Caligula: The Imperial Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Image Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (10th February 2009).
The Film

By the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the years of exploitation were close to running their course. “The Wiz” (1978) had recently proven that blaxploitation, or at least film aimed at a predominantly black audience, were no longer a viable market for Hollywood production and sexploitation was running it’s course as censorship and ratings laws started to get more and more strict. Yet sometimes genres just try to reinvent themselves rather than disappear, consciously or unconsciously in the minds of those who produce them and in that light “Caligula” (1979) was almost an attempt to revive the sexploitation films of the 1970’s. Or at least one of the cuts of the film, since the production decisions by Bob Guccione, better known as the founder of Penthouse magazine, essentially tried to make a sexploitation epic with his additions to the film. With the two and a half hour running time and even a couple instances of the gore you would generally associate with the exploitation era-horror, Guccione threw in huge amounts of graphic sex, bringing his porn sensibilities into a Roman epic.

Caligula (Malcolm McDowell) is the fairly power-hungry heir to Emperor Tiberius (Peter O’Toole) who has been slowly growing crazy in isolation from Rome (well that and the syphilis). Upon arrival Caligula finds his grandfather dying and distant from the politics of Rome and so Caligula plots to overtake his crazy grandfather, eventaually assassinating him with the help of Praetorian Macro (Guido Mannari). Caligula then becomes Emperor, indulging in all kinds of ludicrous activities from sleeping with his sister to raping a couple immediately after their wedding, using his power to match his bizarre and often sadistic will.

It’s hard to describe really where the film goes in two and a half hours, since for the most part it seems to follow a historically accurate plotline in terms of Caligula’s time of reign and the accusations that were thrown at him in the day. But of course the number one aspect of the film that’s talked about, at least with the "Unrated" version of the film, is the tremendous amount of nudity and explicit sex in the film. Honestly it’s hard to say I expected less from a Penthouse production, but over the course of the fairly long film it just got tiresome more than anything. In the beginning it seems to have a place in showing how bizarre and extravagant Tiberius was in his last days, with giant golden penises (which is somehow less funny when it’s explicit rather than just giant phallic objects) and all kids of bizarre sexual fetishes. But then you get about an hour into the film and it gets to a point where I understand Romans lived pretty lush lives, and they did do a lot of weird sexual things and I just don’t need to see anymore.

The script itself meanders around these things, supposedly thanks to the considerable re-writes and changes that were made after the fact leading to author Gore Vidal suing to have his name removed from the screenplay. McDowell does a fine job of dealing with it, and I really believe that Caligula was as bizarre as McDowell portrays, but the film just tends to meander and drift around to it’s next point, with incredible amounts of nudity for the acting chops of the cast which also includes Helen Mirren (so for those of you who want to say you’ve seen “The Queen” (2006) in the buff… who am I kidding, it’s still probably not worth your time).

Overall the film is fairly disinteresting and gets tiresome as it progresses, the nudity and graphic sex just are monotonous and extravagant, which in some ways was trying to prove a point but after you understand the point it’s a little unnecessary. On the other hand the film has some fairly spectacular production design, including an awesome moving wall that chops heads for executions and some huge set pieces.

This "Imperial Edition" comes with two cuts of the film, the "Unrated" theatrical release version which runs for 155 minutes 55 seconds and the "Pre-Release version" which is a "Never-before-seen" edit, that eliminates the Guccione footage, restructures to film to conform with the shooting script, and contains alternate Brass-filmed footage, different edit rhythms and previously unseen deleted material and runs for 152 minutes 52 seconds.

Video

The video on either cut of the film is presented in the original 2.00:1 aspect ratio in high-definition 1080p 24/fps with an AVC MPEG-4 video encoding. Probably the most disappointing aspect of the film, the transfer just doesn’t match up to the standard of what Blu-ray should look like, even for older films, as it lacks a lot of the crispniess and contrast that I’ve come to expect, allowing some muddied colors and visuals that just don’t meet expectations in the least, rather it looks almost as if it could just be a regular DVD transfer, even without up conversion.

Audio

Both versions of the film are presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 surround track as well as the original English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, the DTS-HD track sounds pretty good and keeps the levels right, but has an almost muted quality about it that keeps to the tone of most 70’s film transfers. There are no particularly noticeable pops or changes in the audio quality, and the transfer overall is better than the video though still doesn’t meet the particular standards of what you would expect from Blu-Ray transfers.
There is also optional Spanish subtitles.

