Although the series has long since finished its final season on HBO (as well as being released on DVD), Rome is still in the minds of those who are avid TV viewers. It managed to leave a lasting impression upon those who watched it, mixing historical events into the series in such a way that it was not only entertaining but also engaging and informative. You could almost call the show educational, but what captivated viewers most were the indelible characters that graced the screen in each episode. With approximately twenty-two hours of episodes, the film arrives for the first time on a ten-disc Blu-ray set in full 1080p with DTS-HD Master Audio.
Four hundred years after the founding of the Republic, Rome is the wealthiest city in the world, a cosmopolitan metropolis of one million people, epicenter of a sprawling empire. The Republic was founded on principles of shared power and fierce personal competition, never allowing one man to seize absolute control. But now, those foundations are crumbling, eaten away by corruption and excess. After eight years of war, soldiers Lucious Vorenus and Titus Pullo unwittingly become entwined in the historical events of ancient Rome. A serialized drama of love and betrayal, masters and slaves, husbands and wives, Rome chronicles a turbulent era that saw the death of a republic and the birth of an empire. The entire award-winning, critically-acclaimed series will be available as a Blu-ray gift set, just in time for the holiday season.
HBO has been on a streak for quite a few years now that has involved productions that focus on historical events that not only manage to engage the viewer but also keep them enraptured. Whether it’s Band of Brothers (one of my personal favorite mini-series of all time), John Adams or Generation Kill, the network has made quite a respectable name for itself. Although the network was once known as a network that young kids would try to sneak a peek at in the early A.M. hours, it has since become something that not only boasts mature content, but mature content that is of such an incredible caliber that it wins awards for pretty much every recent production it’s put out (Eastbound and Down notwithstanding…but give that time, who knows!).
I’d wanted to check out Rome for some time but never got the chance due to never knowing anyone who had the series (and I’m not one to blind buy randomly). Add to that the sets were pretty expensive when they originally came out (although you can get this Blu-ray complete series set for what one season on DVD cost previously, so this isn’t a bad deal just for that reason alone) and I just couldn’t motivate myself to settle down with this show. Now, however, I had no choice but to do so and within a couple hours into the set, I was more than glad to dedicate the next twenty to this show.
Fundamentally the show works on a whole series of levels. The period is realistic, the directing is superb, the actors are all unknowns (to me anyway) or relative unknowns to help make it not feel gimmicky in the least, and the story that encompasses the series is based on real history. I’m no history major so I don’t know how accurate all of this is, but I do recall some of my ancient Rome lessons from high school and watching the main soldier characters, Lucious and Titus, intertwine themselves into the mix of it all is just a fantastic way to not only experience the show but to also get a bit of a history lesson as well.
Between 2006 and 2007 the series was nominated for no less than fifteen Emmy’s, seven of which it won. The series really was groundbreaking for what it was; although it has a lot of critical buzz, you honestly didn’t hear a lot of individuals talking about it. It was one of those popular shows that everyone knew of, but you rarely found someone who had actually seen or kept up with it. Which is a shame, but also rather evident while you watch the series; it’s kind of like John Adams in that it is very strict in its time period and feels almost claustrophobic because of it; but at the same time Rome is given a license to breathe some more. Since it focuses on soldiers who were only briefly referenced in Caeser’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico it gives the series a historical grounding but also the ability to be a bit more flexible with the characters if need be.
The show was very much a basic drama that involved the usual ups and downs of relationships and whatnot, but because of the series setting it was able to paint a unique portrait of both the upper and lower class ways of living. Although the arrangements were different, the situations both faced weren’t necessarily all that dissimilar. That’s really the main essence of this show—it’s a very fantastic set of characters that all mix in with one another and when you strip away the ancient Rome element, you’d probably be surprised (or maybe not so) about how little this show differs from any other serialized drama on other major networks. Aside from the fact that this is better acted, directed, and visually stimulating than a vast majority of dramas, that is.
So what makes Rome so great has more to do with just the level of writing and the time period its set in. The ancient Rome setting could be seen as the shows “shtick” but at the same time it just adds so much more to the experience. Sadly the series extreme budget meant the series didn’t make it past a second season (and also made the second season blast forward in time at quite a brisk pace). Neither HBO nor partner BBC wanted to foot the bill that would be required for the series to continue to ensure the quality level was sustained, but you can’t really blame them. While the series no doubt would’ve been superb if it had continued, what you have here are two truly flawless (well, mostly flawless—some of it gets to be a bit too soap opera-y) seasons. And I would rather have that than a show that slowly petered off into disappointment. As is this series comes Highly Recommended.
