A Few Words About A few words about...™ Cleopatra (1963) - U.S. Release -- in Blu-ray

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Robert Harris, May 22, 2013.

  1. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    The great Joseph L. Mankiewicz' Cleopatra is finally, a year after it's UK release, arriving on U.S. shores.

    And there's an improvement.

    Slight, but an improvement.

    The entr'acte, which was strangely positioned at the tail of disc one on the UK release, now properly stands at the head of disc two, and comes up automatically.

    Aside from that this magnificent epic with 65mm cinematography by Leon Shamroy and classic score by Alex North, seems to be precisely the same as the UK version.

    Which to my eyes, is very nice.  To those with more modest video panels, it should look superb.  In projection, lesser so, as it isn't up to the quality seen in some other large format release, being scanned at a lower resolution.  The final result is also far less stellar than one might expect, but nice, still the same.

    Audio is also the same as the UK set, in DTS-HD MA, and sounds superb.

    While I believe that most people will be thrilled with this particular Cleopatra, I can only look at it, knowing what it could have been.

    For the past year, I've been patiently hopeful.

    Image - 4

    Audio - 5

    Recommended.

    RAH

     
  2. Moe Dickstein

    Moe Dickstein Filmmaker

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    So if read correctly, the issue is the original scan being done in a lower resolution than it should have?
     
  3. classicmovieguy

    classicmovieguy Producer

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    And I'll be double-dipping. Thanks Robert.
     
  4. haineshisway

    haineshisway Producer

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    Nice they moved the entr'acte. Not nice they haven't fixed the color. Oh, well.
     
  5. rsmithjr

    rsmithjr Screenwriter

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    Robert,


    Thanks for the review, I have been waiting to hear what you say before replacing the UK Blu-ray.

    By my viewing, the color balance on the UK Blu-ray is quite blue compared to the original Deluxe 70mm prints. I am assuming that this is not improved. Can you confirm this?

    As you point out, it is also soft to me, compared to titles like South Pacific.


    Thanks again!


    Bob
     
  6. WadeM

    WadeM Supporting Actor

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    At least they fixed the placement of the entr'acte. Thanks
     
  7. David_B_K

    David_B_K Advanced Member

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    I'm glad the Entr'acte got fixed. However, I will not double dip for it.
     
  8. Russell G

    Russell G Fake Shemp
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    Seeing as I've never purchased this and haven't seen it since the initial VHS release, I'll pick it up. With less enthusiasm though than I had. Shame they didn't do this one as good as they could of.
     
  9. Professor Echo

    Professor Echo Screenwriter

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    I'm glad fans are getting a half way decent Blu of this title even though it sounds like it isn't as good as it could have been.

    A few years ago I saw this at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater at the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences in Beverly Hills, 70mm, six track, as ideal a presentation as you will ever get. I wanted so much to like it, but came away pretty bored. I am not a big fan of Mankiewicz and his perpetual yak fests ("People Will Talk," LOL) so I'm sure that had something to do with my not caring for it. It's definitely the most non-epic EPIC ever made. But I'll continue to read this thread and see if I should give it another chance. I think just its point in film history earns it a place in my library, but unlike some other failed epics (THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD), I don't know how often I would revisit CLEOPATRA.

    As I said though, I hope fans will enjoy this Blu and post their thoughts here on it.
     
  10. David_B_K

    David_B_K Advanced Member

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    Though I like the movie more than you, I think you are correct about its faults. I remember reading Charlton Heston's comments about it in his journals (The Actor's Life). Heston would often comment on the movies he saw and Cleopatra was among them. Heston thought the film did not quite work either and said something to the effect that Mankiewicz tried too hard to write it in a Shakespearean style but came up short. I agree with this. I think some of the dialog is rather over-written and strives to be more pseudo-poetic than it needs to be. So you get lines like "My breasts are filled with love and life. My hips are rounded and well-apart. Such women, they say have sons".

    That line occurs in the first part of the fillm; but most of the over-written parts occur in part two. Antony's speech to Cleopatra on the barge in which he complains that no matter what he does "Caesar's done it before and done it better" comes off to me as an attempt at a Shakespearian "actor-ish" speech. Likewise, Antony's speech when he descibes how he felt after deserting the fleet at Actium is another pseudo-Shakespearian moment. It's not really normal IMO to speechify that much in an epic film unless it's Shakespeare. I think much of the criticism of Burton's perfomrance (I think he's great in the part) is due to the fact that he has too many declamatory speeches.

    I still think it's a pretty good film with some great spectacle, some great performances and a great music score.
     
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  11. Lromero1396

    Lromero1396 Supporting Actor

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    I recently saw the film on a now obsolete DVD copy. I was impressed by the production, but the film itself left me wanting a lot more. One can only imagine what the film would be like if the trims hadn't been discarded. As I was viewing the film (in its roadshow version), I looked for scenes which could easily have been cut down for general release in my book. I found none. I can't imagine how awful the film was in the 2 hr 40 min cut version. Nonetheless, I will probably get the BD at some point for one reason: that Cinematography.
     
  12. classicmovieguy

    classicmovieguy Producer

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    Mankiewicz wrote much of the script as he went along, which I think severely robbed him of the chance to invest all of what he wanted into the story.
     
