Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Rome: The Complete Series

Discussion in 'TV on DVD and Blu-ray' started by Cameron Yee, Dec 24, 2009.

  1. Cameron Yee

    Cameron Yee Executive Producer

    May 9, 2002
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    Since 2006
    Real Name:
    Cameron Yee
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    Rome: The Complete Series

    Release Date: Available now
    Studio: HBO
    Year: 2005-2007
    Rating: TV-MA
    Running Time: Approximately 22 hours
    MSRP: $139.99

    Video 1080p high definition 16x9 1.78:1
    Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1, German 5.1 / DTS: Spanish 2.0, French 2.0, Castilian 2.0, Polish Voiceover 2.0
    Subtitles English, English SDH, Spanish, French, German, Castilian, Polish, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Greek, Hebrew, Portuguese, Romanian, Turkish

    The Series: 4.5/5

    "Four hundred years after the last king was driven from the city, the Republic of Rome rules many nations but cannot rule itself. The city is constantly roiled by conflict between the common people and the nobility. Power is shared and order maintained by two soldiers - old friends - Gnaeus Pompey Magnus and Gaius Julius Ceasar. Once, Pompey was acknowledged by all to be the greater man, but for the last eight years while Pompey has kept the peace in Rome, Caesar has waged a war of conquest in Gaul that has made him ever more rich and popular. The balance of power is shifting, and the nobility have grown fearful. Though of noble blood himself, Caesar stands with the common people. A man like that - an aristocrat with soldiers, money and the love of the people - might make himself king."

    Though writer-producer Bruno Heller complains about how many times he had to re-write that voice over, which was used in the first episode to set the stage for things to come, it's a perfect encapsulation of the central conflict that runs throughout "Rome." Though the first season deals primarily with the rise of Caesar, ending with his legendary assassination in the Senate, the second season explores the much broader subject of the Republic - its ultimate collapse and transition to the Empire as Octavian (Max Pirkis and Simon Woods) is made its first emperor.

    As these subjects are generally familiar to most, the series proves to be a perfect example of "it's not what it's about, but how it's about it." Indeed, by making historical authenticity a priority (not necessarily historical accuracy, as the program takes certain liberties with the figures and timeline), the filmmakers succeed in re-creating an ancient civilization and culture that is at once sumptuously detailed and dramatically engrossing. The cast of characters is no less vast and detailed, ranging from Caesar (Ciaran Hinds) himself down to the humble (in station, not in attitude) centurion Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson). But there's little chance of viewers getting lost in the bloodlines thanks to excellent management of the individual stories, from the epic to the intimate.

    But of course all the show's quality and attention to detail (to the point of filming on location in Rome) came at a price, and one that could not be sustained by the companies providing the funding. The show's cancellation after the second season meant plenty of material was left unexplored (including the effect of a modest, Jewish carpenter on the Empire). It also resulted in the show's major weakness - an over-accelerated timeline in the latter part of the final season. Still, the series included some of the most popular, if not compelling, moments in Rome's history. The failure of the Republic and the rise of the first emperor makes for a fitting thematic tale; told remarkably well, we can only imagine what this fine series could have done with the rest of the civilization's provocative story.

    "Rome: The Complete Series" on Blu-ray includes all 22 episodes that aired on HBO between 2005 and 2007. Though there were individual season releases on DVD, this is the first "complete series" release and its first appearance on the Blu-ray format.

    Video Quality: 4.5/5

    The series episodes are framed at 1.78:1 and presented in 1080p with AVC codec. Black levels are solid and deep. Contrast displays the full range of values, with good shadow detail, though dim interior scenes can look a bit flat, lacking some of the richness found in the more brightly lit environments. Color rendition is consistently excellent however, flesh tones tending to be warm, but without oversaturation. Fine object detail is equally impressive, particularly with skin textures, though hair and fabrics also stand out in their overall clarity. Grain structure appears intact, with no signs of noise reduction or image sharpening measures, making for an excellent visual presentation that should exceed the quality fans saw in high definition broadcasts.

    Audio Quality: 4/5

    Center channel dialogue dominates the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix and is consistently clear and detailed. Surround and bass activity are mostly in service to the score, with ambient and directional effects present at mostly dramatic points but not particularly expansive or immersive. Bass response, however, is deep and clean, particularly with sometimes percussive score and the occasional grand battle sequence. Though at times utilitarian in nature, the soundtrack suits and complements the material well and features strong fidelity and dynamic range.

    Special Features: 5/5

    The special features package offers an excellent blend of commentary tracks and documentary pieces, offering viewers an in-depth look behind the production and an incredible breadth of historical context and background.

    One-Minute Previews: Each episode includes the teaser that preceded the main broadcast.

    All Roads Lead to Rome: On-screen guide runs throughout each episode and provides numerous background details about Roman history, culture and mythology. It is easily the highlight of the special features package for its sheer depth and breadth of information, proving particularly useful for those of us with limited knowledge of Ancient Rome.

    Bloodlines: On-screen guide provides brief profiles of each character, including any societal and relational ties. Accessible during episode playback, the feature proves helpful during the early episodes when many of the characters are being introduced.

