When in Rome, Judge David Johnson eats pizza.
Our reviews of Rome: The Complete First Season (published August 15th, 2006), Rome: The Complete Second Season (published August 22nd, 2007), and Rome: The Complete Series (published November 23rd, 2009) are also available.
Cleopatra: "This Titus Pullo. Was he a good man?"
HBO's two-season interpretation of the slide of Rome from republic rule to dictatorship hits Blu-ray in all of its Italian, toga-toting glory. Do not miss this.
Facts of the Case
The series picks up as Julius Caesar prepares to make a power play for the sole authority in Rome, which has seen its 400-year republic slowly eaten away by the ambitions of powerful men. Caesar proves himself to be the most powerful of the lot, and the 22 episodes that make up the series run chronicle the political shockwave he sets off, the civil wars that erupt and the eventual rise of Rome's first emperor, Augustus.
Trapped within all this upheaval are two soldiers, Lucuis Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) and Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson, Punisher: War Zone). As Rome explodes, these two will be forced to find their way in the upside-down world, leaning on each other's friendship to negotiate the dangers of the violent instability of the greatest civilization on Earth.
A while back I rented this show on DVD, watched the first episode, didn't really pay attention, brought it back and never thought about Rome again. Now, after plowing through all 22 episodes of this remarkable series I would love to travel back in time and kick my stupid past self in the crotch. Actually, maybe I should thank him. Soaking in the glory of HBO's transfixing historical masterpiece for the first time on Blu-ray made the experience all the more satisfying.
First off, don't go in thinking this is going to be "Gladiator the TV Show." You won't find huge epic battles or catapults hurling balls of fire or incessant hand-to-hand combat here. The show does have its Alpha moments—and they are spunky and awesome—but, primarily, Rome is a drama; a straight-up, character-driven, multi-layered effort set against the backdrop of slaves and Jupiter worship and stabbing.
And by the gods below is it awesome. I started again with the first episode, focused, and didn't stop for a breath as I charged forward. It's taken me nearly three paragraphs to say it, so let's just get it out of the way; find this set, preferably in high-def, and watch the crap out of it. You will not be disappointed, regardless of your interest level in the political ins-and-outs of Ancient Rome.
This is a twin-engine powered excursion, with McKidd and Stevenson both at the throttle. Vorenus and Pullo are two incredibly compelling characters and their relationship is probably the best example of male friendship I've ever seen on television. I know that sounds like excitable hyperbole, but I'm telling you what these guys forge is deeply affecting. If only there was a Latin equivalent for "bromance."
What's especially interesting about the series is how the writers have made Vorenus and Pullo pivotal cogs in the grander schemes of the Roman players. There were actually soldiers by these names, mentioned in Caesar's own writings, but their stories are unknown. As such the scripts have fictionalized their adventures, supplementing the genuine(ish) history with invented plot arcs.
Not that the history even needs a further shot of narrative juice. The manner in which Rome transitioned from republic to emperorship is engaging enough. Caesar, Mark Antony, Cicero, Brutus, Cleopatra, Augustus—here is a true cavalcade of stars, all boasting stories of love and betrayal and violence, stuff that would make the most long-toothed Days of Our Lives writer grit his teeth in envy.
If the sterling writing and performances weren't enough to grab you by the short sword, the production design will. A notoriously expensive series to produce, Rome at least doesn't leave any of its money on the table. All that cash is on the screen. The sets, the costumes, the make-up; everything from the imposing columns of marching legionnaires to the smallest of religious shrines, all of it is rendered in striking detail. How easy it could have been for a show set in this time period to come across as corny, but from scene one the world of the antiquities is nothing less than enveloping.
Nothing brings these nuances to life as well as a spot-on high-def treatment and that's what this impressive set does. On Blu, Rome is a revelation, its vibrant colors and details crackling on the screen. The series consistently shifts from the trashy dwellings of the plebs, to the ornate domiciles of the upper crust, to the marble coldness of the senate hall; and this variety gives the enhanced 1.78:1 transfer plenty of opportunities to shine—and it shines in all of them. This is an absolutely gorgeous treatment and the absolute best way to watch this series. Riding shotgun is an active and clean DTS-HD Master Audio, which translates the rich aural architecture of the show as well as the stand-out score from Jeff Beal.
Beautiful packaging gives way to a nice selection of extras spread out among the discs: commentaries from cast and crew on thirteen episodes, four robust featurettes focused on the production, three documentaries looking at the history of Rome, two scene-by-scene breakdowns of big sequences, an "All Roads Lead to Rome" pop-up trivia track that is actually interesting and a "Bloodlines" in-movie interactive feature that connects the characters.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I can see the lack of battle scenes as a downer to some, especially as the show has a habit of either skirting over the action with a blurry montage or just cutting it out entirely and going to the aftermath. There is a gladiator sequence, which is truly epic, though. One more thing, middle school history teachers steer clear of showing this to your kids; Rome is most definitely for mature audiences.
A terrific show and an all-world Blu-ray set make Rome a no-brainer. Give it to the bad-ass Centurion on your Christmas list!
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