  13. Stephen PI

    Stephen PI Supporting Actor

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    Is there an isolated score?
     
  14. marcco00

    marcco00 Stunt Coordinator

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    the film's script is over-written for sure-- and mankiewicz's original film cut had 6 hours worth of material?!!

    also, too many arguments between cleo and caesar, cleo and antony...constant yelling, it gets tiring. i see more fighting between these couples than loving!

    a beauty like elizabeth taylor's cleo should be able to get what she wants without ever having to raise her voice once!!

    technically though, it is a one-of-a-kind film, beautifully executed.
     
  15. David_B_K

    David_B_K Advanced Member

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    I cannot imagine what else they could have included to add up to two more hours; hopefully not more speeches. I think the current 4-hour version is a good cut. When I first bought a VCR back in 1979 (for about $1,000), one of the first films I bought (for about $79.99) was the Magnetic video VHS tape of Cleopatra. It was pan & scan as all movies on tape were then, and it was the 192 minute version. I had originally seen the film on its ABC premiere of the 4-hour version. The 192 minute version is awful. The cuts are rather abrupt. This version was often shown on TV until the 4-hour version was eventually released on VHS (pan & scan) and on laserdisc (widescreen.).

    An example of a jarring cut: in the current version, Caesar takes his leave of Cleopatra and returns to Rome. The narrator intones "but only after many wars in Spain, Africa and Asia Minor, was Caesar able to return to Rome to clebrate his triumph, and see to his affairs". This is read over a scene showing Caesar in his chariot during his trumphal parade in Rome. There then follow a few scenes that explain what has happened in the years since Caesar left. We learn that Caesar has been named "Dictator for Life" amongst other things. There then follows Cleopatra's spectacular entry into Rome. In the 192 minute version, the narrator intones: but only after many wars in Spain, Africa and Asia Minor, was Caesar able to return to Rome and welcome Queen Cleopatra". Cleopatra's entry immediately follows Casar's departure, thereby robbing the film of important story elements and robbing the characters of feelings and motivations and compressing the time of the storyline.

    There are cuts like that throughout the 192 minute version of the film. It just comes off as a long trailer of the real film. I would like to read a synopsis sometime of the 6-hour film to see what was intended originally. If it included more of Rex Harrison's Caesar or more battle scenes, it might have been worthwhile. If it was more speeches of Antony's whining about how he is in the shadow of Caesar, it was probably in need of the editing it received. As it is, I think the 4-hour version works pretty well, particularly after seeing the execrable 192 minute version. I am looking forward to the matinee @ Cinemark this weekend.
     
  16. Russell G

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    Nice! I've only seen the Magnetic video version so I guess I've never really seen the movie at all! I look forward to the bluray arriving!
     
  17. Rob_Ray

    Rob_Ray Screenwriter
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    As I recall, Martin Landau on the commentary track goes into detail about how his performance, in particular, heavily suffered in getting the picture down to four hours, rather than the original six. As an example, without giving any spoilers, there was a crucial scene that explained why and how Landau arrived at his final fate. As the film plays now, one can easily make incorrect assumptions.

    Roddy McDowell's performance was also truncated to the point that many involved in the production think he was robbed of a Supporting Oscar nomination.

    Elizabeth Taylor never discussed the film, presumably because she could never bear to watch it. Listen to the commentary and watch the documentary. They go into all of this and so much more. They are both more compelling than the action onscreen.
     
  18. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    The main reason Roddy McDowall didn't receive a much deserved Oscar nomination is covered in the 2-hour documentary. There was a clerical slip-up and he was included among the Best Actor candidates for consideration instead of Best Supporting Actor. With the role much smaller than the other players, he never would have garnered a nomination in that category as indeed he didn't.
     
  19. Billy Batson

    Billy Batson Cinematographer

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    The film gets to the end of the first half & Liz & Richard hardly know each other. Part two starts & they're old lovers with a history & they've split up! I think that's part of the reason why part two is so weak, you don't believe it & don't know what's going on anymore.
     
  20. David_B_K

    David_B_K Advanced Member

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    I don't think it is quite true that they are "old lovers" at the start of part two. I'd have to check, but it must be at least 20 or more minutes into part 2 before A & C become lovers.

    The real reason part two is considered "weak" IMO is that Caesar dies at the end of part one. Even though the film is called Cleopatra, Rex Harrison dominates the first half as Caesar. If you had to choose the most fascinating people of history, Caesar would easily crack the top 5, if not the top spot. Rex Harrison perfectly inhabits the character in the film. Throughout part one, Caesar is shown as brilliant, charming and successful until his sudden assassination. No story can survive the loss of such a character. If you were reading a straightforward historical account the same thing would occur.

    In the second half, we concentrate on the "doomed lovers", Antony and Cleopatra. So, we've gone from a story of characters in their ascendancy to characters on a downward spiral. I think a let-down is inevitable. I don't blame the filmmakers or the actors for the let-down. The only way to have avoided it IMO would have been to make the film primarily about Caesar and have it end with the assassination.

    It took me a long time to appreciate Part 2. One just has to look at part 2 as being more tragic than part one. It is also more romantic, with A & C truly being passionate lovers, while Caesar and Cleopatra were more like business partners.
     

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