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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Rome (The Complete Series) [Blu-ray]

 

(Create by Bruno Heller, 2005)

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Television: HD Vision Studios, BBC & HBO

Blu-ray: Home Box Office

 

Disc:

Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Sample Runtime: 0:52:17.134 

Disc One Size: 39,903,594,242 bytes

Episode Sample Size: 17,292,466,176 bytes

Video Bitrate: 28.63 Mbps

Chapters: 8 per episode

Case: Case: 14-page book with slipcase (see image below)

Release date: November 17th, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 4134 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 4134 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
DTS-HD Master Audio German 4136 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 4136 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
DTS Audio English 768 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 16-bit
DTS Audio French 768 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit
DTS Audio Polish 768 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 16-bit
DTS Audio Spanish 768 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit
DTS Audio Spanish 768 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), English, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, none

 

Sample Bitrate (disc 1):

 

 

Description: Four hundred years after the founding of the Republic, Rome is the wealthiest city in the world, a cosmopolitan metropolis of one million people, epicenter of a sprawling empire. But now, the city's foundations are crumbling, eaten away by corruption and excess...And two soldiers unwittingly become entwined in historical events, their fates inexorably tied to the fate of Rome itself. The entire award-winning, critically-acclaimed series will be available as a Blu-ray gift set, just in time for the holiday season.

 

Package:

 

Extras:

• 13 Audio Commentaries with Cast & Crew

• A Tale of Two Romes – in HD (20:30)

• When in Rome – in SD (22:40)

• The Making of Rome – Season II – in HD (22:50)

• Friends, Romans, Countrymen – in SD (11:00)

• The Rise of Rome (the series) – in SD (23:30)

• The Rise of Octavian – in HD (20:30)

• Anthony & Cleopatra – in HD (15:05)

• Shot X Shot: Caesar's Triumph – in SD (23:00)

• Shot X Shot: Gladiator – in SD (23:00)

 

 

The Film:

I'd like to start by addressing the packaging of this 10-disc set. Readers of this column know that box design is a particular bugaboo of mine, especially in that DVD box sets are generally much better thought out – even more extravagant in design and execution. I find this state of affairs inexcusable and irresponsible given the state of the art that HD video and audio has brought us to. Blu-ray multidisc sets are usually given the flippage treatment, which makes me retch every time one of these fragile, clangy monstrosities shows up on my doorstep for review. (Ever drop one of these? I did, and now one of the hinges of my Rocky Undisputed set has torn itself from the case and now flops about like a broken wing.) On occasion HBO has tried some semi-creative alternatives: witness the gatefold presentations for John Adams, Generation Kill, True Blood and the metal box assist for Band of Brothers. But these efforts are routine compared with the imaginative and entirely sensible layout for Rome: a 1.25 inch thick book of fourteen 2mm pages, each page with room for only a single disc (Jupiter be praised!) to be slid easily and securely in place (add lots of incense to that praise), and with plenty of room for all the information necessary about disc contents, including episode synopsis and details re extra features, with stunning full size color stills on the facing pages (perhaps the sacrifice of a bull is in order.) It astonishes me that it took this long for someone to come up with this idea. Disney, Fox, and others: please take note.
 



It's easy for rival producers making series for broadcast television to claim that HBO is true to its advertising slogan -- that it's really not TV. But for all the boundless artistic license one gets on HBO, there's also an intimidating, righteously fearful standard to uphold. If you put a series on HBO, it will be judged against the best television has to offer -- other HBO series. As good as "Rome" is -- and it's an epic, multilayered thing of beauty -- it's still not on the level of "The Sopranos" or "The Wire" or "Deadwood." That's almost an unfair comparison, but it's also true. On the other hand, "Rome" unfolds like a marvelously shot big-screen movie, each scene (filmed on location in Italy) dripping with money well spent and a meticulous grandeur that rewards you for paying extra for HBO. – Tim Goodman
MORE available HERE

Excerpt of review from SF Gate located HERE


The Series : 9
The main adventure in the sadly curtailed two-season drama that is HBO's Rome, is the transition from Republic to Empire, so it makes sense to begin with Gaius Julius Caesar and conclude with the emergence of Octavian, soon to be Augustus Caesar. The story so ingrained in us by one route or another – from Caesar to Brutus to Anthony and Cleopatra is all there, minus the romanticized cinematic impact of a Claudette Colbert or Elizabeth Taylor.

