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This 1970 adaptation stars Charlton Heston as Mark Antony, the loyal apprentice of Emperor Julius Caesar, who's deceived and murdered by Brutus, Cassius and other power-hungry Roman officials. Driven out of Rome, the betrayers vow to destroy Mark Antony, who fights for Caesar and the future of the empire at all costs.
For more about Julius Caesar and the Julius Caesar Blu-ray release, see Julius Caesar Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on February 11, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Charlton Heston, Jason Robards, John Gielgud, Richard Johnson, Robert Vaughn, Richard Chamberlain
Director: Stuart Burge
» See full cast & crew
Julius Caesar Blu-ray Review
Et tu, Robards?
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, February 11, 2013
It's a rather peculiar form of chauvinism (in that word's classic sense) that surprises many of us Americans when we find out that certain British actors can effect such convincing stateside accents. The funny thing is, most of us don't think twice about faking British accents ourselves, and yet the reverse situation seems somehow more technically difficult. Sometimes we know going in that an actor is British (or other foreign nationality) and is simply "doing" an American accent (Daniel Day-Lewis, Ewan McGregor and Toni Collette spring instantly to mind), but sometimes it can come as a complete surprise. Many younger fans of House M.D. probably had little knowledge of Hugh Laurie's many British outings (notably Jeeves and Wooster). I personally was gobsmacked (an appropriately British term) when I saw Gillian Anderson on a talk show one night and heard her speaking in a very proper British accent; I had simply assumed from her stint on X Files that she was an American (truth be told, she was born in America but had spent much of her childhood in England). A corollary to this phenomenon is what might be termed "proper" speech, the sort of beautiful enunciation and perfect pronunciation that frankly seems to be the hallmark of many British speakers, whether they do so professionally or not. We Americans tend to be at least slightly more laissez faire (is it heresy to introduce a French phrase into a discussion like this?) about language, for better or worse, and though anyone who has been to England is well aware that there is as much disparity between regional idiolects there as here in the United States, there's still a perhaps incorrect perception that the vast majority of Brits speak the Queen's English with flair and nuance, not to mention stunning elocution. And so we arrive at the rather weird amalgamation of trained British Shakespearian actors like Sir John Gielgud alongside well intentioned (and well spoken) American orator- actors like Charlton Heston and the weirdly flat, American Plains sounding Jason Robards in a similarly disjointed 1970 film version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. There's certainly nothing wrong with a mash up of British and American actors in Shakespeare, and in fact Joseph L. Mankiewicz had done exactly the same thing almost twenty years previously to this Julius Caesar with his own film version of the play, one which featured Marlon Brando declaiming Shakespeare's immortal verse alongside none other than John Gielgud. That cast also featured another sort of "middle American" speaker, Edmund O'Brien, though Mankiewicz's version is considerably less grating from a purely aural standpoint than this 1970 version is.
There's a common misperception that Shakespeare can be hard to understand, but the fact is when one sees an actual production of a Shakespeare play, perhaps unexpectedly context and behavior help to make the sometimes admittedly dense language much easier to comprehend, even more so than when merely reading the texts (even—or maybe in spite of—explanatory footnotes). But that comprehensibility depends on two interlinked things: first, a competent production, and, second, decent interpretations (including speaking styles) by the actors. This Julius Caesar is, generally speaking (no pun intended), well enough done on both counts, save for one glaring exception: Jason Robards.
Robards was a quintessentially American actor, gruff, unaffected and unvarnished. As such, he might seem to be a near perfect choice to play Brutus, a character whose name has become synonymous with violence and passionate behavior. But Robards' flat, nasal quality is distinctly at odds with the rest of the cast—including, it might be pointed out, other Americans like Robert Vaughn and Richard Chamberlain—and when combined with a really peculiarly somnambulistic performance style, Robards is a very weak link in an otherwise at least marginally commendable (and at times, much more than that) cast.
