Saturday, May 24, 2008

Fall of the Roman Empire

So it's taken me at least two weeks, in 15 minute segments to watch "The Fall of the Roman Empire," but I finally made it! The best part of watching this movie was that I did it mostly in little chunks while I was babysitting my 5 1/2 mo. old nephew. He's got an eye for the ladies already, and the funniest part was that he loved Sophia Loren. Loved her. I'd be holding him in my arms, facing outward, while he's "bicycle riding" in the air. When she would appear, the legs would stop churning and he was just stare and smile and, occasionally, talk to her. When she would leave, he'd go back to bicycle riding and just watching in general. But when she was there, she had his absolute full attention. Hee. He cracks me up.

So, this film could have been great... and it sucks mightily. Okay, it's not really that bad. It just suffers from a weak script. Epics need strong plots to hold together, and this one isn't tight enough to be really effective. It covers basically the same territory as "Gladiator," only with Christopher Plummer as Commodus and Stephen Boyd as Livius (the Maximus role). Sophia Loren is Lucilla and Alec Guinness is Marcus Aurelius. Plenty of other famous actors rounding out the cast (I think Anthony Quayle was my favorite supporting actor in this). It's really too bad, because this movie has awesome sets and great outdoor locations (the winter scenes are the best!!) that I would truly love to see on the big screen. The cast is fine in their roles, and there are parts that are quite entertaining. But overall, it just doesn't hang together right. Not bad, exactly, just not right. So close... It also suffers from having a lousy score. Dimitri Tiomkin is just one of those composers (like Alex North and Bronislau Kaper) that just doesn't cut it for me.

But there is much chariot driving (and Stephen Boyd was probably going "only two horses? piece of cake..."), chariot driving in the snow -- gotta love that!! And the wild chariot duel between Commodus and Livius, which just might be my favorite scene... except it just trails off, doesn't end with any real consequences for either party. Hmph. Wasted plot opportunities. And someone please tell me why they dyed Stephen Boyd's hair that godawful unnatural blond color?? There're some lovely special features on the disk. There's a make-up test of him with natural- colored hair and it looks so much better. Oh, and one making-of program shows it was -10 degrees outside and snowing, and Stephen Boyd saunters out of his trailer mostly in costume (I don't think the bright blue heavy pants were standard Roman issue), casually climbs into a four-horse chariot, and drives off alone towards the set on the icy/snowy roads in the middle of a snow storm. Very cool!


  1. I saw this once in my early teens and was very bored. I was hoping it would be cool like Ben-Hur, which I've loved since childhood, but alas, it just sort of plodded along. Despite, like you said, an ultimately cool cast with people like Alec Guinness and James Mason. Actually, I mostly remember those two, and the rest of it has receded into the mist.

    I do recall wishing there was more about Stephen Boyd, so I must have seen it when I was going through my Messala stage. (I had a whole alternate ending figured out for Ben-Hur where he didn't die after all, and was actually not a bad guy, but just pretending to hate Judah because he was undercover trying to discover... okay, I forget the convoluted plot I came up with, but I know it involved a young woman with very long hair and excellent healing skills who helped him survive the chariot accident. I was thirteen or fourteen, what can I say?)

  2. Do you know I actually wrote a short story -- which I now know is fanfic, LOL! -- for a creative writing class in junior college about the woman Messala left behind in Rome when he returned to Judea? She was getting the news about his death... don't remember what the point of the story was, but I remember watching Ben-Hur a couple times to get all the info I needed.

    Messala doesn't die in the book. I never quite knew what to think of that the first time I read it...

  3. You know, it's been years since I read the book, but now that you mention it, I remember that too! Hmm, maybe I should dig out the nifty illustrated copy I got a few years ago and re-read it.