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Image Entertainment presents
Caligula: Three-Disc Imperial Edition (1979)

"I have existed from the morning of the world, and I shall exist until the last star falls from the heavens. Although I have taken the form of Gaius Caligula, I am all men as I am no man, and so I am a god."
- Caligula (Malcolm McDowell)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: May 09, 2008

Stars: Malcolm McDowell
Other Stars: Helen Mirren, Peter O'Toole, Teresa Ann Savoy, Guido Mannari, John Gielgud, Giancarlo Badessi, John Steiner, Adriana Asti, Leopoldo Trieste, Bruno Brive, Paolo Bonacelli, Mirella Dangelo, Anneka Di Lorenzo, Lori Wagner
Director: Tinto Brass, Bob Guccione, Giancarlo Lui

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (graphic sexual content, violence)
Run Time: 02h:35m:55s
Release Date: October 02, 2007
UPC: 014381875720
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
D DB+B- A+

DVD Review

The sexy decadence of pagan Rome almost takes a backseat to the epic backstory of Caligula, the 1979 feature film that was manhandled with excess by Penthouse magazine emperor Bob Guccione. The film itself is far too long—topping the 156 minute mark—and is best remembered for being Guccione's attempt to bring hardcore porn to the mainstream, only here dressed in gaudy togas and elaborate sets that make ancient Rome look like a bad Vegas stage show. Guccione took the reins from famed erotica director Tinto Brass, inserting graphic orgies and assorted couplings that only served to make Caligula the longest and hammiest porn flick on record.

The good news here is that this three-disc Imperial Edition from Image includes the full uncensored version, as well as a slightly cleaned up alternate print. And if that were not enough, this set is loaded with interviews, stills, DVD-ROM content, and commentaries, all somehow tracing the convoluted history of Caligula. There is very little to find good in either of the two versions gathered here, but the amount of extras (see below) is exceptional, and it only makes the mess that this film became seem like an even bigger waste of time.

And this could have been—or should have been—a much better film. The cast includes Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, and Peter O'Toole, the original screenplay was penned by Gore Vidal, and mounds of money was spent on the production. But the power struggle ran by Guccione and a surprising degree of bad acting from nearly all (Mirren somehow retains her dignity, even while wearing a leash) does nothing but render this into the kind of film that was supposed shock audiences with its brazen sexuality, though the sheer weight of its own excess ultimately does more harm than good.

The basics of the plot have promise, with Caligula (McDowell) rising to power in ancient Rome, before the inevitable fall. He's a bit of a control freak with a thing for his sister (Teresa Ann Savoy), and he throws his authority around with violent retribution for all those that cross him. Yet one of the film's most excessively comical scenes involves an elaborate decapitation of an enemy that transcends weirdness and evolves into almost Monty Python-esque territory. It's a strange scene, visually compelling but seemingly so far over the top that it almost seems absurd. But the film meanders on, with Caligula (much like Guccione) running Rome his way, and his way only. And it can only end badly.

While the ham-fisted reads by Peter O'Toole and John Gielgud make many of their scenes sound like a grade school play, the presence of Helen Mirren as Caesonia is the one tether that Guccione/Brass should be eternally thankful for. Because even as a wild-eyed McDowell periodically launches into exaggeratedly dramatic globs of dialogue, it's Mirren who gives the film the sort of alluring sexuality that should have really been rampant here. Instead, we're given Guccione's fantasy of Rome, which in his case is simply hardcore sex, with all the familiar closeups you'd get with your standard issue adult film. And plenty of them.

Ultimately this is nothing more than overblown smutty arrogance, a failed attempt by Guccione, who egotistically believed he could do no wrong. Boy, was he ever mistaken.

Rating for Style: D
Rating for Substance: D


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.00:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in 2.00:1 anamorphic widescreen, the new high-definition restoration on the uncensored version breathes all kinds of fresh life into Caligula. While still sporting a fair amount of grain, the colors appear dramatically more vivid than they did in theaters (or at least as I recall), and the radiant warmth of the fleshtones is equally attractive. No issues with specking or debris, and the clarity of the print reveals an improved level of edge detail in many of the sequences.


Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The film's original mono track is included, as is a new Dolby Digital 5.0 mix. The new blend is modest in its presentation, refraining from too much forced surround activity. Voice quality is clear, albeit somewhat flat, and most notably improved is the pomp and circumstance of the big, sweeping score, which manages to benefit the most from the remix.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
3 Original Trailer(s)
12 Deleted Scenes
Production Notes
4 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by Nick Redman, Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, James Chaffin, Alan Jones, Ernest Volkman, Nathaniel Thompson
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Cardboard Tri-Fold
Picture Disc
3 Discs
3-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The movie may be fairly rotten in all its forms, but this three-disc Imperial Edition from Image seems to almost negate that fact. This is an impressive and hefty set, beginning with its attractive slipcovered tri-fold case and a 14-page insert booklet that examines the sordid and weird history of Caligula.

