrannus' tutelage, Octavius prepares to face off against the treacherous Marc Antony and fulfill his destiny as the leader of Rome. EMPIRE boasts "powerful acting," says the Wall Street Journal, with a hot young cast that includes James Frain (24), Colm Feore, Jonathan Cake, Santiago Cabrera, and Emily Blunt. Filmed entirely in scenic Italy, EMPIRE tells the thrilling story of a hero's rise amidst the greed, intrigue, and lust of Ancient Rome.~
The lavishly produced six-hour mini-series Empire aspires to capture the flavor and grandeur of Rome--or, failing that, the flavor and grandeur of Gladiator, a highly successful movie about Rome. Most writers, including Shakespeare, use the assassination of Julius Caesar as a climax; Empire opens with it, then follows a fictional gladiator named Tyrranus (Jonathan Cake, Inconceivable) as he protects and substitute-parents Caesar's nephew Octavius (Santiago Cabrera, Love and Other Disasters), fated to be emperor of Rome. Many have complained about how Empire plays fast and loose--very, very loose--with historical truth (the series labored over accurate details while running amok with preposterous turns of plot, ranging from Octavius hiding out in a gladiatorial prison to the emperor-to-be's romance with a rosy-lipped vestal virgin). Of course, Shakespeare did his own embellishing and it worked out fine; alas, the writers of Empire are not our modern Shakespeares. The machinations of Rome play out with cheesy speeches and cornball declamations; even a powerhouse actress like Fiona Shaw (Empire obeys the Hollywood rule that hot-tempered Romans must only be played by emotionally repressed Brits) can't inject fire into this pompous, ponderous dialogue. The scheming between Octavius and Marc Anthony (Vincent Regan, Unleashed) briefly harkens back to the genuinely thrilling duplicities of I, Claudius, but only briefly. Cabrera looks like he'd be more comfortable with the machinations of The O.C.; Cake musters some dignity but in the last few hours does little but grimace, as if wondering where he'd parked his car. The dvd release has reintegrated some unrated, unaired scenes, but don't get your hopes up. The gladiatorial combat has all the finesse and suspense of locker room buddies snapping towels at each other; the lone orgy scene works hard at fleshpottiness, but nothing kills decadence like effort. There are only two extra features: A typically self-lauding making-of doc, accompanied by a demonstration of how Rome was assembled in a computer. --Bret Fetzer
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