Something that watching this series brings home to us is that Rome, for all its culture and laws, had no constitution and, for centuries, no king either. Instead, the senatorial rules of order dwelt in the brain of a single man - some centuries old from the look of him. These rules were honored by all, however much opponents on either side wanted to bend them to their needs. The issue at hand is: in what capacity should Caesar be permitted to return: as conquering hero, king – the latter anathema to the aristocracy - or traitor, since his successful and popular wars in Gaul have turned the balance of power away from a joint governance by Julius and Pompey? It is typical of the scope of this series that this single question, and the lines of loyalty it engenders, consumes the first three hours of the first season.

All the major players we know from books, plays and cinema are here – fleshed out and dramatized in a context of what historical consultant Jonathan Stamp calls details of “geeky historical accuracy”: Julius Caesar, Anthony, Brutus, Octavian, Cleopatra, Pompey, Cassius, Cicero, and three women that we know far less well: Atia, Julius’ niece, her daughter Octavia, and Servilia, Brutus' mother and Julius' lover. There are two others: the only soldiers Julius Caesar mentions in his account of the Gallic Wars: the centurions Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pollo.

It is through these two men, brought to life and altered in the HBO series as centurion and legionary (officer and enlisted soldier), that the events of the period – from Caesar’s return to Rome after his protracted wars in Gaul, his assassination, the civil war that preceded and followed it, and the entrance of Cleopatra into the history books are seen. But Vorenus and Pollo are no mere time travelers (that extraordinary journey is reserved for us): We, through them, and almost despite all the nudity, fucking, and bloodletting that we come to expect from HBO, almost just seem to happen upon these great events without the usual exclamation points that generally attend, for our attention is always directed to character, dialogue and the detailed sets and costumes. In redefining the class relationship between Vorenus and Pollo, series creator Bruno Heller develops both a dramatic tension and a friendship that extends to and makes that much more credible the relationships among all the other players from senator to slave, soldier and prostitute, brother and sister, husband and wife, king and merchant, crime lord and gladiator.

Cast:
Kevin McKidd: Lucius Vorenus
Ray Stevenson: Titus Pullo
Polly Walker: Atia
Lindsay Duncan: Servilia
James Purefoy: Mark Anthony
Kerry Condon: Octavia
Tobias Menzies: Brutus
Ciarán Hinds: Julius Caesar
Max Pirkis: Octavian (as an adolescent)
Simon Woods: Octavius (as a young man)
Kenneth Cranham: Pompey Magnus
Lyndsey Marshal: Cleopatra
Indira Varma: Niobe
David Bamber: Cicero

Proof of the involvement of the BBC in this effort, entirely shot in Italy, is the remarkable fact that all of the major players are from the U.K. The extras, of course, are largely Italian, many non-English speaking, a circumstance that gave the Assistant Director a job worth his paycheck. Most of these names are relatively unfamiliar to American audiences (Max Pirkis we know from Master and Commander, Polly Walker we might remember from Restoration and Lindsay Duncan from Under the Tuscan Sun and Mansfield Park - along with James Purefoy by the way.) But, for me, with the single exception of Lyndsey Marshall as Cleopatra, the entire cast is marvelous, inventive, perfect. I even liked Purefoy’s randy and dismissive Anthony. (Marshall is a good enough actor, she just doesn’t exude the kind of erotic magic from Cleopatra that I wanted. Your mileage might be quite different.) We are immediately engaged by Kevin McKidd as the righteous and breakable Vorenus and Ray Stevenson as the practical, generous and generally sunny Pullo. Max Pirkis as an Octavian smarter than his years, Polly Walker, whose Atia balances an unbridled eroticism with political savvy, and Lindsay Duncan as Servilia, a woman of power scorned, she feels, by the most powerful man in Rome, are exceptional in a field of the exceptional.

