| Directed by|
- Widescreen 2.35:1
- 16:9 Enhanced
- Dual Layer (RSDL )
- English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
English, Hebrew, Czech, Polish, Hungarian, Arabic, Portuguese, English - Hearing Impaired, Icelandic, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian
- 6 Theatrical trailer - Includes advance trailers
- 1 Audio commentary - By film historian Jack Brodsky, actor Martin Landau, Chris Mankiewicz and Tom Mankiewicz
- 1 Featurette - The Fourth Star of Cleopatra
- 5 Photo gallery - Comprising of 239 still images
- Animated menus
- 2 Behind the scenes footage - Movietone News Items: East Coast & West Coast Premieres
- 1 Documentaries - Cleopatra: The Film That Changed Hollywood
Cleopatra - Special Edition
|MGM/20th Century Fox .
R4 . COLOR . 240 mins .
M15+ . PAL
Introduced into the households of middle-class America in the late 1940s, television was greeted with a mixture of curiosity by the public and scepticism from the Hollywood film industry, who contemptuously viewed the new medium as an insignificant fad which did not, at that time, pose a serious threat. However by the 1950s, it had grown into a
leviathan, stripping the major studios of lucrative profit and decimating theatre attendance records by 40 percent. To protect their monopoly on the entertainment business, Hollywood retaliated with a series of new technological developments that heralded the arrival of the widescreen
cinema format; CinemaScope, first exhibited in 1953, featuredstereophonic sound, and was the forerunner to the similar formats which were to follow, such as Cinerama and Todd-AO.
Designed to capitalise on the advent of these new screen cinematic breakthroughs and to entice patrons back into theatres, Hollywood embraced the “bigger-is-better” philosophy, producing innumerable large scale, lavishly budgeted Biblical epics - beginning with Henry Koster’s 1953 classic The Robe, famed as the first film to be presented in CinemaScope, yet simultaneously shot “flat.” Following The Robe’s success, other films of similar ilk (which became affectionately known as
“swords-and-sandals” pictures) continued to be produced with each film progressively assuming a longer, more elaborate - and costlier - scope in a never-ending artistic attempt to rival, or even surpass, those before them.
The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, Quo Vardis?, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and Demetrius and the Gladiators were just some of the prestigious
pictures to be released throughout the 1950s.
Released in 1960, Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, featuring battle scenes influenced by Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky (1938), saw the Biblical epic enter into a new decade. Given such grand competition, it
would have seemed that no film could possibly outshine the
aforementioned pictures in majesty, scope, or reputation, especially when William Wyler’s 1959 masterpiece Ben-Hur had achieved such a legendary status as one of the most ambitious and technically breath-taking motion pictures ever committed to celluloid, that its name
alone has entered into the vernacular - giving rise to the immortal catch-phrase “Bigger than Ben-Hur.” But, with its shooting schedule
commencing in the year of Spartacus’ release and a production boasting
sets larger than the mammoth Babylon stages featured in D.W. Griffith’s
Intolerance (1916), director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra managed to
accomplish just that.
However, Cleopatra’s lacklustre performance (by 20th Century Fox’s
estimation, at least) in US cinemas and the disastrous commercial
reception of Anthony Mann’s The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), did
not expand the boundaries of the Biblical epic or lift it to loftier heights
but, instead, hastened its demise. The genre had reached its creative
limits and floundered, though there is a hint of its possible resurrection in
Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (1999) which, through the use of advanced CGI,
has all but eliminated the need to physically construct extravagant sets - a
la Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra.
Gaining an unenviable, and undeserved, status as one of the most
catastrophic box-office debacles of all time, Cleopatra has become
notorious for its unrestrained excess - which witnessed its allocated $2
million budget spiral uncontrollably towards the then- unprecedented
sum of $44 million - and its behind-the-scenes traumas, resulting in the
most problematic and tortured production in Hollywood film history.
