What are all these Polish people doing in ancient Rome? Everyone knows Rome was populated with posh British actors & wildly gesticulating Italian extras? Right? A full century after Pathé Frëres made the first movie version of Henryk Sienkiewicz’s oft-filmed novel*, Poland finally got around to honoring their native son/Nobel Laureate with this five-hour tv version. Pared down for DVD, it adds little to the famously stiff M-G-M epic from 1951. Rome still burns, Nero fiddles, Christians are fed to the lions, the works. Plus, there’s one significant character returned from the novel, Chiolonides, a scheming Greek servant, who comes across like an untrustworthy, stereotypical Wandering Jew. The level of acting is more consistent than @ M-G-M, but it’s no better. What really kills the project is the lack of sweep, narrative or visual, from director Jerzy Kawalerowicz whose brightly lit production comes off as an over-produced daytime soap-opera.
*Our poster is from the second adapattion in 1912.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: A.D. / ANNO DOMINI (1985) - This follow up mini-series to JESUS OF NAZARETH was also pared for its DVD release. Four hours gone; mostly Roman Empire stuff with heaps of missing guest stars. (Too bad they couldn’t delete the dreadful Lalo Schifrin score.) It covers much the same territory, but concentrates on the early debates between various Judaic sects and the early Christians. With a script by Anthony Burgess, this is often fascinating religious history, well played, sometimes well argued (Peter & Paul’s decision to widen the ministry to Gentiles is the great sticking point) and set in a plain yet believable ancient world.