Cleopatra (1963)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Rex Harrison, Richard Burton
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentaries, Photo Gallery, Theatrical Trailers, Archival Footage and more

Can you spell "monumental?" Today that word starts with a "C" and ends with "leopatra." Among all monumental film epics, "Cleopatra" has to be the mother of them all. The film broke records, caused scandals, and was one of the most elaborate film productions ever staged. Now, we get to behold this 4-hour epic on a DVD release from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment in a beautifully clean-up and <$THX,THX>-certified version on three discs. Two of them are reserved for the film itself while the third one is jock-full of bonus materials.

After expanding the Roman Empire for years, Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison) travels to Egypt to settle a dispute between the two reigning aristocrats of the country. Ptolemy and his sister Cleopatra. In an attempt to seize all power, Ptolemy has banned Cleopatra from court, exiling her to the desert, where she is now setting up an army of her own. Caesar is not willing to watch this frivolous game of power and rules for Cleopatra to return to her throne in Alexandria to rule with her brother. Only days later, