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A historical drama set in Roman Egypt, concerning a slave who turns to the rising tide of Christianity in the hopes of pursuing freedom while also falling in love with his master, the famous female philosophy professor and atheist Hypatia of Alexandria.
For more about Agora and the Agora Blu-ray release, see the Agora Blu-ray Review
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Max Minghella, Oscar Isaac, Ashraf Barhom, Michael Lonsdale, Rupert Evans
Director: Alejandro Amenábar
» See full cast & crew
Agora Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, August 10, 2010
Winner of seven Goya awards, Alejandro Amenabar's "Agora" (2009) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Brothers-France. The supplemental features on the disc include a gallery of deleted scenes, making of featurette, the film's original theatrical trailer, and cast and crew information. In English, with optional French subtitles for the main feature. Region-B "locked".
The end of the 4th Century AD. The Roman Empire is on the verge of collapse. In Alexandria, home of one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World, the Lighthouse, the pagans worship their gods in the Library. Followers of the Jewish faith and Christianity, however, have begun questioning their rituals and beliefs.
At the Agora, the beautiful Hypatia (Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener) teaches mathematics, physics and astronomy to her students. She respects the gods but believes only in philosophy. Some of the most important people in Alexandria openly admire her.
Hypatia is also loved by two young men. Orestes (Oscar Isaac, Body of Lies), one of her brightest students, cannot stop thinking about her. During an important ceremony, he declares his love for Hypatia. On the following day, however, she rejects him in an uncompromising, and brutal, fashion.
Davus (Max Minghella, Art School Confidential), a slave, dreams of being with Hypatia. Eventually, however, he realizes that he could never have her and finds peace in Christianity. After a fellow Christian shows him how to pray, Davus begs God to keep Hypatia away from Orestes.
Sensing that Alexandria is changing, the pagans, encouraged by a group of extremists, attack the Christians who have gathered in the middle of the city. They kill hundreds of people in a matter of minutes - but the Christians regroup and strike back, forcing the pagans to hide behind the big walls of the Agora.
The Emperor is informed about the religious killings and soldiers are sent to guarantee peace in Alexandria. The pagans are ordered to leave the Agora and, like the Jews, the Christians are granted the right to gather and worship their God. Immediately after the pagans leave the Agora, the Christians destroy it.
Alexandria changes. The Christians force many of the pagans to convert and then clash with the Jews. Many of Hypatia's former students become prominent political and religious officials. Eventually, Hypatia is also forced to convert by the city's new bishop (Sami Samir, The Nativity Story), but she publicly condemns him. Davus kills Hypatia before the Christians stone her.
Agora is directed by Chile-born Spaniard Alejandro Amenabar, whose powerful The Sea Inside won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2005. Amenabar also co-wrote the script for Agora, together with fellow countryman Mateo Gil (Open Your Eyes).
Though many of the events in Agora are not based on undisputed facts, its key point about religious extremism is - extremists are not unique to any particular religion. Agora also effectively reminds why science has always been at odds with religion.
What inspires the pagans, Christians, and Jews to clash in Agora isn't any different from what nowadays drives the Muslims and Jews to kill each other in the Middle East - the same pretexts that are on display in Agora are discussed on most unbiased news networks weekly. The only new addition to the circus is the willingness of the Christians to be twice as bad as those who question their God.
Weisz is excellent as Hypatia. The supporting cast is also terrific. Minghella, in particular, delivers a powerful performance that will surely put him on the radar of some big time Hollywood directors and producers. Technically, Agora also shines. Cinematographer Xavi Giménez's (The Machinist) lensing is top-notch and Nacho Ruiz Capillas' editing solid. Dario Marianelli's (Atonement) music score is also amongst the very best I have heard this year.
Note: In 2009, Agora was screened at the Cannes Film Festival. Earlier this year, the film won seven Goya Awards, including Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography.
Agora Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.36:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Alejandro Amenabar's Agora arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Brothers-France.
This is an impressive high-definition transfer. Fine object detail is excellent, clarity pleasing and contrast levels consistent throughout the entire film. The color-scheme does not disappoint either - yellows, blues, greens, reds, browns, blacks and whites look lush and natural. Edge-enhancement and macroblocking are not an issue of concern. I also did not see any traces of heavy noise-filtering, aliasing and banding. Additionally, blown through a digital projector the high-definition transfer conveys outstanding depth and tightness. Finally, I did not see any flecks, scratches, marks, stains, or dirt to report in this review. All in all, this is a very strong, competent high-definition transfer. (Note: This is a Region-B "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-B or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Agora Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are four different audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: French Dolby TrueHD 5.1, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, French Dolby TrueHD 2.0 and English Dolby TrueHD 2.0. For the record, Warner Brothers have provided optional French subtitles for the main feature. When turned on, they split the image frame and the image frame and the black bar below it.
The English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is terrific. The bass is potent and punchy, the rear channels intelligently used and the high-frequencies not overdone. The dialog is crisp, clean, stable and exceptionally easy to follow. Dario Marianelli's fantastic music score also benefits tremendously from the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. In fact, some of the most memorable scenes in Agora are the ones where Marianelli's score comes alive.
I tested a few scenes with the English Dolby TrueHD 2.0 track to see how it compares with the English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. Generally speaking, the Dolby TrueHD 2.0 track lacks the depth and fluidity of the English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. The English Dolby TrueHD 2.0 definitely does not enhance Marianelli's score as well as the English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track does.
Agora Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Note: Most of the supplemental features on this Blu-ray disc are encoded in PAL. Therefore, if you reside in North America, or another region where PAL is not supported, you must have a Region-Free player capable of converting PAL to NTSC, or a TV set capable of receiving native PAL data, in order to view them.
Making of - Director Alejandro Amenabar, cast and crew members, and various scholars discuss the fascinating history of the real Agora. The featurette also contains an abundance of raw footage from the shooting of the film in Malta. In Spanish, with optional French subtitles. (61 min).
Deleted scenes -
-- Prologue (3 min).
-- Discussion sur Hypatie (2 min).
-- Davus Prie (1 min).
-- Vie des parabalani (2 min).
-- Ammonius blesse (2 min).
-- Arrivee a la ceremonie (1 min).
-- Discours de synesios (2 min).
Bande-annonce - the original theatrical trailer for the film. In French. (1080p).
Fiche artistique - cast and characters information.
Fiche techniqie - technical crew information.
Agora Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
At least in the United States, Alejandro Amenabar's Agora will suffer the same fate Henry Bean's The Believer did. This is an extremely bold and uncompromising film that delivers a history lesson many people will conveniently disregard - and move on claiming that it is flawed. The Blu-ray disc herein reviewed, courtesy of Warner Brothers-France, looks and sounds terrific. It is, however, Region-B "locked". VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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