Director Stuart Burge had a much better time of it with his 1965 version of Othello, despite the controversy that version (which starred Sir Laurence Olivier) engendered. Here, Burge does a decent enough job recreating Imperial Rome with a minimum of fuss and bother, as well as opening the film up with some good location work in the second act especially which helps to establish a sense of scope. And one simply can't do better than John Gielgud as Caesar, though it must be admitted that he's rather an avuncular, grandfatherly presence in the film, rather than the ruthless usurper of power that Shakespeare's formulation delineates.
Charlton Heston does rather better than at least some might expect, bringing a certain wounded nobility to Mark Antony. Heston always had his own particular acting gravitas, which frankly sometimes worked against him in roles not well suited to that sort of overt seriousness, but here it serves him very well, establishing a nicely nuanced tug of war between his character and Gielgud's. The supporting cast, save for Robards, is quite good, especially Richard Johnson as Cassius. Diana Rigg is also quite lovely if not especially tragic Portia (it's hard to feel sorry for someone who looks like that).
But nothing can really overcome Robards in this film, not only because of Robards' failures in terms of performance and flat speaking style, but for the very reason that so much of the drama in Shakespeare's version of historical events hinges on Brutus' crisis of conscience. This role needs an actor who viscerally presents the inner struggle of Brutus as he attempts to come to terms with exactly how he feels about Caesar and the "new world order" that the erstwhile "dictator for all time" seeks to impose on Rome. Unfortunately in Robards' hands, it often looks like Brutus simply couldn't care less what happens, and that means the audience never really does, either.
Julius Caesar Blu-ray, Video Quality
Julius Caesar is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1. This is another generally fine looking Olive release, one with relatively few damage issues in the source elements, but with some anomalies that videophiles will want to be aware of. There are both density and registration problems, albeit slight at times, on display throughout this presentation, more noticeable in the early going (where at times there's almost quasi- flicker on display) but occasionally still noticeable later in the film. Colors are decent but not especially robust, though flesh tones have a tendency to tilt toward the purple side of things at times. Close-ups reveal at the very least adequate levels of fine detail (see the ninth screenshot accompanying this review for a good example), though midrange and wide shots are often pretty soft looking. As with virtually all Olive releases, no digital tweaking of any kind seems to have been done, and this is in fact a fairly grainy looking presentation all around (almost to the point of digital noise levels in some of the darkest scenes).
Julius Caesar Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Julius Caesar features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono mix that suffices surprisingly well for this film, offering Shakespeare's immortal text in a clear and precise fashion. There are occasional foley effects and a rather minimal underscore by Michael J. Lewis that are artfully woven into the mix, but it's the voices that are always front and center, as they should be. Fidelity is excellent, but dynamic range is relatively limited.
Julius Caesar Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
This Blu-ray disc includes no supplementary material of any kind.
Julius Caesar Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Julius Caesar has received several film adaptations through the years (interestingly, Charlton Heston appeared in a low budget 1950 version which is rarely if ever seen anymore), with Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1953 production still probably the best overall version. This 1970 version is in widescreen and color, and it's actually fairly faithful to Shakespeare's text. Gielgud, Heston and (especially) Johnson are excellent, with Rigg, Vaughn and Chamberlain also doing just fine. But whoever thought that Jason Robards would be an appropriate Brutus was more than likely ruing their decision long before this film ever saw the theatrical light of day. This is one of the few major missteps in Robards' career, but it at least proves that even an actor of his caliber can meet a role for which he's spectacularly ill suited. If you can ignore Robards—no easy feat considering his central role in this film—there is certainly quite a bit to admire about this film. The Blu-ray offers good (if occasionally problematic) video and fine audio.
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Julius Caesar Blu-ray, News and Updates
• More Catalog Titles Coming Up From Olive Films - December 3, 2012
Olive Films have revealed that they are planning to release six more catalog titles in February: Night of the Demons 2 (1994), The Monster Squad (1987), Live Nude Girls (1995), Highlander 2: Renegade Version (1991), Julius Caesar (1970), and Innocent Bystanders ...
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