Reviewed by: JimmyO
Teresa Ann Savoy
What's it about
One of the most controversial leaders in history, Caligula was a Roman Emperor who found himself losing his grip on sanity while in power. As he sinks deep into decay, sex and insanity, he is soon plotted against by those around him as they fear his out of control behavior. Oh yeah, and they have a lot of sex.
Is it good movie?
It is almost impossible to think that even today, a major motion picture with highly respected actors would also include numerous scenes of pornographic sex. The idea is almost ludicrous that you could make a film like this and spend the kind of money necessary for a massive period piece with detailed sets and costumes, and of course oral sex with ejaculation. But leave it to Bob Guccione of Penthouse Magazine fame to make such a movie possible. Yes, in 1979, Caligula was released and featured some amazing talent, including Malcolm McDowell in the title role. It also starred Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren and Sir John Gielgud. And just to even things out, there were a handful of Penthouse pets for the quite literal, background “action“. This includes a massive orgy at the end of the film with features all sorts of honest to goodness intercourse.
Caligula was a young Roman Emperor that came to power only to let it destroy him. Early on, he shared an incestuous relationship with his sister Drusilla (Teresa Anne Savoy) who was the only one he trusted. But as he and his loving sister realize that the current syphilis ridden Caesar Tiberius (O’Toole) may have the intention to kill him, the young man decides to destroy his enemy. Once he has Tiberius killed, he finds himself in power. After taking control, Caligula begins to see himself as a God, a God with the strength to destroy pretty much anybody he’d like. And since this takes place during Ancient Rome, the backdrop of a Pagan fueled society is explored as are the rich and lavish sets and costumes that drape this production in a “Felliniesque” visual style. With all the beauty in the look of the film, and some fine performances from McDowell (if a bit out of control), O’Toole, Gielgud and Mirren, it proves to be one of the most notoriously unappreciated films of all time. Why? Read on…
The script which was originally written by the critically acclaimed Gore Vidal (Ben-Hur), seems to have suffered immensely as several hands dissected it to create some sort of uber-sexual Frankenstein‘s monster of cinema. One scene will be a fascinating look at the exploration of power, while the next will look and feel like a costume drama porno. I actually find the film to be a unique experience to watch. Again, the look is pretty impressive as is the energetic and charismatic performance of McDowell. Although it seems he is allowed to run free without any sort of direction and chews more scenery than he can swallow. And speaking of swallowing, the sex is very much a sign of the times. The filmmakers claim that this is a very truthful portrayal according to history. The sexual freedom expressed in the film will be off-putting to anybody expecting something along the lines of GLADIATOR. Hell, even folks who enjoy the series “Rome” will be shocked and surprised by the copious amounts of nudity and sex here.
This “Imperial Edition” features both the unrated, uncensored version of the film which includes the above mentioned scenes of full on intercourse. We’re talking oral sex between two men, oral sex between two women, and of course woman on man etcetera. And yes, it is still outrageous, even in this day and age. And then there is the “alternate version” if you’d prefer, which still includes an unbelievable amount of nudity, but the graphic scenes are removed. In a way, the alternate version is the better of the two as it is clear that the pornographic material seems to be from a different movie. After all, they are scenes that Bob Guccione had added later on to make the film more “erotic”. But one can’t help but think that somewhere beneath all of this incredibly strange and disjointed material was something incredible. After all, Caligula was a intriguing historical figure. But this cult classic piece of celluloid is lovingly glorified on this utterly comprehensive edition.
What makes Caligula truly worth viewing is the drama that went into the making of the film. With a battle of egos between Bob Guccione, Producer Franco Rossellini, the films director Tinto Brass and Gore Vidal. Each of them wanting to make a completely different film. Mr. Vidal eventually took his name off the film, as it was originally entitled Gore Vidal’s Caligula. There were lawsuits on all sides, and a ton of controversy that surrounded the film upon its release. Much of it seemed to be generated from early on in pre-production. Read on to the special features to see why a somewhat strange and messy film is a must have on Blu-Ray.
Video / Audio
Video: This 1080p High-Definition Widescreen 2.00:1 transfer is an extremely good one. You’re not likely to ever find Caligula looking any better than this.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 3.0/2.0/1.0 is also quite good. I actually really enjoy the films score which really shines on this disc.
Finally, Caligula: The Imperial Edition makes it to Blu-ray… at least for those that are looking for a whole lot of weirdness in their life. But what was once a 3-disc standard DVD set is now 2 thanks to the power of the blu to the ray.
The first disc includes the high-definition transfer of the unrated and uncensored feature film. So if you want the cum shot, you’ve got it here. This is one of those rare occurrences where the unrated edition is truly “unrated” and it is loaded with enough sex and nudity that it will surely be a hit with the whole family.
