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The decadent side of high definition! Before Rome... Before Gladiator... The most controversial film of all time as you've never experienced it before! Combining lavish spectacle and award-winning stars, this landmark production was shrouded in secrecy since its first day of filming. Now, this unprecedented edition presents a more revealing Caligula than ever before, with a high-definition transfer from negative elements and hours of never-before-seen bonus material!
For more about Caligula and the Caligula Blu-ray release, see Caligula Blu-ray Review published by Ben Williams on February 4, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 1.5 out of 5.
Director: Tinto Brass
Writer: Gore Vidal
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Teresa Ann Savoy, Helen Mirren, Peter O'Toole, John Gielgud, John Steiner (I)
» See full cast & crew
Caligula Blu-ray Review
Lock up Grandma and put the kids to bed; here comes Caligula.
Reviewed by Ben Williams, February 4, 2009
If the average movie aficionado with no knowledge of this film was told that Caligula was written by Gore Vidal, told the epic story of one of the Roman Empire's most infamous rulers; starring the likes of Malcom McDowell (Caligula), Sir John Gielgud (Nerva), Peter O'Toole (Tiberius) and Helen Mirren (Caesonia), would it stand to reason that said film aficionado would be excited to see the film? More than likely, yes. Unfortunately, that filmgoer would probably be just as disappointed as movie fans were back in 1979 when Caligula shocked the world with its hard core sex scenes and complete lack of plot.
Caligula is one of film's most notorious productions. "Penthouse" magazine publisher, Bob Guccione, transformed the film into his passion project during the course of the late 70s. He hired remarkable talent, bought a literate script, brought in a groundbreaking director in Tinto Brass and spent untold millions on sets and costumes. He also decided that the flick needed to feature some of his magazine's "Penthouse Pets." And why wouldn't he? So, plenty of uncensored and pointless sex was added to the script and what might have been intended to be a historical epic, magically transformed into a hard core porn movie with some serious acting talent and a ton of grotesque violence. It's a huge mess that's both mind- numbingly difficult to watch and unintentionally hilarious. Caligula is either the biggest inside joke in the history of film, or it's one of the biggest disasters.
Admittedly, I find aspects of Caligula to be pretty damn funny. Seeing Sir John Gielgud and Peter O'Toole try to get through a scene with countless numbers of fully nude models, some with prosthetic deformities, frolicking in the background is surreal, to say the least. Of course, this unintended comedy is short lived as the film falls more deeply into a disturbing pattern of shockingly demented violence and over-the-top sexual escapades. I suppose some viewers might approach Caligula as just another porn film with heightened production values. That's fine, but those viewers are bound to be slightly distracted by the morbid themes present in just about every sexual scene. There seems to have been an emphasis placed on showcasing many of the diseases and wounds that might have been present in the royal Roman court of the day. I'll skip the gory details, but it isn't pretty. In addition, whoever designed props for Caligula was clearly having a great time, so be sure to keep an eye on what happens in the background of many scenes; there's a lot of supremely bizarre stuff going on. Be warned, however, as this is an exceedingly violent film that takes great pleasure in being grotesque. I've never seen anything quite like the large execution device featured in Caligula; squeamish viewers should find this scene to be particularly vomit-inducing.
Caligula's themes are about as dark and disturbing as possible. Incest is a predominant component of the film's plot as is rape, brutality, torture and murder. Caligula's relationship with his sister, Drusilla (Teresa Ann Savoy), is one of the focal points of the movie. Unsurprisingly, the film is such a complete mess from a plot perspective that this supremely taboo theme comes across as intentionally exploitative. I don't expect a movie to present a moral argument or make apologies for being controversial. It would have been nice, however, if the filmmakers attempted to at least put the relationship into some sort of perspective. As it stands, the film is simply a collection of random plot points that are framed by sex scenes between Caligula and his sister. I'm not going to bother with trying to summarize the plot of Caligula; it would be pointless. With all the acting talent present in the film, those that are interested will probably be watching out of curiosity as to how they were all corralled into taking part in such a mess. I can't recommend Caligula; it's just that bad. As a curiosity, though, it's as bizarre and disturbing as anything ever put on screen.