Indeed, so monumental were the scale of its financial troubles, Cleopatra
is often referred to as the film that nearly proved to be 20th Century Fox’s
epitaph, but, fortunately, the besieged studio’s fortunes were buoyed by
the success of its chief Darryl F. Zanuck’s World War II epic, The Longest
Day (1962), and revitalised with Robert Wise’s unexpected box-office
smash The Sound of Music (1965), which prevented the studio from
sliding into potential receivership or liquidation.
Based on J. Gordon Edwards’ 1917 silent version of Cleopatra, starring
cinema’s first true screen vamp, Theda Bara (her name an anagram of
Arab Death), Makiewicz’s remake seemed destined for trouble right from
its initial conception. In 1958, actress Joan Collins was allocated the title
role having successfully completed her screen tests, but due to numerous
delays in the film’s production and her commitment to other projects, she
became unavailable; ironically, Collins reprised a similar role as an
Egyptian queen in Land of the Pharaohs (1955). Following Collins’
departure, Cleopatra’s producer Walter Wanger considered several
esteemed actresses - including such Hollywood illumini as Audrey
Hepburn, Susan Heywood, Marilyn Monroe and Italian beauty Sophia
Loren - before settling on Elizabeth Taylor.
Contacting her on the set of the Mankiewicz film production of Tennesee
Williams’ Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), Wanger related the offer to her
then-husband, singer Eddie Fisher, who had answered the phone;
perhaps with a touch of sarcasm, Taylor is quoted as having replied:
“Sure, tell him I’ll do it for a million dollars.” With that throw-away quip
and Wanger’s acceptance, Taylor became the first Hollywood star to
receive $1 million for a single picture and, in doing so, suddenly acquired
personal entitlements unheard of at the time. Drafted into her contract
were two specific demands: the filming of Cleopatra was to be conducted
abroad, and that the picture must be filmed in Todd-AO, the widescreen
format invented by her late husband and technical innovator, Michael
Todd, who was killed in a plane crash in 1958.
Cleopatra’s litany of production problems surfaced as the production’s
shoot began at Pinewood Studios in England; catastrophically, the film’s
first casualty was the star herself, Elizabeth Taylor. No stranger to illness,
Taylor was so severely afflicted throughout the earliest part of the shoot
that it became necessary for production staff to literally carry the fatigued
actress out onto the set. Complications with her health reached crisis
point when, while recuperating in her hotel room after an arduous day’s
filming, Taylor lapsed into a comatose state; in a frantic effort to save her,
an emergency tracheotomy was performed. Although the picture’s first
director, Rouben Mamoulian (Blood and Sand) attempted to film around
the absence of his star while she recovered, it was an exercise in futility.
Without Taylor’s presence, the production on Cleopatra closed and
Mamoulian soon resigned after six months of principle photography
which netted just 10 minutes of usable footage; in an ominous
premonition of the film’s escalating finances, the picture had cost $7
million for 16 weeks of production time.
Before it had even begun, Cleopatra’s production was in disarray, yet
20th Century Fox had faith in the film’s potential to be a blockbuster
attraction and continued to inject money into the project - despite the
desertion of the picture’s male leads, Peter Finch (Julius Caesar) and
Stephen Boyd (Marc Antony) who were under obligation to fulfill prior
commitments. The treacherous and unpredictable nature of England’s
weather created havoc with the production’s centerpiece set, the
Alexandria Palace, which experienced daily deterioration and needed
constant repair - further escalating the project’s costs. The erratic climate
was also cited as being a major contribution to Taylor’s health problems.
Consequently, there was no alternative but to relocate the production to
Rome; the lavish Alexandria sets and Mamoulian’s single can of footage
were deemed unusable and, therefore, discarded.
Despite the inclusion of Rex Harrison and Richard Burton to respectively
play the roles of Caesar and Marc Antony, Cleopatra continued to be
plagued with insurmountable problems - ranging in everything from
production strikes by female extras protesting against the amorous
advances from their male Italian co-workers, to the more serious matter
regarding the theft of expensive, often irreplaceable, props and
equipment by employees at Rome’s Cinecitta studios. Not only were
these instances enforcing delays on the film’s production schedule, but
they also conspired to escalate its cost. Soon, it became evident that
Cleopatra’s production was hemorrhaging and that, without stringent
limitations imposed on its lack of financial restraint, the film would spell
the ruination of 20th Century Fox - a fact whose significance was not lost
on the studio’s chief, Darryl F. Zanuck.