Extras

The 2-disc set comes equipped with a large supply of extras including 2 cuts of the film, 3 audio commentary tracks, deleted scenes, and a large supply of featurettes among other extras; the disc producers really went the extra mile for such a critically panned film.

DISC ONE:

This disc is a 50GB blu-ray disc and comes with the 2 versions of the film, the"Unrated" theatrical release version of the film and the alternate "Pre-Release version" of the film, most of the difference comes in the amount of explicit sex scenes that are included in the film, some are cut out and replaced while others seem to stay in depending on the scene, but overall they just don’t last as long.

Next are the 3 audio commentary tracks, all of which are on the alternate "Pre-Release version" of the film.

The first audio commentary is with actor Malcolm McDowell and moderated by Nick Redman. McDowell does a great job talking about getting involved with the film and his different opinions on how the film plays out, interestingly talking about how he’s not upset with any parts of the film that involve the major actors, but rather mostly with the inserted graphic sex scenes. The duo also talks about the different aspect of roman culture, and amazingly, do a good job of talking through the entire film, finding things to talk about from the writing to the directing, any pauses that happen feel fairly natural and rarely last more than a few moments. If anything it’s worth hearing McDowell say “Lick, Lick, Lick; Orgy, Orgy, Orgy.”

Next is the audio commentary with Helen Mirren, Alan Jones and James Alice Chaffin. Unlike the first commentary this one has far more pauses, though there are interesting comments from Mirren and the rest, especially when she describes the film as an acid trip experience. Though she’s not as engaging or funny as McDowell, her insights into the film are similarly interesting, going into the film from her perspective and the deeper look into the film itself. Mirren does an interesting conversation about the exploitation of the extras and the distaste that many of the scenes left her.

The third audio commentary is with on-set writer Ernest Volkman with interviewer Nathaniel Thompson. Thompson is a representative of Image Entertainment who holds an over-the phone interview with Volkman, who was the on-set reporter for Penthouse magazine at the time of filming “Caligula.” The packaging of the DVD calls it “startling” but overall it’s fairly plain, yet interesting, talking about the production of the film from more of the Penthouse perspective, though he’s not even necessarily an insider to that process. Instead he looks at the way the film worked it self out on set and in production, though mostly in an interview form, almost as if they used the video from the film for no other reason than to have something to look at while the film goes on. The interview only runs for about 90 minutes and then just continues on with the film as usual, a bit odd that they didn’t just make it an actual commentary.

There are thee versions of the trailer for the film:

- The theatrical trailer runs for 1 minute and 52 seconds.
- The teaser trailer runs for 1 minute and 9 seconds.
- The "R-rated" release trailer runs for 1 minute and 2 seconds.

Last on this disc are the deleted and alternate scenes:

- “Tiberius’ Grotto” runs for 13 minutes and 53 seconds, this scene almost skirts the line between making of and deleted scene as it’s just a rough, long, continuous shot of scenes from the grotto that get spliced together later, set to music from the film. It’s fairly raw footage, but interesting that they included it in the set.
- “Satyrs, Nymphs and Little Fishes” runs for 6 minutes and 51 seconds. Much like the above scene, this is a long look at the different people and extras sitting around the swimming pool, who Tiberius calls little fishes. Interesting that they put it on the set, fun to watch? Not particularly.
- “Killing Tiberius” runs for 4 minutes and 33 seconds. This scene is shot in black and white and lacks any audio on it, though from the looks of it, the scene is a different cut of the discussion between Caligula and Macro intercut with the scenes of the killing of Tiberius but all silent and all black and white, and even out of order. It’s nice of them to show just how much archival footage they have, but without the sound it doesn’t make a particular amount of sense.
- “Tiberius’ Deathbed” runs for 3 minutes and 42 seconds. This is an extended version of the scene filming Tiberus’ deathbed when Caligula tries to steal the ring, this one is in color, but is similarly lacking audio, and seems to be a selection of uncut shots from different angles that haven’t been spliced together.
- “Caligula’s Counsel with Longinus” runs for 58 seconds. Like the above scene, this scene all focuses from one angle and lacks audio, and simply shows an extra portion of the described scene.
- “Drusilla Comforts Calligula” runs for 1 minute and 5 seconds. Again this scene lacks audio and is inexplicably in black and white and covered in dirt and grain, making it almost seem like a selection from an old silent film, where Drusilla comes to Caligula’s bed.
- “Proculus Runs the Gauntlet” runs for 2 minutes and 37 seconds. This is another silent, black and white version of the scene of the execution where Proculus runs in front of the giant killing machine while the senators and Caligula throw apples at him trying to knock him into the machine.
- “Macro’s Execution” runs for 5 minutes and 3 seconds. Yet another black and white silent scene of the execution featuring the machine descending upon the heads buried in the sand, but with a more whimsical soundtrack.
- “Death of Drusilla” runs for 2 minutes and 43 seconds, this scene is similarly silent, but this time in color where Caligula goes a little bit crazy after the death of his sister, carrying her body around the palace with him.
- “Arriving on the Bordello Ship” runs for 56 seconds, this scene is the highest quality of the deleted scenes so far, just showing an interior angle of senators boarding the brothel ship, but is silent again.
- “Bordello Ship” runs for 2 minutes and 46 seconds, another audio-less scene of the exterior of the ship with the Praetorians dancing down the sides of it and some exteriors of the ship.
- “Temple of Jupiter” runs for 2 minutes and 52 seconds. The final deleted scene lacks audio, but is in color and has some frames that seem to drift out of place, featuring some deaths and out of focus shots inside the Temple of Jupiter.

