Judge Mitchell Hattaway fiddles while burning this bad Italian miniseries.
He was the most ruthless, corrupt and deceptive ruler Rome had ever known.
Yeah, but you wouldn't know it from watching this DVD.
Following on the heels of Augustus, Nero is the latest installment in a series of Italian miniseries devoted to rewriting Roman history. Much like the earlier tale, Nero turns the story of its title character into a historically dubious soap opera. Unlike Augustus, however, Nero doesn't benefit from the acting talents of Peter O'Toole and Charlotte Rampling. Without actors capable of adding gravitas to this tale, all we are left with is the script, which is easily the weakest element of this offering.
Nero covers most of the life of its central character, beginning with his father's murder and his mother's exile at the hands of Caligula, who was Nero's uncle. Nero is then sent to live among slaves, and he begins to fall in love with a slave named Acte. Ten years pass. Caligula is assassinated and Claudius, the uncle of Nero's mother Agrippina, becomes emperor. Claudius brings Agrippina and Nero back to Rome. Agrippina schemes to bring her son to the throne. She informs Claudius of his wife's conspiracy against him; Claudius has his wife killed, marries Agrippina, and adopts Nero. Despite his growing love for Acte, Nero is coerced into marrying his stepsister. Claudius dies and Nero ascends to the throne. Agrippina's continued thirst for power eventually drives Nero mad. He has his mother murdered, drives Acte away, and takes up with a scheming concubine named Poppaea. Poppaea uses drugs to drive Nero over the edge. Nero and Poppaea marry. The great fire breaks out. Nero vows to rebuild Rome, making the city bigger and better than it was before. A pregnant Poppaea collapses. A distraught Nero asks Saul of Tarsus to help Poppaea; Poppaea dies. Nero blames Rome's growing Christian population for his misfortunes. The citizens of Rome turn on Nero. Nero slits his wrists and dies in Acte's arms.
The storytelling in Nero is incredibly pedestrian. There's no thrust or drive to the miniseries. The script is unfocused; it quite often jumps around in the story's timeline, glossing over or ignoring important events, while at the same time devoting far too much time to melodrama and the manufactured contrivances of the plot. At times Nero plays like a trailer for itself, and at other times it lumbers along aimlessly. How exactly does Nero go from being a caring, idealistic youth to being an egomaniacal tyrant capable of killing his enemies on a whim? Beats me; there are no real clues here, other than the fact that he was surrounded by insufferable, overbearing witches (holy crap—Nero is Roger Waters!). Historical inaccuracies in this sort of tale normally do not bother me, but the dramatic license employed in this story is obvious and laughable (there seems to be a new conspiracy every five minutes or so). I didn't go in expecting a history lesson, but I wasn't expecting to be alternately bored and annoyed, either. The acting is also nothing to get excited about. With the exception of Matthias Habich, who plays Nero's tutor Seneca, the cast flounders. (Habich was also in Enemy at the Gates, but for the life of me I cannot place him in that film.) And other than its length, there is nothing epic about this miniseries. I know Nero was created for television, but I like some grandness and pageantry in my historical epics (I'm just stubborn that way).
Nero arrives on DVD sporting a serviceable transfer. The only noticeable flaw is some compression artifacting in several scenes (apparently the result of squeezing more than three hours of content onto one disc). The 5.1 audio track features a nice spread across the front soundstage, but there is almost no surround or low end activity. The only extras are a trailer for this release and a handful of previews for other Sony titles.
Devoid of spectacle, momentum, and a sense of purpose, Nero is nothing more than a colossal bore. Court is adjourned.
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