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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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