DISC TWO:

This second disc is a standard definition DVD crammed with special features, starting with “My Roman Holiday with John Steiner” which runs 24 minutes and 21 seconds. This featurette focuses on an interview with John Steiner who played Longinus in the film, but apparently now is a real estate agent. It’s an interesting look at his growth into acting, lifestyle in acting and how he got to Rome, winding up in a collection of Italian B-movies and “Caligula.” There’s some good archival photos of the films he’s been in, but the interview itself is nice, though the footage itself is a big off putting as sometimes the camera will readjust it’s focus in the room. He presents an interesting perspective of “Caligula” as a strictly business maneuver in the way it was marketed, produced on a fairly low budget (for the scale of the production) and building off of the controversy.

Next is “Caligula’s Pet: a Conversation with Lori Wagner” which runs for 28 minutes and 19 seconds. In this featurette Wagner talks about getting in to nude modeling, becoming a Penthouse model and getting involved with “Caligula.” It’s a nice candid interview talking about her career, with some funny moments like referring to Bob Guccione as “the Italian stallion from Hell,” and an interesting conversation about her part in the film that was dramatically different from her initial perceptions. It’s a nice interview that sheds light on the background women who were essentially on set decorations, including a frank conversation about when she urinated on one of the characters. Some of the sound quality drops out, but again there’s good use of archival footage and images spliced in with a quality interview.

Tinto Brass: The Orgy of Power” featurette runs for 34 minutes and 27 seconds. Starting with a spoiler warning, this clip is an interview with director Brass, going more in depth about the ridiculous controversy that was generated by the film, making the film itself and his later actions to distance himself from the film. There’s an interesting conversation about his involvement in the film, his relationship with Gore Vidal and the dramatically different interpretations he and Guccione had about the film; he saw it as a discussion of power, Guccione saw it more as a giant sex play. An interesting retrospective that does a great job of looking at the conflicts behind the scenes of the film from Brass’ perspective and looking at the film itself.

Next is “The Making of Caligula” which comes with two separate portions:

- The documentary portion runs a full 1 hour and 45 seconds, this portion even comes with a warning for those to not watch who may be easily shocked. The making-of appears to have been made around the time of the film’s release in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and almost feels like a promotional addition to the film that emphasizes the controversy and is narrated by a very B-movie voiceover actor. Outside of the almost propagandistic attempts at emphasizing the sex and controversy of the film by Guccione, there’s an incredible amount of great behind-the-scenes footage that has been fairly well preserved and looks deeply into the incredible production design that tries to keep the film afloat.

- The featurette section runs for 9 minutes and 56 seconds. This brief version of the documentary uses a lot of the same footage but packages it in a much shorter form, lacking the absurd voice-over and warning at the beginning. Since it basically covers the same ground and same footage it’s about the same as the documentary, but far less in depth.