In an effort to bring a semblance of sanity and put an end to Cleopatra’s
traumas, Zanuck stopped studio funding to the picture, giving
Mankiewicz no option but to complete it with his rapidly dwindling
finances. The simmering tensions between the two men reached its zenith
when, during the film’s editing, Mankiewicz was forcibly removed from
the project by Zanuck, who, in turn, had to reinstate the disgraced
director once it was discovered that no one had the inclination to finish
the picture. Concerned by the distinct shabbiness of the film’s principle
battle scenes in relation to the rest of it, Zanuck reluctantly ordered that
the amateurishly-staged pieces - directly effected by 20th Century Fox’s
decision to withhold financial support - be reshot.
Before its premiere in New York, one last contentious battle was fought
between Zanuck and Mankiewicz - this time over Mankiewicz’s
intentions for the six-hour long Cleopatra to be marketed as a two part
epic with the instalments to be released six months apart. Zanuck was
adamant in his difference of opinion; he wished to guarantee the picture’s
success by capitalising on the feverish public interest generated by the
passionate Taylor-Burton affair and, in one of Hollywood’s most tragic
stories, forced Mankiewicz to shed two hours of footage - most of which,
it seems at present, continues to remain lost. Unfortunately, it is this
decision to trim the film that seriously weakens it as, in doing so, it
removes (as far as it can be ascertained) vast portions of Burton’s scenes,
reducing him to nothing more than a cardboard caricature, while the true
fate of Rufio Agrippa (Martin Landau) is not disclosed.
|"In obtaining her objectives, Cleopatra has been known to employ torture,
poison, and even her own sexual talents, which are said to be
considerable. Her lovers, I am told, are listed more easily by number than
by name. It is said that she chooses in the manner of a man, rather than
wait to be chosen in a womanly fashion.
Landing on the shores of Greece, the Roman dictator Julius Caesar (Rex
Harrison) defeats the legions of his greatest political rival and son-in-law,
Pompey the Great, at the battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC. Having been made
guardian upon the death of their father, Ptolemy Auletes, Pompey seeks
to recover from his heavy losses with the assistance and cooperation of
Egypt’s boy Pharaoh, Ptolemy XIII, and his sister, Cleopatra (Elizabeth
Taylor), by fleeing to Alexandria (this, in an era when Egypt is an
independent state under the protectorate of Rome). Caesar pursues his
arch-nemesis and soon arrives in the prestigious city where, in a frigid
reception with Ptolemy and his advisors, Caesar is informed of a
rancorous civil war between the boy king and his sibling, which threatens
to spill out into other territories and undermine the political stability of
the Roman Empire.
In a misguided attempt at intimidation and to illustrate his supremacy
over the city of Alexandria, Ptolemy presents Caesar with Pompey’s
signet ring - and his son-in-law’s decapitated head. It is an ill-advised
action that will hold terrible consequences for the impetuous,
Accepted as a guest into the Pharaoh’s Palace, Caesar begins to organise
its defenses in anticipation of attack. During preparations, he is
approached by Cleopatra’s advisor, Apollodorus (Cesare Danova), who is
dressed in the guise of a rug merchant and supposedly bearing a gift
from her - but is, in actuality, concealing the Egyptian goddess herself
among his wares. Determined to utilise any means necessary to guarantee
the survival of her nation, Cleopatra makes an impassioned plea for
Egypt and Rome to enter in a symbiotic pact; in return for Caesar’s
assistance in her ascendance to the throne, Cleopatra agrees to supply her
protectors with an unlimited harvest of wheat and grain. Aware of the
mutual benefits inherent in the alliance, and of the sexual dynamism
between them, Caesar and the future queen consummate its finer details
behind the doors of the Roman leader’s chambers.
Becoming Caesar’s mistress, Cleopatra is soon crowned Queen of Egypt
after Ptolemy’s removal from the throne.