Caligula Blu-ray, Video Quality
The folks at Image Entertainment had their work cut out for them with Caligula. The film was shot in a soft, grainy and muddy style that looks pretty rough in high definition. Clearly, the elements available for this Blu-ray edition were seriously flawed as the resulting picture quality is decidedly difficult to watch. I noticed instances of dirt, scratches, bizarre vertical and horizontal lines print wear and other signs of a seriously compromised negative. Understandably, I would hardly expect serious money to be spent on a film with such limited appeal.
Viewers of Caligula will be treated to drab colors, ample grain, weak contrast and a picture so soft that it looks like vasoline was smeared on the camera lens. None of this is the fault of the film's 1080p AVC Mpeg-4 encode, of course. Viewers will also notice the film's unusual aspect ratio of 2.00:1; a rare ratio that is said to replicate the aspect ratio of actual human vision. There didn't appear to be any digitally induced issues with Caligula, but it remains a difficult movie to watch. It's just not much to look at.
Caligula Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Let's just get this out of the way: Caligula sounds really bad. It's a harshly recorded, tinny-sounding affair that will fatigue the ears while doing very little to enliven the senses. None of this is the fault of the film's 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround track. It faithfully does the job of reproducing a seriously flawed recording. Garbage in, garbage out, as they say.
The soundtrack for Caligula had the potential to be pretty fantastic. There's a ton of great music on the soundtrack, particularly selections from Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet," but it all sounds like it is being played through an old Victrola. Dialogue is poorly recorded as well with frequent passages that are difficult to discern and a "tin box" feel to the recordings. There is a minimum of surround activity present in the track but the occasional rear-channel flourish does rear its head from time to time. Regardless, Caligula suffers from a poor source and no amount of processing or tinkering can correct that.
Caligula Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Here's what's included:
- Three feature-length audio commentaries with stars Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren and on-set writer Ernest Volkman
- Video interviews with director Tinto Brass and actors John Steiner and Lori Wagner
- Deleted and alternate scenes
- Behind the scenes footage
- Set photo gallery
- Theatrical trailers
- Gore Vidal's original screenplay (DVD-ROM)
- Three Penthouse Magazine Features (DVD-ROM)
- Interview with Bob Guccione (DVD-ROM)
- Press Kit (DVD-ROM)
- Cast and Crew Biographies (DVD-ROM)
Fans of Caligula should be thrilled with the collection of extra features offered in this set. Unfortunately, many of the extras are included on a DVD-ROM disc that accompanies the Blu-ray disc, making them useless on a standalone Blu-ray player. The set's commentaries are well done and add some insight into the actor's feelings on the film; Malcom McDowell seems to relish the role. There are a number of insightful video interviews along with deleted scenes and behind the scenes clips. None of it is particularly Earth- shattering. A large number of still photos are included as are the film's theatrical trailers. Those wanting more will need to explore the DVD-ROM that contains the remainder of the special features.
Caligula Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Caligula is a tough movie to pin down. It's well acted and includes a stunning cast of almost endless talent. Unfortunately, the film is a complete mess that often leaves viewers wondering if they are watching porn or some kind of melodramatic farce. Perhaps both. I wish I could say that the film had redeeming qualities, but as it stands today, Caligula exists as more of a curiosity. It's just a seriously bizarre movie. Image Entertainment has done the best that they possibly could in bringing the film to Blu-ray. Unfortunately, poor source material seriously hampers both the film's video and audio. Supplements are extensive and informative, but the included DVD-ROM might create some problems for some viewers in accessing the material. Regardless of any pre-conceived notions about the movie, Caligula is always an interesting viewing experience. While I honestly can't recommend the film, it's definitely ripe material for hours of discussion. Make no mistake, however; this is a terrible movie.
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