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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Cleopatra
Cleopatra
Fox // PG
List Price: $25.00 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Chuck Arrington | posted March 18, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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CLEOPATRA: SPECIAL EDITION

Synopsis:

The story of Cleopatra is one that has been romanticized the world over. It tells the story of the conquering of Egypt by the Roman Empire under the rule of Julius Caesar and the subsequent affair of the heart involving, Caesar and Cleopatra and subsequent to that romance Cleopatra's affair with Ceasar's most trusted ally, Mark Anthony. The story as presented in this version of the life of Cleopatra is second only to the elaborate set design and attention to detail found in Twentieth Century Fox's ornate production of the legend that is Cleopatra. Simply put, there has never been a film produced on this scale to equal the sheer magnitude of what appears within the framework of this motion picture. In a word, Cleopatra is…enormous! The stars were all huge, the director was incredible and the studio put forth a foot that will NEVER be equaled in any cinematic effort. This Three-disc set opens the door onto the world of Cleopatra and immerses you in opulence and splendor that looks to equal the real life events they are mirroring. Even if you don't care for the film, or the stars, you have to appreciate the incredible scope and magnitude Cleopatra brought to life.

Audio/Video:

The film's audio is presented in both a DD5.1 as well as a DD2.0 The 5.1 takes the film's score and surrounds you with it. Additionally, it employs the sub in such a way that really takes the film to a whole other level. The dialogue is clean and easily understood and the overall audio platform is very impressive. At the start of the film, an overture is played that sets the stage for what is to come. It's musical elements are stirring even 39 years after the fact. The Director's Commentary Track is provided by Martin Landau, Tom and Chris Mankiewicz(sons of the Director) and Jack Brodsky, Director of publications for 20th Century Fox at the time. The information that these men have to relay is pretty incredible. Landau lends his perspective as an actor on the lot and Chris and Tom chime in as Assistant Directors for the film. You really have no idea what it took to make this film until you listen to the commentary track and watch the third disc. Echoing largely the same information contained on that disc, these men provide more behind-the-scenes information regarding what it took in manpower, set design, and money to pull off this epic film. Peppered with cursory information regarding meetings and discussions with the actors, the commentary tracks provide another healthy level to an already packed to the gills disc! One of the things mentioned that caught my ear was, in order to re-create the glory of ancient Egypt and Rome, actual Gold leaf was used to overlay the statues and items that Rex Harrison, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton employed as props. Can you imagine! Additionally, the director created a six-hour version of the film that has never been seen. Primarily because the elements have never been assembled. A work is underway to restore the film to it's six-hour length by including the missing hour and forty minutes that have been excised.

The video is a godsend! It's been remastered and anamorphically enhanced and the image is nothing short of exemplary. The colors in the film are rich and luxuriant, golds and reds, lavender and black are all beautifully represented and accurately portrayed. The widescreen transfer is nothing if not a benchmark for what remastered classics ought to look like when given DVD treatment. There were some scratches evident as well as some flecking but on the whole, the image was beautifully rendered and impeccably restored.

Extras:

No film will ever equal the sheer majesty and magnitude of Cleopatra. Easily the most famous Queen of Egypt, her story is told as it revolved around two Roman men who would rule the world. Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony. The third disc in this three-disc set is solely bonus material. A documentary entitled: Cleopatra: The film that changed Hollywood is provided and features narration by Robert Culp. In the 1960's Hollywood was creating epic films but none along the lines of Cleopatra. At an estimated cost of $44 million dollars, Cleopatra was the film that almost didn't make it. 20th Century Fox bankrolled this film hoping to mirror the success of an earlier silent film starring Theda Bara of the same title. One small difference, the script for the silent movie had music cues but no dialogue. It was after all a silent film. Desperate for a hit, Fox set it's sights on Elizabeth Taylor to play the lead for this colorized expanded version of the "Silent Classic". Beautiful and talented, she was definitely fit for the role; the question was could she pull it off. Her well publicized bouts with ill health and the recent death of her husband all played roles in whether, Taylor would play Africa's most well known royal. After a salary concession of a whopping Million dollars to play the role as well as contractual elements that gave her the right to approve the director as well as having the movie filmed using a photographic process her husband created and patented, Taylor was on board and ready to tackle the role. Location, location, location. Another item in Liz's contract specified that the film was to be shot outside of the USA so, Fox had to find the right place to set the picture. Pinewood Studios, England would become both Egypt and Rome and soon construction began on these incredibly intricate and ornate sets. But due to bad weather, and Elizabeth Taylor's near fatal bout with Asian Flu, England soon lost it's place and a warmer climate would prove to be the best thing for both the picture and the Stars. The documentary "Cleopatra: The film that changed Hollywood", was compiled by those wonderful people at AMC (American Movie Classics) and is the most exhaustive bit of information you'll find on the making of this epic film. It features interviews with cast members and the family members of those most closely related to the picture namely, Director Joseph Mankewitz and One time Producer, Walter Wanger. There has never been a film like Cleopatra and there never will be. In estimating the cost of the film's production in adjusted dollars, it would cost 440 million dollars to do that same film today! The film as it stands clocks in at about 3 hours and 10 minutes. The director's initial vision was to have two films. Mark Anthony and Cleopatra and Caesar and Cleopatra. The studio would have nothing to do with it so there are 2 hours plus of missing Cleopatra footage floating around the world somewhere. The estate of Joseph Mankewitz is looking to restore the film in it's entirety so this may not be the definitive version of Cleopatra just yet. The opulence, grandeur, scandal and corruption that followed this production are all enclosed in this 2-hour segment. At the time of this review, the third disc bearing this information had yet to be pressed so it was all provided on VHS. With the wealth of information available in the documentary, you'll come away with a definite appreciation of the star and the production that went into making Cleopatra.

Overall:

There are not enough words to describe how overwhelming this film is. The grandeur and scope are all unbelievable in their presentation. Never having seen the film I was at a severe disadvantage when it came to the source material however, now that I've seen it, it is a testament to extraordinary filmmaking. Cleopatra is an epic. Actually, in it's scope, it defines epic. There will never be another like it simply because of all it took to create the imagery that so eloquently defines the story. Elizabeth Taylor in the title role headed a cast that made history come to life in a way that few have even tried. Her name says it all. Cleopatra Queen of The Nile. All I can say is WOW! Even with that additional footage floating out there somewhere, this is the definitive version of the disc and it's not one that will soon be equaled. To my knowledge this is the first film to get a Three Disc treatment. Very fitting. Cleopatra is awesome and deserves a place in your home. Clear out a spot on the shelf and get ready to experience the ultimate in Cinematic achievement! At three hours and twenty minutes, you might want to clear your calendar as well. Collector's Edition.

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