With the birth of their son, Caesarion, Cleopatra envisions a global
empire ruled between herself and Caesar, but before her ambitions can be
realised, the self-appointed Roman imperator is assassinated by dissident
senators, led by Marcus Brutus, who are fearful that his newly acquired
political powers will bring ruination to their republican ideals. In a
calculated move, Cleopatra focuses on Caesar’s loyal and, at first,
seemingly incorruptible lieutenant, Marc Antony (Richard Burton).
Seducing him with her femininity and the promise of unlimited power,
the Queen of the Nile implants the seed of ambition in Antony’s mind,
prompting him and his legions to proclaim Caesarion as the rightful heir
to the Roman Empire - a decision that does not rest well with Caesar’s
grand-nephew, Octavian (Roddy McDowall).
Incensed at the couple’s audacity, Octavian instigates a public outcry
against Antony and his “Egyptian whore”, and, in a stunning display of
deft political manoeuvring, unifies both Rome’s people and the Senate
into an unanimous call for war against Cleopatra. This decision,
symbolised with the fatal spearing of the Egyptian ambassador with the
Roman staff of war, cumulates in the naval battle at Actium off the coast
of Greece, an engagement whose outcome will shatter Antony’s
convictions of himself as both a man and a soldier, and strip him of the
last vestiges of his dignity. Reviled and ridiculed, Antony awaits with
Cleopatra as the combined might of Octavian’s armies seek to hasten the
demise of their brief, but turbulent, reign.
Presented in its original screen aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and anamorphic,
Cleopatra’s transfer is somewhat disappointing - especially when taking
into account the film’s status as either a dubious camp icon or as a
legitimate Hollywood classic. When compared to Columbia Tri-Star’s
excellent restorative work on David Lean’s Bridge on the River Kwai
(1957) or Lawrence of Arabia (1962), this effort from 20th Century Fox
falls flat; this not to implicate that the transfer is disastrous by any means
- without a doubt, this is best the picture has ever looked - but it is
marred by copious amounts of film-to-video artefacts and, perhaps worst
of all, frequent shimmering.
Black levels are high and solid; understandably for a film which is 38
years old, shadow detail is poor. Sharpness is variable and something of a
hit-and-miss affair - there are glimpses of exceptional moments where
Antony is engaged in close-quarter fighting during the battle of Actium -
but while there is a good degree of delineation, it is often lacking in true
definition; an excellent example of the latter can be found in the
sequences involving Caesar’s entrance into Alexandria, and the
machinations of the Roman Imperial Senate. Also, too, edge enhancement
is noticeable on more than a few occasions, with perhaps the most
memorable instance appearing at 30:18 as a masseuse is attending to
Cleopatra. However, the film’s magnificent colour palette is immaculately
rendered; displaying jaw-dropping saturation with no discernible hint of
bleeding, it is beauty personified.
There are no evident MPEG artefacts but, as mentioned before,
film-to-video artefacts are rampant throughout the presentation,
manifesting as aliasing, moiré, and shimmering which sometimes succeed
in deferring the eye from the on-screen proceeding and directing it to
these anomalies. Aliasing is quite prominent, affecting the decorative
insignias and trimmings of Roman and Egyptian soldiers’ battle armour,
steps, stairwells, marble tables and the base of walls adorned with
ceremonial hieroglyphics; as nearly every frame of the film features
ornate Corinthian architecture, intricate wall inscriptions and lavish
costumes, it poses a serious threat, at times, to the viewing experience.
Shimmering is perhaps the greatest flaw associated with the transfer,
afflicting columns, curtains, and engraved walls - but one of the most
distracting moments is situated at 1:13:19 concerning Cleopatra’s
head-dress; it succeeds in producing a momentary optical effect, making
it seem that her gold beads have disappeared.
Minor film grain is clearly visible in a few instances, such as in Chapter 6
where Caesar’s minions discuss Cleopatra’s hidden talents and the
intense battle between the Roman and Egyptian naval fleets at Actium,
but it warrants little interest and can be ignored. Film artefacts are
noticeable throughout the presentation and consist mostly of small black
and white flecks, minute nicks and scratches; unlike the severe moment of
print damage at 1:16:40 which results in a momentary fluctuation in
contrast and brightness, they are quite insignificant and acceptable given
the vintage of the film.