The alternate pre-release of the film is also here and it includes three different Commentaries. The first is the wonderfully entertaining Malcolm McDowell who is incredibly open and damn entertaining to listen to as expounds upon the film, and of course, sleeping with a horse. This is moderated by Nick Redman.
Next up for commentary is the lovely Helen Mirren who you can just feel blushing as the film goes on. She mentions the oft shown “bottoms” throughout the film along with moderators and film writers Alan Jones and James Chaffin. I enjoyed listening to Helen, but I did find that there are too many silent moments during the commentary. But in their defense, it is sometimes difficult to express a movie such as this.
Finally we have an over the phone commentary with Ernest Volkman who was hired by Bob Guccione to write about the making of the film. Although he is on the phone, a fine gentleman from Image Entertainment keeps this moving and thankfully there are a ton of stories Ernest tells us that are quite fascinating.
After you are all commentaried out, you can enjoy a Theatrical Trailer, a Teaser Trailer and a R-Rated Re-release Trailer. And then finishing out the first disc you have almost an hours worth of Deleted and Alternate Scenes including “Tiberius’ Grotto”, “”Satyrs, Nymphs & Fishes”, “Killing Tiberius (Unfinished Workprint Edition)” Tiberius Deathbed (Extended)”, “Caligula’s Counsel with Longinus”, “Drusilla Comforts Caligula”, “Proculus Runs the Gauntlet”, “Macro’s Execution (Extended)”, “Death of Drusilla (Alternate Angles)”, “Arriving on the Bordello Ship”, “Bordello Ship” and “Temple of Jupiter”. All of these alternate takes and scenes are dialogue free with only the score. This annoys me on many levels, as I don’t feel that watching a scene without dialogue is necessarily worth adding. I will say that from watching this, I get the feeling that so much more footage was shot that it must have been an editing nightmare. And obviously, it was after hearing them talk about it.
With Disc 2 (which is not in Blu-ray, but standard), we find two versions of The Making of Caligula. Once runs about 62 minutes and the other runs about 10 minutes as a featurette. I liked the longer version, although it felt a bit bloated as original author Gore Vidal treats it as if it were the greatest film ever made. This was shot during the filming so it was before Mr. Vidal wanted his name taken off obviously.
Following this we are given three interviews including My Roman Holiday with John Steiner (24:00). Mr. Steiner portrays Longinus. I liked the interview, and found him to be a fairly interesting fellow. After John’s moment in the sun we have Caligula’s Pet: A Conversation with Lori Wagner (28:00) While this was entertaining also, it ended up feeling like an infomercial to buy her album. The songs are all about sex and I had trouble finding it on Amazon… perhaps her website will be selling it. Ms. Wagner still looks pretty good, but not quite as hot as when she appeared as Calugula’s pet.
Rounding out the interviews is Tinto Brass: The Orgy of Power (35:00) where he gives his side of the story. Man oh man, there are stories from this set. My question is, when is somebody going to make a movie about the making of Caligula? That would be utterly fascinating. Tinto is very open and yes, it is clear that the man has an ego, but hey, maybe if he had kept control of the film it would have been better… then again, maybe not.
Finishing up the disc we find some Behind-the-Scenes Footage which is again, without dialogue and only music. It includes some ridiculous song about feeling one’s love inside one’s heart. Beautiful… or not. I can understand the dialogue free content here, but for the deleted scenes and alternate takes, it just seemed wrong. The behind-the-scenes footage includes “Pets Arrive in Rome”, “Set Construction, Painting & Props”, “Extras’ Make-Up”, “John Gielgud in Make-Up”, “Caligula’s Arrival in Capri”, “Creating Tiberius’ Grotto”, “Too Much Wine”, “Preparing Macro’s Execution”, “Tinto Brass Directing”, “Isis Pool Rehearsals”, “Isis Pool Filming”, “Preparing the Wedding Banquet”, “The Wedding Rape”, “Caesonia’s Dance Instructor” and “Filming the Bordello Ship”. Enjoy!
Finally we have a Still Galleries section and a DVD-ROM that includes Press Kit Notes, Cast and Crew Biographies and a few Penthouse interviews. I also enjoyed the booklet inside this disc. It is a terrific read which only confirms my belief that someone needs to make a making of Caligula bio-pic.
I don’t really like Caligula, but I find it immensely fascinating. Malcolm McDowell in the title role is unbelievable and yes, at times he is brilliant. And as for the rest of the cast, it is a mix and match as you can see a whole slew of amazing British thespians, and then there are the Penthouse Pets. I will say that the set design and the costumes are stunning, as is the blatant sexuality that is not quite sexy, but not quite disgusting either. While the movie is a slightly entertaining mess and a half, the Imperial Edition on Blu-ray is a wonderful buy. Just to hear McDowell’s commentary is worth the cost. For those of you who have never heard of Caligula, I suggest you check it out just to see the kind of wild heights they went to as they told the story of a shockingly decadent Roman fellow who believed he was a God.