    Audio Commentaries: Six of the set's 13 commentary tracks are by Executive Producer/Writer Bruno Heller and Historical Consultant Jonathan Stamp. The other seven feature various series regulars and guest directors. I sampled a few of the commentaries by Heller and Stamp and found them to be reasonably interesting, though much of what Stamp has to contribute is rendered redundant by the "All Roads Lead to Rome" on-screen informational guide. Scattered here and there are some interesting facts about production (e.g. the challenges of working with non-English speaking extras, differences between Italian and American filmmaking), but there's more of that kind of material in the tracks by the actors and directors. Consequently, I suggest first listening to commentaries by actors Ray Stevenson, Kevin McKidd and James Purefoy.

    The following is the complete list of commentary tracks:

    • Season 1, Episode 1: The Stolen Eagle: Producer/Writer Bruno Heller and Historical Consultant Jonathan Stamp
    • Season 1, Episode 2: How Titus Pullo Brought Down the Republic: Producer/Writer Bruno Heller and Historical Consultant Jonathan Stamp
    • Season 1, Episode 5: The Ram Has Touched the Wall: Ray Stevenson (Titus Pullo)
    • Season 1, Episode 7: Pharsalus: Producer/Writer Bruno Heller and Historical Consultant Jonathan Stamp
    • Season 1, Episode 8: Caesarion: Director Steve Shill
    • Season 1, Episode 9: Utica: Director Jeremy Podeswa
    • Season 1, Episode 11: The Spoils: Kevin McKidd (Lucius Vorenus)
    • Season 1, Episode 12: Kalends of February: Producer/Writer Bruno Heller and Historical Consultant Jonathan Stamp
    • Season 2, Episode 1: Passover: Co-Creator/Executive Producer Bruno Heller and Co-Creator/Executive Producer Jonathan Stamp
    • Season 2, Episode 7: Death Mask: Director John Maybury and Lindsay Duncan (Servilia)
    • Season 2, Episode 8: A Necessary Fiction: Executive Producer John Melfi and Director Carl Franklin
    • Season 2, Episode 9: Deus Impedito Esuritori Nullus James Purefoy (Mark Antony)
    • Season 2, Episode 10: De Patre Vostro Co-Creator/Executive Producer Bruno Heller and Co-Creator/Executive Producer Jonathan Stamp

    Friends, Romans, Countrymen (11:03, SD): Provides an overview of the series's main characters.

    The Rise of Rome (23:38, SD): Covers working on location in Rome; recreating the ancient civilization and culture; and details of the wardrobe, sets, props and hair/makeup.

    Shot X Shot: Caesar's Triumph (22:50, SD): Detailed behind-the-scenes look at the filming and preparation for Caesar's triumphal celebration scene in Episode 10 of Season 1. Includes selection of Director Alan Taylor to take on the task, wardrobe, hair and makeup, managing extras, and set design and decoration, not to mention plentiful historical and cultural context.

    Shot X Shot: Gladiator (23:00, SD): Detailed behind-the-scenes look at the filming and preparation for the fight scene in Episode 11 of Season 1. Includes rationale for the aesthetics of the scene, wardrobe, hair and makeup, stunts, and special effects, not to mention plentiful historical and cultural context.

    When in Rome (22:40, SD): Detailed overview of the Roman culture, focusing on religion, the status of women, marriage, sex, and the slave society.

    A Tale of Two Romes (20:29, SD): Historical background and details about the city's social divide between the working class Plebs and upper class Patricians.

    The Making of Rome, Season II (22:52, SD): Looks at what's new in the second season, focusing on wardrobe, set design, battle choreography, and special effects, but also featuring character and plot developments.

    The Rise of Octavian: Rome's First Emperor (20:44, SD): Cast and crew talk about both the character and historical figure of Octavian, particularly as depicted in the second season.

    Antony and Cleopatra (14:48, SD): A historical look at one of the most famous romances in history and the individuals involved.

    Packaging: Ten discs are housed in a sturdy package designed like a book with a slipcover. Each 1/16"-thick page of the book holds a disc and the pages themselves include photos and episode and special features descriptions. It's a fine looking package that mirrors the quality of the series.


    The Season: 4.5/5
    Video Quality: 4.5/5
    Audio Quality: 4/5
    Special Features: 5/5
    Overall Score (not an average): 4.5/5

    A richly told and presented series covering the collapse of the Roman Republic and the rise of Rome's first emperor gets an excellent video presentation, very good audio presentation, and an extensive, historically rich set of special features.

  2. Richard Gallagher


    Dec 9, 2001
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    Fishkill, NY
    Real Name:
    Rich Gallagher
    Excellent review, Cameron. This was Amazon's Gold Box Deal of the Day earlier this month and I picked it up for $60.
  3. Scott Merryfield

    Scott Merryfield Executive Producer

    Dec 16, 1998
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    Thanks for the fine review, Cameron -- despite the spoilers . I had borrowed Season 1 on DVD from a co-worker, so I was not going to buy this set. However, the Amazon deal that Rich mentions above got me to bite, since I have not seen Season 2, nor did my wife watch the first season with me. I'm looking forward to revisiting the first season in HD, and finally getting to watch Season 2.

    Season 1 was a typical HBO mini-series -- meaning it was excellent.

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