Cleopatra features two alternate tracks: the English Dolby Digital 5.1, and
the English Dolby Digital 2.0 commentary.
Despite its pageantry, Cleopatra’s
narrative is driven almost exclusively by dialogue; those expecting a fully
immersive home theatre experience laden with thunderous rear surround
support had best look elsewhere. Dialogue is clear and audible at all
times, as is, too, sound, and tends to gravitate toward the front
soundstage, with minimal accompaniment from the rear. Indeed, only the
more intense aspects of composer Alex North’s sensuous, insinuating
Oscar nominated music score, and the film’s centerpiece moments -
essentially, Cleopatra’s awe-inspiring procession into Rome and the
pivotal battle of Actium - are featured in the surrounds. It would be fair
to say that, regardless of the picture’s extravagant nature, the 5.1 mix is
more suited to a more minimalist effort.
The subwoofer remains mostly inactive, used principally to provide
reinforcement to the lower octaves of North’s composition, and providing
subtle reinforcement to some the film’s paramount scenes - again, most
notably, the naval engagement at Actium.
Cleopatra’s reputation as a commercial disaster is thoroughly unjustified
when it is realised that the film earned a profit of approximately $25
million dollars on its initial theatrical run - although, admittedly, it was
another five years after its New York premiere before the picture finally
broke even. Nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Picture, Cleopatra
triumphed in four major categories at the 1964 Academy Awards: Best
Art Direction (John DeLuir), Best Cinematography (Leon Shamroy), Best
Costume Design (Irene Sharaff, Vittorio Nino Novaresse, Renie), and Best
Visual Effects (Emil Kosa, Jr.). But the film’s glory was tarnished with the
knowledge that a clerical error, stipulating Roddy McDowall was a
running candidate in the Best Actor category, deprived the talented
performer of a much-deserved Academy Award nomination for Best
Behind Butterfield 8 and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Cleopatra is perhaps
Elizabeth Taylor’s most identifiable role, even though her apparent
disdain - indeed, derision - for it has entered into the annuals of
Hollywood mythology. Her reinterpretation of the Egyptian goddess has
many detractors who cite her performance, supported by a dubious script
that contains a litany of unintentional howlers, as shallow and
excruciatingly annoying; needless to say, I must disagree. While it is
true she has given better performances in her illustrious career, Taylor still manages to rise above any of the film’s mediocrity, delivering an acting
showcase that is often criminally overlooked. There is no need to delve
into how radiant Taylor appears in this film; to say she is merely
beautiful is an understatement.
Rex Harrison exudes a commanding screen presence as Julius Caesar, as
does Richard Burton who - in a part severely curtailed through Darryl F.
Zanuck’s stringent editorial recommendations - provides a captivating
depiction of the would-be conqueror Marc Antony. Burton’s intensity is
palpable during the latter half of the film, when Antony seeks to retain
his dignity through means of his own death; infusing the utmost passion
with his trademark Shakespearean theatrics, Burton’s poise, dialect, and
expression, are spine-chillingly magnificent in these scenes.
With its length of 240 minutes, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra is an
enjoyable but grueling motion picture experience which cannot be
viewed in a single session; to fully appreciate the film, it is recommended
that it be watched over two consecutive nights. Even so, it requires a
sizable amount of stamina to sit through it. It has been said that
Hollywood epics are a genre unto themselves, and Cleopatra is testament
to this belief for, other than the exceptions of the Biblical masterpieces
which preceded it, there can be no comparisons made to this film. Make
no mistake: Cleopatra is a must-see for anyone who has a penchant for
colossal pictures, or a wish to take a nostalgic trip back to an era where
Hollywood was at the pinnacle of movie entertainment - an age which
has, sadly, passed on.
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| And I quote...|
|"Maligned and misunderstood, Cleopatra can be perceived as either a
forgotten classic or as a grand folly...
- Shaun Bennett
| Review Equipment|
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|by Shaun Bennett|
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