It would seem that 'Rome' was doomed from the beginning. With what most consider to be the most expensive TV show ever created, if it didn't pull in huge numbers, 'Rome' was never going to go very far in terms of subsequent seasons. TV executives are a fickle bunch. They seem willing to shell out tons of cash at the beginning in order to establish a believable world, only to take that cash away if the audiences don't materialize.
The big budget of 'Rome' surely helped in making it one of the most authentic looking historical series ever created. The set design is immaculate and it's extremely hard to tell where the physical set ends and the green screen digital effects begin. Even in 'Gladiator' it's easy to point out the green screen effects, but in 'Rome' it's nigh impossible. That's assuming that there were any. The sets are marvelous recreations of the ancient city.
'Rome' tells the story of two leaders who start out as close friends, and in the pursuit of power, become bitter rivals. Pompey Magnus has the backing of the Roman Senate, but Julius Ceaser is fresh off his conquering of the people of Gaul and has gained the respect and trust of his legion and the people of Rome. Their friendship quickly dissolves as Ceaser marches on Rome in order to claim what he thinks is his rightful position as its leader.
We are also let in on the lives of various people inhabiting the great city of Rome. Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus are soldiers in the 13th legion. They are the complete opposite, but become friends in spite of their wild differences. Pullo is a womanizing drinker who shoots off his mouth more often than he should. Vorenus is a morally centered family man who is always trying to do the right thing, even when he finds himself on the morally wrong side of most everything.
'Rome' also peers into the politics of the noble elite. The Julii family in particular is at the center of everything that is happening. Atia is a cunning woman who plays her part perfectly. Always trying to gain more and more influence and power, she finds herself manipulating anyone she can. One of Atia's closest allies is the famous general Mark Antony who seems to be only using Atia for casual sex encounters, but Atia has other plans in mind.
Another strength of 'Rome' is in its accurate and at times brutal portrayal of the class system that existed in Roman culture. People of lower classes are treated like objects by the people in the noble class. Slaves are seen cowering in corners, and doing anything at all that is asked by their masters. They even sit, head bowed, as their masters have sex, only to bring them a drink of water when it's over.
'Rome' delves deep into the politics of the ancient empire and succeeds in telling an interesting and provocative story about the Romans with hardly a scene involving a giant battle or gladiator fight. This story is more about people than spectacle. That's what makes it all so entertaining to watch. The characters are well scripted and the actors are top-notch.
Sure 'Rome' is just another notch on the scoreboard of shows canceled before their time, but this one is still worth owning. Creator Bruno Heller found out halfway through writing the second season that the series was going to be canceled. So, instead of ending with tons of questions, Heller was able to fast track future story plans, and put most of them into the second season. So, while it might not be the production as it was intentended, it still has a feeling of completeness that other canceled productions often lack.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The complete series collection of ‘Rome,’ contains the first and second seasons of the show spread out on ten 50-GB Blu-ray discs. The collection is housed in a beautifully crafted book-like case that keeps each disc in a cardboard sleeve. The case even has a built-in ribbon bookmark that helps you keep your place in the series. At times the discs are a pain to slide in and out of the cardboard sleeves, but the book and the graphics inside are of the highest quality. It doesn’t feel cheap at all. The book is protected by a nicely embossed cardboard holder that matches the dark red color of the book. If we gave star scores for packaging this would be a five.
The 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer from HBO home video is at times fantastically clear and defined, and at other times murky and dark. First the good, the facial details, for the most part, are fabulously rendered here. Noticeable DNR does look to have been applied during some scenes however. Colors and textures, of which there are an abundance, pop off the screen with exuberance. The immense and expensive set decoration is given a fantastic showcase to show off here. The main square of Rome is heavy on detail with its cobbled streets and Roman columns that exhibit just enough wear and tear to appear real.
Where the transfer falls apart is largely due to its inability to produce believable and clearly defined dark scenes. Delineation becomes a problem and crushing happens far too often. During night scenes characters become more silhouettes than just people with shadows cast on them. Blacks rarely approach the inky stage, and instead waver around grayish and dreary. While the ten discs have given the 22-episode series a bit of room to breath, slight compression artifacts, especially banding around candle light, can be seen. The banding is very slight at times, and doesn't ever become a great distraction. As has been stated, the biggest problem with the transfer is in delineation. Other than that, it's a very detailed and colorful video presentation.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track isn't as hampered as the video presentation. In fact, as far as I'm concerned, this audio track is the best that the show can sound. Without gigantic battle scenes, which we're used to seeing in productions about ancient Rome, the sound track lacks that extra bit of "oomph" that may have bumped it up into the 4.5 to 5 star range. With a largely dialogue-based series, most of the audio track is centered in the front three channels. Although, when the surrounds are called upon they do their job efficiently, like in the echoes of the Senate Chamber or the noises of the crowd in the city streets. LFE is also a bit restrained, but comes alive during the rumblings of marching troops or galloping horses. The music in the soundtrack, however, is a bit overpowering especially during the opening sequence where the theme music plays over the opening credits. For some reason the music seems slightly overpowering compared to the rest of the audio presentation.
"Episode I: The Stolen Eagle": Executive Producer/Writer Bruno Heller and Historical Consultant Jonathan Stamp
"Episode II: How Titus Pullo Brought Down the Republic": Bruno Heller and Jonathan Stamp
"Episode V: The Ram has Touched the Wall": Actor Ray Stevenson (Titus Pullo)
"Episode VII: Pharsalus": Bruno Hellar and JonathanStamp
"Episode VIII: Caesarion": Director Steve Shill
"Episode IX: Utica": Director Jeremy Podeswa
"Episode XI: The Spoils": Actor Kevin McKidd (Lucius Vorenus)
"Episode XII: Kalends of February": Bruno Heller and Jonathan Stamp
"Episode I: Passover": Bruno Heller and Jonathan Stamp
"Episode VII: Death Mask": Director John Maybury and Lindsay Duncan (Servilia)
"Episode VII: A Necessary Fiction": Executive Producer John Melfi and Director Carl Franklin
"Episode IX: Deus Impeditio Esutritori Nullus": James Purefoy (Mark Antony)
"Episode X: De Parte Vostro": Bruno Heller and Jonathan Stamp
As always, some commentaries are more interesting than others. Stamp and Heller dispel a lot of information about the show and the historical aspects they were trying to portray. This information is very interesting to learn, but Heller and Stamp tend to be a little dull. When some of the actors get on and discuss the show, it's always a nice treat. Purefoy, McKidd, and Stevenson all add a nice personable commentary to their respective episodes. I can't help but wish that all three had been able to do one or two commentaries together though.
'Rome' is a magnificent series, with all the breadth and scope of a big budget Hollywood feature film. While trying to portray its story in a historically correct context, 'Rome' is still able to provide us with an interesting and engrossing story about one of the world's most famous ancient cities. The high selling price for this set may keep people at bay, and when the video presentation isn't exactly up to par, I could see why consumers would want to wait until it dropped in price. Although, overall this complete collection will be a fantastic addition to anyone's Blu-ray library. I'm recommending 'Rome,' but will say that those who are interested will probably want to wait for a reduction in price.