HBO changes up their Blu-ray packaging ways and brings out Rome in a standard heavy-duty cardboard slipcase. But the case itself is embossed and foil reflective, so don’t think it won’t stand out on your shelf as it looks like a very, very nice book when stacked up next to the other sets on your shelf. Inside the slipcase is a book-like case that houses each of the discs on an individual “page.” The discs are just slipped into slits in the cardboard casing, but they’re all held in pretty snugly and my set arrived without a single floater so it should be a relatively safe to pick up a set without fear of scratched discs. Disc content and images from the series accompany the ten-disc fold out and while the disc art is pretty bland and there’s no fancy commemorative booklet to round out the package…is it really needed? The set is comprised of twenty-two hours of content plus bonus footage. These discs will spend more time in the player than they will in your hands, so I’m not too bummed about the repetitious disc art. It should also be noted that the final copy doesn’t feature a big Blu-ray band on it like the picture above does; it’s merely a small triangle in the corner of the top left of the set to denote that it’s a Blu-ray.
Video arrives in the form of an AVC encoded transfer that boasts quite a fantastic 1080p picture. A layer of grain is plastered over almost every frame of the series (don’t worry it looks natural) and every costume, set and…well, everything of this series looks quite awesome. Despite all of this, however, there are a few instances where the transfers are hindered by the format. By that I mean that despite it being spread across ten discs, the series occasionally gets a bit into crushing in the dimmer sequences and artifacting in fast-moving scenes. It’s not entirely surprising, mind you; twenty-two hours of footage is a lot to slap onto Blu-ray, even if you do have 500gb of disc space to work with. Maybe they should’ve thrown on an eleventh disc like the DVD set to help things breathe a bit more.
Or perhaps it’s all the DTS-HD MA 5.1 tracks that suck up the extra space. The tracks across the two seasons are nothing short of impressive; frequent use of surrounds, rampant subwoofer output and just an overall terrific mix drives this set home. It’s hard to pick out any specific sequence as being the best example of the set, but really any of it will do; the dialogue is crisp and clear and anytime any action kicks up the audio mix more than takes care of things. In addition to the English DTS-HD track we have a German DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix and Spanish, French, Castilian, and Polish Voiceover DTS 2.0 tracks. If you’re looking for a selection of subtitles that gives you a lot of choice, then look no further: English, English SDH, Spanish, French, German, Castilian, Polish, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Greek, Hebrew, Portuguese, Romanian, Turkish.
Extras are plentiful and include:
Enhanced Blu-ray Content
Interactive Bloodlines – Available on all discs, highlights the connections between the soldiers, senate and families of Rome.
All Roads Lead to Rome – Also available on all of the discs, this is an “on-screen guide” that was prepared by historical consultant Jonathan Stamp. It’s a stricter and realistic history lesson and acts more as a trivia track.
Audio Commentaries – 13 total, spread across Discs 1 – 6, 9 and 10.
Four Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes – “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” (11 Minutes, SD), “The Rise of Rome” (23 minutes, SD), “When in Rome” (23 minutes, SD), and “The Making of Rome: Season II” (23 minutes, HD) on discs 1, 5 and 8 respectively (the first two are both contained on disc one).
Three Featurettes Examining the History of Rome – “A Tale of Two Romes” (21 minutes, HD), “The Rise of Octavian: Rome’s First Emperor” (20 minutes, HD), “Antony and Cleopatra” (15 minutes, HD) on discs 6, 9 and 10 respectively.
Two Featurettes Detailing the Creation of Two Pivotal Scenes – “Shot X Shot” (23 minutes, SD), and “Gladiator” (23 minutes, SD) on discs four and five respectively.
Episode Previews – Season 1 (10 minutes, HD) on discs 1-5 and Season 2 (7 minutes, HD) on discs 6 – 10.
It’s a healthy selection, especially the commentaries, which offer a great deal of information and insight into the production of the series. In addition the featurettes are all worth watching although the first of the Behind-the-Scenes pieces (“Friends, Romans, Countrymen”) is a loaded with quite a bit of fluff; the other featurettes feature a great deal more information and quality.
Overall this is a fantastic set and will undoubtedly make many people happy on Christmas morning when the tear the shrink-wrap off to find this underneath. The series wavers a bit and the rapid pace of season two injures it a bit, but it gives it more closure than we otherwise would have gotten so it’s hard to fault it too much. The extras are solid and the A/V specs on this Blu-ray release are close to perfect. Highly Recommended.
Rome – The Complete Series is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.