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For more about Quo Vadis and the Quo Vadis Blu-ray release, see Quo Vadis Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on March 16, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Robert Taylor (I), Deborah Kerr, Leo Genn, Peter Ustinov, Patricia Laffan, Finlay Currie
Directors: Mervyn LeRoy, Anthony Mann
» See full cast & crew
Quo Vadis Blu-ray Review
A sweeping Hollywood epic that falls flat...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, March 16, 2009
Based on the 1895 novel of the same name by Nobel Prize-winning novelist Henryk Sienkiewicz, inspired by an apocryphal account of an exchange between St. Peter and a post-ascended Christ, and nominated for eight 1951 Academy Awards (including Best Picture, Cinematography, and Music), Quo Vadis is the epitome of early Hollywood spectacle. Of course, MGM (who earned a reputation for helming such lavish films) and director Mervyn LeRoy (Little Caesar, Gypsy, and Random Harvest, just to name a few) spared no expense to bring their vision of ancient Rome to Technicolor-life. Hiring a star-studded cast, constructing endless sets and soundstages, employing thousands of extras, and commissioning more than 30,000 costumes, LeRoy wanted nothing more than to shock and awe audiences with the sheer scope and magnitude of his production.
Sadly, LeRoy's spectacle comes at the expense of a more involving story. Quo Vadis opens amidst the notorious reign of Nero (Peter Ustinov), a Roman emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty whose particularly extravagant and depraved rule brought about the persecution and execution of countless early Christians. But the tale itself focuses on one of Nero's veteran commanders, Marcus Vinicius (Robert Taylor), who has the debatable misfortune of falling in love with a religious upstart named Lygia (Deborah Kerr). As Nero succumbs to an increasing lust for power and the envious wiles of his wife (Patricia Laffan), he burns Rome, blames the newly emerging zealots in his empire, and begins sentencing every Christian his forces capture to death in the arena. Arrested and imprisoned for their faith and love, Marcus and Lygia have to face Nero's rage as readily as they embraced their relationship's humble beginnings.
Even though I've long been fascinated by the social, geopolitical, and cultural history of the Roman era, Quo Vadis didn't intrigue or engage my interests. While I knew I would have to endure the verbose deliveries and dated production values of '50s epic cinema, I was surprised to find myself growing so weary of Marcus and Lygia's love story. Maybe Titanic-techies felt the same while sitting through Kate and Leo's insipid Titanic heartstrings, but I longed for something meatier and more intense. I wanted LeRoy to dig into Nero's brain and show me an aspect of the madman I had never considered -- a conflicted soul, a despondent ruler, a slipping mind... anything other than a greedy opportunist -- and, while Ustinov does make the most of every scene, the director continually returns to the dry, plodding romance at the heart of the tale. Don't get me wrong, students of history will find plenty of material to hold their attention, but they'll also have to wade through redundant dialogue, overwrought plot developments, and a wholly contrived third act that shrugs its shoulders and goes for broke.
It doesn't help that Quo Vadis clocks in at 171 minutes; at least 55 of which I was glancing at my watch. I'm sure there are cinephiles and historians out there who are more than willing to look past the film's shortcomings, but I'd much rather invest my time in more timeless classics like Warner's Gone with the Wind and Sony's recent release of Gandhi (both spectacles in their own right that focus on character and story above all else). Even Spartacus, flawed as it is, manages to effectively mingle history with legend and deliver an exciting tale worthy of its stature. While LeRoy continually reminds viewers of the lush riches and breathtaking cityscapes of Rome, he neglects to infuse his production with any semblance of soul. Average at best and tiresome at worst, Quo Vadis offers more risk than reward and should be approached with caution.
Quo Vadis Blu-ray, Video Quality
Quo Vadis debuts on Blu-ray with a relatively impressive 1080p/VC-1 transfer (framed at 1.33:1) that rights the technical wrongs of Warner's recent DVD release. The film's newly-minted high definition palette is far more natural and attractive than its standard definition counterpart, featuring bold primaries, more realistic skintones, and deeper blacks. Delineation is also improved, showcasing slightly more shadow detail than ever before. Likewise, texture clarity and edge definition are sharper and more refined, leaving the presentation without any significant flaws (aside from the inherent limitations of its now-sixty-year-old source). Fleeting softness and print damage still pop up from time to time, but artifacting, noise, banding, and crush have been kept to a minimum. Lingering edge enhancement appears as well, but should go somewhat unnoticed by anyone watching the film on a screen smaller than 100 inches. All things considered, it's a polished presentation that doesn't look artificial, overworked, or unfaithful to its roots.
Quo Vadis doesn't quite offer the sort of masterful restoration rightfully granted to other notable Warner catalog releases (Casablanca and Blade Runner immediately spring to mind), but its video transfer should easily please fans of early '50s cinema and classic productions just the same.
Quo Vadis Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Purists like myself will probably appreciate Warner's Dolby Digital Mono presentation of the film's original audio -- its crisp dialogue, authentic single-channel sonics, and nostalgic sensibilities are refreshing at times -- but lossless junkies will frown at the studio's decision to forgo a 5.1 channel remix. As you might expect, LFE support is non-existent, the rear speakers are silent, and the mono track doesn't produce any sort of soundfield whatsoever. Moreover, treble tones are often thin and tinny, the film's musical score is continually overshadowed by an overactive soundscape, and low-end thooms are occasionally shrill. On a positive note, I also didn't have any lofty expectations to shatter. The simple fact that I was listening to a mono presentation made it easier to sink into the film without evaluating how faithful the sound designers were to the film. Ultimately, had Warner provided both a lossless audio option and an original mono mix, Quo Vadis fans would have had the best of both worlds. However, I also think it would be disingenuous to criticize the disc's producers for sticking to the film's 1951 aesthetics and LeRoy's production.
Quo Vadis Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Despite a truncated selection of special features, the Blu-ray edition of Quo Vadis delivers a lot of information about the history of the film, the involvement of its cast and crew, the film's eventual reception, and its influence over the years.
Quo Vadis Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Seeped in stirring history, based on the exploits of Nero's tyranny, and packed with marvelous Golden Age production values, Quo Vadis is a surprisingly dull "classic" that probably won't win over many new followers. The Blu-ray edition is an improvement -- offering an excellent video transfer and a faithful mono presentation of the film's original audio -- but the lack of a lossless 5.1 remix and the presence of an anemic supplemental package will prevent this release from attracting curious masses. I suggest giving it a rent before considering a purchase.
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Quo Vadis Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Today on Blu-ray - March 17th - March 17, 2009
Films which fit into the "romantic comedy" genre typically favor one quality or the other. They are either romantic films with comedic highlights, or conversely, comedies with a romantic story. It is a rare film, such as 'The Princess Bride' that can gently walk ...
• Quo Vadis Announced for Blu-ray Release - November 24, 2008
Warner Home Video has announced that they will bring the epic film 'Quo Vadis' to Blu-ray on March 17th. This title has already been released on Blu-ray by Warner in both Japan and Korea, and it is widely assumed that the US release will share their technical specs ...
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