When it comes to Roman Emperors, Nero is very well known mostly for the devastation he wrought. If you remember your history at all he was the emperor that is best romanticized as playing the lyre while Rome burned. Not only was he believed to have been responsible for the burning but he was responsible for a great source of corruption and murder during his reign. Needless to say Nero wasn't a role model for the man of the year award.
Following along the Imperium line of Italian TV mini-series, Nero takes on the tragic tale of it's namesake and tries to tell the tale slightly askew from what history accounts. All that really remains as credible history stems from Suetonius who was born after Nero's reign had come to an end. In order to piece together an entertaining epic some liberties were obviously taken but as a whole Nero's life is wrapped up neatly into a three hour package.
Playing out as a feature film, the mini-series starts out with a young Nero at home with his mother and father. Unfortunately for the family Nero's uncle just so happens to be the kooky emperor and catches wind of a conspiracy involving the boy's father. A raid on his house leaves the lad to bear witness to his mother's abduction and the murder of his father. According to history though it seems that Nero's father died when he was younger and under different circumstances. That wouldn't make for dramatic TV though!
Anyways, Caligula (Mr. Emperor to you) banishes his sister (Nero's mother Agrippina) to a remote island to live out her days in isolation. Even though the movie refers to her exile as having been all alone in one scene after some time has passed we see her and two guards in the background. I guess they drew the short straws and had to go on isolation duty. With his mother out of the way, Nero is essentially cast away as a slave and to be forgotten by the likes of history.
Things never quite turn out the way they are planed though and after many years Caligula finds himself the victim of a plot to bring Claudius to the throne. In one of his first acts he undoes the exile of Agrippina and soon mother and son are reunited. Claudius marries Agrippina thus bringing Nero closer to the throne, which is a dream and foreseen event by an oracle. Agrippina weaves a web of deceit and eventually things go in young Nero's favor.
To say that the young man wasn't fit to lead an empire would be an understatement. At first he seems to have gained the trust of the senate mostly thanks to his mother and tutor Seneca. Eventually though everything falls apart as the world around him crumbles and he finds himself on a one way trip to Crazytown. Rome burns as he plays the lyre and we come to see him for the monster that he truly is.
The only problem is that the majority of the film casts him in a glorified light and makes him seem like the victim in this whole charade. He's portrayed as a romantic and artistic weakling and a mere puppet of Agrippina. Some convoluted love plots are tossed into the mix to show how he slipped into madness, but its just not very convincing with the way it was executed. It's almost as if someone flicks a switch and all the sudden you have an instant tyrant.
There are several historical inaccuracies, but if you're looking for a Roman drama with an interesting story this one might be up your alley. The cast does a pretty decent job and the script is well versed if not a little off-kilter at times. The atmosphere of the series captures fairly well how you'd imagine things to look in the time period. The shooting location seemed to be a perfect choice for the backdrop and costuming did an excellent job recreating some of the clothing. All in all Nero is a decent look at Rome during a trouble time period although the disparity the Romans must have felt isn't really captured here.
Nero is presented with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio and looks really darn good for a made for TV series. TV stuff obviously has a lower budget than big blockbuster movies but the image quality here is impressive. There are a few issues though and at times some grain and edge enhancement are very prominent. There are also some specks on the film but those aren't as frequent. Overall though the image remains very sharp and clean with some very vibrant colors and great use of light.
Much to my surprise even though Nero was produced overseas it is presented with English as its only audio selection. With some Dolby Digital 5.1 backing it the track sounds very good with a decent use of directionality though much of everything here comes from the front channel. The sound remains clean and free of distortion so quality isn't an issue. The disc also comes with optional English and French subtitles.
The only "extras" you'll find on Nero are a selection of previews. It's unfortunately but there isn't anything included here. Some behind the scenes material or even something about recreating the time period could have gone a long way.
Nero is a mildly entertaining romp through ancient Rome. It's definitely not a completely accurate depiction of the events that took place and many of them were changed to help craft a dramatic tale. Even so if you enjoy epics from this time period you really can't go wrong just keep in mind you have to take some things with a grain of salt. While the image quality is pretty good there are some flaws and without any extras that harms the DVD's value. I'm going to give this one a rent it recommendation but if you enjoyed Augustus you may be interested in a purchase.
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