[17 March 2009]
McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)
A pair of biblical-inspired epics - “Quo Vadis” (Warner, 1951, $28.99) and “The Robe” (20th Century Fox, 1953, $34.98) - lead this week’s release of Blu-ray titles.
“Quo Vadis,” based on the 1895 novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz, is a spectacular film that recreates the Roman Empire in all its splendor and decadence. Robert Taylor stars as General Marcus Vinicius, who returns with his troops to Rome after a successful three-year campaign. His loyalty to Rome and its unstable emperor Nero (brilliantly played by Peter Ustinov) are unquestioned.
Marcus has little tolerance or understanding of Christianity, which has spread while he was away on the battlefields. Then he meets Lygia and falls in love with her, even though she is a Christian. Marcus struggles to deal with a religion that worships only one God while Romans have been brought up to believe in many gods.
Because they don’t bow down to the Romans, Christians are being persecuted. One of the film’s unforgettable sequences is the herding of Christians into an arena, where they are slaughtered by lions and burned while a grinning Nero and cheering throng of thousands watch. Then there is also the burning of Rome as ordered by Nero, who plans to build a new city as a monument to himself.
Among the others in the cast are Leo Genn as Petronius, who serves as Nero’s confidant but also realizes the emperor has gone mad, and the noble Finlay Currie as Peter, who preaches the word of Christ and eventually pays for it. “Quo Vadis” was nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Picture but won none.
The movie, looking terrific on Blu-ray, is presented in its original 1.33:1 (4x3) aspect ratio. The disc includes a new featurette documentary “In the beginning: Quo Vadis and the Genesis of the Biblical Epic” in which we learn, among other things, that Gregory Peck and Elizabeth Taylor originally had been picked to star in the movie. Highly recommended.
“The Robe” is not only a stunning film to watch but is also a historic footnote in the history of the movies. It was the first to be released in CinemaScope, the process that eventually led to all movies being shot in a widescreen format. Although 20th Century Fox already had shot “How to Marry a Millionaire” in CinemaScope, the studio believed “The Robe” would be the best film to show off and launch the new process.
Fox was not disappointed. “The Robe” played to packed houses around the country. Based on the 1942 book by Lloyd C. Douglas, the title refers to the garment worn by Jesus when He was crucified on the cross. Richard Burton plays Marcellus Gallio, the tribune who is assigned the task of seeing that the crucifixion of Christ is carried out.
After the event, Marcellus is troubled by what he has done and seeks to find out more about the man who died on the cross. Through the help of Diana (Jean Simmons), Marcellus comes to believe that Jesus was the son of God and he is converted to Christianity.
This inspiring movie is filled with memorable performances. Among them are Michael Rennie as Peter, Richard Boone as Pontius Pilate, Jay Robinson as Caligula and Ernest Thesigner as Emperor Tiberius. Also noteworthy is Victor Mature’s portrayal of Demetrius, the man who ends up being the guardian of the robe.
Fox has done a fine job of restoring this film, which won two Oscars and was nominated for four others. The original stereophonic sound has been converted to DTS surround. Highly recommended.
Other Blu-ray titles this week:
“Seven Pounds” (Sony, 2008, $39.95): Will Smith stars as IRS agent Ben Thomas who is haunted by something that happened in his past. He gets an opportunity to change the lives of seven people and give them a second chance in life. Then, he becomes romantically involved with one of them and faces a tough decision. Smith, as always, is outstanding. Be prepared for a few unexpected twists and turns.
“Twilight” (Summit Entertainment, 2008, $32.99): Based on Stephenie Meyer’s bestseller, this film tries to answer the age-old question what do you do when you fall in love with a vampire? If you’re Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) you don’t really care that Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) has this thing for blood. You just know you desire him. On the other hand, Edward is attracted to Bella so deeply that he warns her to stay away from him less he gets carried away and sinks his teeth into her.
“Rachel Getting Married” (Sony, 2008, $39.95): Anne Hathaway plays Kym, fresh out of drug rehab, who returns to her Connecticut home for the wedding of her sister Rachel. Behind all the festivities there is a dark secret from the past that plagues the family.
Also now on Blu-ray: “The Princess Bride” (MGM, 1987, $34.99), Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin; “Punisher: War Zone” (Lions Gate, 2008, $39.99), Ray Stevenson; “South Park: The Complete Twelfth Season” (Paramount, 2008, $69.99)