Disc 1 features the unrated, uncensored (aka hardcore sex) theatrical version (02h:35m:55s) cut into 21 chapters, along with a trio of trailers, including one for the sliced-and-diced R-rated version. This uncut print is Caligula in all of its graphic glory, a real study in overdone sex and theatrical excess.

Disc 2 carries what's referred to as the Alternate Pre-Release Version (02h:32m:52s), which is essentially a slightly retooled variation, with most of the graphic sexual elements removed, as well as the addition of some sequences that were eventually excised from later versions. With placement of some scenes shifted around and the brazen sexuality tempered somewhat, this version is a bit less coarse, and as result a "better" film (though it still is largely awful on all accounts).

Three commentary tracks are also part of the alternate version, the first moderated by writer Nick Redman and featuring Malcolm McDowell. McDowell is a real funny dude here, full of self-effacing recollections of this horribly misguided project, and he seems to have a very good time revisiting the film. His honesty is refreshing and his comic timing is exceptional, making this track a treat (even if it means enduring Caligula yet again). The second commentary has writers Alan Jones and James Chaffin moderating a track with Helen Mirren. As with her co-star, Mirren makes another trip to the dreaded Caligula well worthwhile, and she's equally honest about the project, though slightly more proper than McDowell. Both actors give high kudos to Tinto Brass, whereas Bob Guccione doesn't quite get the same degree of love from either.

While those two tracks are strong, the third takes a different slant. Penthouse writer/on-set reporter Ernest Volkman delivers a 94-minute interview by phone, conducted by Image Entertainment's Nathaniel Thompson. Volkman's approach offers a look at Caligula from more of an observer standpoint, and while his Penthouse allegiances may have tempered his stance, this interview does provide more information for those interested in piecing together the twisted history of this film.

Also included on Disc 2 are a set of 12 deleted/extended sequences that runs almost 50 minutes. The quality is sketchy, and many of them have no audio, though scenes such as Macro's Execution actually look much better in grainy black-and-white.

Disc 3 begins with My Roman Holiday With John Steiner (24m:21s), as we learn that the actor who played Longinus is now a real estate agent. His reluctance to talk much about Caligula seems strange, and he spends much of the time discussing his Italian film career. It's an odd interview, but again, getting another take on the Caligula mess (no matter how small) only serves to make its history all the more interesting. Caligula's Pet: A Conversation With Lori Wagner (28m:19s) features the Penthouse Pet of the Century(!) discussing her first nude print work, and how she ended up working on the film. Those familiar with Caligula will recall Wagner's infamous scene, and during the course of this interview she provides some kidney-busting background on it. Tinto Brass: The Orgy Of Power (34m:27s) is a subtitled chat with the director, and he chats up his displeasure with the way things eventually shook out. While no stranger to filmmaking erotica, his battles with Guccione over the amount of featured sex are actually surprising.

The Making Of Caligula documentary (01h:01m:45s) and The Making of Caligula featurette (09m:56s) are both circa 1980, and feature overblown hyperbole about the film's sexy grandeur. Essentially promo pieces, don't expect much of a critical examination, but the comedy of the Penthouse promotional machine might make these worthy of a partial peek. Also included is a set of uneventful behind-the-scenes footage, along with an extensive block of stills, divided up into Color, Black-and-White, Behind The Scenes, and Promotional.

Lastly, Disc 3 has a weighty DVD-ROM section, consisting of press note kits, cast & crew bios, two versions of Gore Vidal's screenplay, four Penthouse feature/pictorial reprints, and the movie tie-in novelization.

Much like the very excess of the film itself, Image has seemingly done excess one better with an outstanding block of supplemental materials for this Imperial Edition. Wow!

Extras Grade: A+


Final Comments

A comically awful film with a long, sordid backstory of directorial power struggles and too much sex gets the absolute royal treatment from Image with this stellar three-disc Imperial Edition. The sheer amount of supplemental material (including a pre-release version of the film) is festooned with three commentaries, documentaries, and DVD-ROM content that does wonders in reassembling the pieces, leaving you to decide what went wrong where.

The movie is very, very bad, but the scope and presentation of the extras on this set is outstanding. If there was ever a case of recommending a DVD release solely for the supplements, this would be it.


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