The selection of “behind-the-scenes footage” is basically the raw cuts from the documentary mentioned above; though definitely not as well preserved as the above piece, these segments are presented in widescreen rather than the fullscreen of the documentary. For the most part they’re fairly brief and lack the source audio, though the titles are fairly self-explanatory. They include:

- “Pets arrive in Rome” runs for 55 seconds.
- “Set Construction, Painting & Props” runs for 12 minutes and 58 seconds.
- “Extras’ Make-up” runs for 7 minutes and 59 seconds.
- “John Gielgud in Make-up” runs for 2 minutes and 1 second.
- “Caligula’s Arrival in Capri” runs for 3 minutes and 39 seconds.
- “Creating Tiberius’ Grotto” runs for 6 minutes and 34 seconds.
- “Too Much Wine” runs for 3 minutes and 35 seconds.
- “Preparing Macro’s Execution” runs for 5 minutes and 50 seconds.
- “Tinto Brass Directing” runs for 4 minutes and 13 seconds.
- “Isis Pool Rehearsals” runs for 4 minutes and 18 seconds.
- “Isis Pool Filming” runs for 4 minutes and 17 seconds.
- “Preparing the Wedding Banquet” runs for 3 minutes and 32 seconds.
- “The Wedding Rape” runs for 7 minutes and 28 seconds.
- “Caesonia’s Dance Instructor” runs for 3 minutes and 59 seconds.
- “Filming the Bordello Ship” runs for 5 minutes.

There are also four film galleries, each of which play as slideshows.

- “Color Film Stills” runs for 2 minutes and 20 seconds.
- “Black and White Film Stills” runs for 3 minutes and 50 seconds.
- “Behind-the-Scenes” is a whole collection of galleries on it’s own that include:
- - “Main Cast” runs for 4 minutes and 5 seconds.
- - “Tinto Brass Directs” runs for 1 minute and 30 seconds.
- - “Tiberius’ Grotto” runs for 9 minutes and 50 seconds.
- - “Nerva’s Suicide” runs for 1 minute and 5 seconds.
- - “Isis Pool” runs for 3 minutes and 5 seconds.
- - “Execution of Macro” runs for 2 minutes and 50 seconds.
- - “Wedding Banquet” runs for 3 minutes and 35 seconds.
- - “Death of Proculus” runs for 1 minute.
- - “Bordello Ship” runs for 4 minutes and 10 seconds.
- - “Assassination” runs for 1 minute and 35 seconds.
- - “Proculus Audition” runs for 4 minutes and 15 seconds.
- - “Deleted Scene: The Treasury” runs for 40 seconds.
- - “Deleted Scene: The Temple of Jupiter” runs for 1 minute and 30 seconds.
- - “Extras” runs for 8 minutes and 10 seconds.
- - “Sets & Props” runs for 3 minutes and 45 seconds.
- - “Costumes & Make-up” runs for 2 minutes and 30 seconds.
- “Promotional” runs for 1 minute and 5 seconds.

Finally on this disc there are 17 PDF's accessible on a DVD-ROM drive which address a variety of aspects of the film:

- “1976-07 Gore Vidal Script” this is a draft of Vidal’s script for "Caligula", including some of the markings on it that could have been used by some other aspect of production.
- “Additional Bios Caligula” these brief bios cover John Steiner, Guido Mannari, Adriana Asti, Paolo Bonacelli, Leopoldo Trieste, Giancarlo Badessi and Mirella D’Angelo.
- “Bob Guccione 1980 Interview,” this interview with Guccione apparently originally ran in Penthouse in 1980 as a part o the promotion for “Caligula.”
- “Caligula 1975-10-20-script” this is the original draft of the “Caligula” script.
- “Caligula Novelization” this is a version of the novelization of “Caligula.”
- “Caligula Press Materials” is a press release for the film.
- “Danilo Donati Bio” this is the first in a sequence of short biographies for the major crew.
- “Helen Mirren Bio”
- “John Gielgud Bio”
- “Lori & Anneka” these are low-quality scans of an issue of Penthouse focusing on “Caligula”
- “Lori Wagner Revisted” is another Penthouse photoshoot.
- “Malcolm McDowell Bio”
- “Penthouse May 1980” another scan of an old Penthouse issue.
- “Peter O’Toole Bio”
- “Teresa Ann Savoy Bio”
- “The Real Caligula” is a bio of the actual historical figure.
- “Tinto Brass Bio”

Packaging

The 2 disc “Imperial Edition” is presented in a 2-disc Blu-ray case with a 16-page booklet.

Overall

The Film: D Video: C- Audio: B- Extras: A Overall: C

 


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