Plot: What’s it about?
This epic motion picture tells the story of Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor), the legendary and beautiful former Queen of Egypt. At the start of this story, Cleopatra finds herself pushed out of the power situation in Egypt, by her own jealous brother no less. But when Rome sends a legion of visitors, including Caesar (Rex Harrison) himself, Cleopatra sees a chance to regain her position of authority and perhaps even add to her influence. She has a whirlwind romance with Caesar and the two have relations, then he and his troops head back to Rome, to attend to issues there. Soon, she bears his child and as such, sees the chance to unite Rome and Egypt, which would form one massive and all powerful nation. But before she can venture to Rome and make the plans evident, Caesar is killed and in an effort to preserve some of her wishes, she tries to work her magic on Marc Antony (Richard Burton) instead. Her dreams and schemes are huge in scope and scale, but if anyone could have pulled them off, it would have been Cleopatra.
I’ve been looking forward to this release for some time, so as soon as the discs (all three of them) arrived, I gave them a once over. I had not seen Cleopatra for some time, but it turned out to be even better than I remembered, very lavish and well made, in all respects. I especially like how all the production design is practical, no cheese laden computer graphics here, ala Gladiator. Even with the limits of technology and such, Cleopatra more than stands up against modern epics, with even the smallest of nuances well planned and executed. The location work and set pieces are superb here, providing a beautiful backdrop for each scene, which is very important in a large scale picture like this one. I also love the costumes, which look fantastic on all levels, as well as the film’s selection of props and such, also top notch. Of course, you need a strong cast and this movie has that too, with such names as Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, and Martin Landau on the roster. All in all, Cleopatra is a must see for film fans and in such a terrific package as here, I think a purchase is more than justified, as true film buffs will want this one on hand at all times.
In what has to be the performance of her career, Elizabeth Taylor shines as the lead here, Cleopatra herself. I have to admit though, I am not a massive fan of Taylor’s work, especially some of her later choices, but I do love a select number of her turns, such as here. Of course, she uses her beauty and charms to enhance the character, but she also uses some traditional acting skills, though perhaps not all the time. I know a lot of people criticize her turn here for many reasons, but I think she nails the part most of the time, which is enough to please me. I wouldn’t have anyone in the role and as such, I think Taylor gives a wonderful performance and in my opinion, it is her best work. Other films with Taylor include Father of the Bride, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Butterfield 8, National Velvet, The Taming of the Shrew, and Reflections In A Golden Eye. The cast also includes Richard Burton (The Longest Day, Bluebeard), Pamela Brown (I Know Where I’m Going, Reluctant Bride), Hume Cronyn (The Parallax View, Cocoon), Rex Harrison (Doctor Dolittle, My Fair Lady), Martin Landau (Ed Wood, Rounders), and Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes, The Black Hole).
Video: How does it look?
Cleopatra is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This epic picture has been given the transfer it deserves, which means a new anamorphic edition that uses a clean, almost pristine source print. I saw some minor nicks and debris, but not much in the end and overall, I think this is about as good as this flick can look. The colors look gorgeous, as even the most intense red hues look flawless, while flesh tones are natural and consistent also. I found no issues with the contrast either, sharp black levels were present and I saw no visible detail loss. This is how all classics should be treated, kudos to Fox for giving this one the royal treatment it deserved.
Audio: How does it sound?
I am always pleased to find new mixes offered on these classic films, but I am let down here, as no inclusion of the original option was made. I know a lot of people thrive on surround sound, but I am partial to the original mixes on these classics, so I am left out in the cold here. Aside from that massive oversight, the audio here is more than up to speed, much more natural and pleasant than I had expected. The surrounds are used often in this one, but never pushed too much, which ensures a natural, very effective presentation. The musical score sounds rich and clean throughout, while the dialogue is crisp and always easy to understand. In the end, I wish the original track could have been tucked in, but this is still a very impressive experience. This release also includes 2.0 surround tracks in English and French, as well as subtitles in Spanish and English.
Supplements: What are the extras?
On the two discs that hold the film you can enable an audio commentary track, which features Chris & Tom Mankiewicz, Martin Landau, and Jack Brodsky. The four have a lot of time to fill here, but I was pleased with the amount of information, as well as the depth of some comments. I know a four hour running commentary sounds like a chore, but in this case, that is time well spent, so long as you like the film and want to learn more about it. The third disc holds the rest of the extras and taking the cake is Cleopatra: The Film That Changed Hollywood, a two hour documentary that was a treat to view. This well crafted piece tracks the film from the first stages of discussion, through the actual production, to the impact on modern cinema, very impressive indeed. This was created in conjunction with American Movie Classics and in the end, stands as one of the finest documentaries to be released as a supplemental feature. The disc also includes various trailers for the film, a brief featurette, a couple short newsreel sequences, and a wealth of production photos, from publicity stills to costume sketches to preliminary artwork.