Greco-Roman Fantasy

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 13, 2007 — Leave a comment

Salon.com reviewer Gary Kamiya analyzes (and praises) the sweeping historical cable television drama “Rome”. The show, now in its second (and last) season, is playing out the rise of Octavian (Augustus) the first Emperor of Rome. Kamiya seems especially impressed with the boldly un-Christian woldview of the show.

“‘Rome’ is based on solid historical research. But what makes it draw imaginative blood is the fact that it’s uncensored scholarship, audacious history. “Rome” is incredibly entertaining, while also being incredibly shocking. It’s history porn. It dares to depict an alien worldview, one untouched by Christianity and the moral ethos introduced by that strange little sect. Perhaps those Catholic watchdog groups should stop worrying about heretical fluff like “The Da Vinci Code” and pay more attention to ‘Rome.'”

Kamiya also favorably compares “Rome” to the BBC series “I, Claudius” and declares it the better work of the two.

“The key here is “graphic.” This is where “Rome” separates itself from such earlier efforts as the superb BBC series “I, Claudius.” A highly intelligent work, “I, Claudius” might in certain ways be superior to “Rome” — its intrigues are more exquisitely intricate, and it avoids certain melodramatic narrative clichés. But it cannot match the way the new series violently immerses the viewer in history. Based on Robert Graves’ novels, “I, Claudius” is essentially a work of theater, not film; it uses language, not action or setting, to pull in the viewer. It is a subtler approach to history, brilliant in its own way, but it does not succeed like “Rome” in truly evoking the past in all its radical and banal otherness.”

But while “Rome” is winning accolades on cable television, according to some, the “swords and sandals” epic films in theaters are in trouble and the upcoming film “300” is the last chance to save the genre from slipping back into obscurity.

“Hollywood is pinning hopes on 300 to rediscover the kind of success enjoyed by Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning Gladiator in 2000. Since then the ancient epic has suffered setbacks with Troy, starring Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom, which was derided by critics as a travesty of Homer, and Alexander, with a bleached-blond Colin Farrell, which flopped at the box office and earned director Oliver Stone some of his worst reviews. Both films were made by Warner Brothers, as is 300. Another turkey could destroy studios’ willingness to invest in the genre, just as in 1963 when the Richard Burton-Elizabeth Taylor version of Cleopatra killed such productions for decades.”

300’s ultra-stylized version of the Battle of Thermopylae seems to be winning over advance test audiences, so it looks like this won’t be the last film to venture into our ancient Greco-Roman (pagan) past.

Jason Pitzl-Waters

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