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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Augustus
Augustus
Columbia/Tri-Star // R // January 4, 2005
List Price: $24.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted January 2, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

There's really no reason at all for Augustus to exist. It doesn't cover any new ground, it doesn't put a different spin on the material it recycles, and it doesn't offer any compensations in terms of good acting or writing, or impressive production values. Whose bright idea was this production, anyway?

I'm a great enthusiast of films or television series that draw on the history of the Roman Empire. There's certainly a wealth of history, intrigue, and larger-than-life characters just begging for use. So when I got wind of a television miniseries focusing on the character of Augustus Caesar, the first Roman Emperor, I snapped it up. Unfortunately, though, Augustus falls far below expectations.

For one thing, a large portion of Augustus deals with story material from the emperor's last years, troubled by issues of who would succeed him on the throne. There's nothing inherently wrong with using this part of history, except that I, Claudius got there first... and let me assure you, Augustus isn't in the same league as I, Claudius. Not even remotely. In fact, Augustus' use of an I, Claudius-style frame story, with the elderly Augustus (Peter O'Toole) recounting his experiences as a younger man, misfires badly for that precise reason: it calls too clearly to mind the comparison, and it's not a happy one for Augustus.

So a substantial chunk of Augustus' 178-minute running time is spent basically rehashing part of I, Claudius (including borrowing the idea of Livia as an evil, manipulative woman), effectively shooting itself in the foot since none of the acting or writing is remotely as good. What about Augustus' youth, and the rough-and-tumble of his ascent to power? Well, that story gets told too, except that in the telling it doesn't feel very exciting. Somehow the events never feel convincing; it all feels staged, with no particular drama or sense of driving narrative here.

It doesn't help that Augustus tries to go the route of looking impressive, but falls short. The battle scenes aren't bad, for television, but this is no Gladiator; if we're not hooked by the story and characters, the action sequences certainly aren't going to turn the tide of viewer opinion.

In the end, Augustus isn't terrible, and if you've never seen other films or series based on the early Roman Empire, it'll be watchable. It's just that the fairly weak and poorly structured story combined with uninspired acting don't add up to much of a movie.

The DVD

Video

Despite being a relatively recent miniseries (2003), Augustus sports a poor transfer. While colors are reasonably bright and natural-looking, the image is extremely grainy, and there are many instances of heavy edge enhancement. The production appears in what I am assuming is its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1.

Audio

The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack offers a satisfactory listening experience, but while it's a notch above average, there's really not a whole lot to say about it. There's nothing wrong with it, nor anything particularly outstanding about it.

Extras

The only special feature is a set of trailers: for Augustus, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, Sinbad and Eye of the Tiger, and Warriors of Heaven and Earth.

Final thoughts

Augustus isn't actively terrible, just mostly pointless, so it squeaks by with a "rent it" recommendation. This three-hour made-for-television production may be of mild interest to viewers who aren't familiar with the Roman history being dramatized here, but most likely it's a better idea to apply those hours of viewing time to I, Claudius instead, if you want real entertainment. Rent it.

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