Appellate Judge James A. Stewart learned that the secret to success in the Roman Empire was an eye for engineering—and a few more eyes in the back of your head.
"Ambition. Conquest. Lust. Murder. And the power of unrivaled technology. These are the cornerstones in the foundation of the Roman Empire."
Rome: Engineering an Empire opens with the Ides of March stabbing death of Julius Caesar, and then heads into battle—more specifically a re-enactment of Caesar's conquest of Germany.
It looks like typical sword-and-sandal nonsense, but there's a point to it. Caesar, you see, crossed the Rhine River by building a bridge—one strong enough to hold a legion of men. The folks on the other side, impressed by the bridge as much as by the troops, fled.
It's not just brute strength that wins wars—although Rome had plenty of that; engineering ideas play an important role in building an empire. That's the theme of this History Channel documentary, which follows the construction of great landmarks such as the aqueducts, the Coliseum, and the Parthenon and shows how Rome built an empire by building great structures and developing running water.
Rome: Engineering an Empire does well at linking the Empire's growth and history to its architecture and engineering, showing enough re-enactments of Roman backstabbing to hold your attention while showing plenty of CGI renditions of great buildings and engineering techniques. The only thing that it could have done better was tie the historical structures into modern landmarks that use the same techniques and styles.
The recent documentary is sharp and clear in this transfer, with the sound coming through loud and clear as well. The box doesn't indicate format, but complaints at a couple of DVD sales sites say that it's non-anamorphic, so it's buyer beware if you've got a high-def set.
There's only one extra—"History in the Making—Rome: Engineering an Empire." It's mostly promotional, for both Engineering an Empire and HBO's Rome. Still, there is the priceless sight of a Roman "soldier" in sunglasses talking about the re-enactments.
And, oh yes, the Peter Weller of Syracuse University who comments throughout is that Peter Weller, known to many as Robocop and Buckaroo Banzai.
I learned a few things and was entertained at the same time.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
• "History in the Making--Rome: Engineering an Empire"
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