 


Image : 8/9    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

The HBO/BBC series, Rome, is one of the most gorgeously photographed television series ever filmed, but it also demands the highest quality video imaging and playback system. Rome is shot on film, and has the look of cinema about it. But more than that, it is lit in a pronounced chiaroscuro with huge swaths of shadow right where a typical made-for-TV show would place the actors. Between the sharp delineation of light and dark on the one hand and moderate but meaningful shadow on the other, there is ample opportunity for the compression coding and transfer process to engage in digital manipulation for the benefit of the lowest common denominator amongst viewing systems. Perhaps I was too carried away with the scope and the drama to take much notice, but except for the occasional splatter of noise, what artifacts that were apparent on my computer screen faded into insignificance on my 104-inch front projection screen. Grain is evident, sometimes pushed digitally, I suspect, for effect. Filtration - warmish for the rich, cool for the poor – works quite well; blacks are properly opaque; flesh tones, given the filter used, are convincing. Some of the discs contain two hour-long episodes, others, three, but I noticed no appreciable drop off in quality for the fuller discs.

(I confess that at first I judged the image to lack something in coherence and sharpness, and took the opportunity to check on projector focus – and though an entirely electronic affair on my JVC RS10, it had in fact slipped out, quite a bit actually. After the correction, all was well. Let this be a warning to my fellow front projectionists.)

All this said, I must also admit that the difference between the DVD and the Blu-ray is more subtle and cumulative than striking. As with our appreciation of the drama itself, it takes a while for the benefits of image integrity, dimensionality, resolution, color discrimination and intensity (especially of dark reds, blues and greens), brightness and motion control to makes itself felt.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

DVD TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

DVD TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

DVD TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 


More Blu-ray Captures

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 7/8
Though filmed in Rome, the usual practice of looping dialogue in post-production (the thing that drives me a little crazy in the films of Fellini and his contemporaries), the series is photographed and recorded with British and American attitudes and practices to the art, and the difference in immediacy and veracity are palpable. In this case, the difference between the uncompressed DTS-HD MA here and the DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 is at once immediately felt and appreciated. This is all the more important in such a well written drama where the actors deliver their lines with emotional subtlety and dynamic range. On the other hand, I felt at times that crowd noises and battle sequences were more arbitrarily configured in the surround mix: though immersive, the cues was not always accurately placed. Jeff Beal's music is very catchy. Be warned.

 

 

Operations:  10
HBO's design for the box is now the gold standard for multidisc presentations. Menu operations follow much the same instruction as with the DVD except for their being smart menus and that the new interactive feature "Bloodlines" can be activated during play. The commentaries can also be cued via the remote or the special features menu. I might add that the Blu-ray edition manages the entire wealth of the two seasons in a single box whose volume is perhaps 2/3 that of a single DVD season – and you needed space for two of those on your shelf.

 

Extras: 7
Let's get the bad news out of the way: Compared to the DVD editions, the BRD offers only the new interactive feature "Bloodlines" – and it is missing the informative inserts about art direction and The Temple of Jupiter. So any hopes that new features would be included will not be realized. On the other hand, I feel what is included is quite sufficient, and a few of the bonus items, the ones from season two, are in HD.
 

 

 

Bottom line: 9
The main downside to the Blu-ray is how little it offers over the DVD aside from improved, if not perfect, picture and sound. If you don't own this set on DVD, I urge you not to pass it up. If you have the DVD, hold breath, tighten your belt and take the plunge. You won't regret it. Thumbs Up.

Leonard Norwitz
November 28th, 2009

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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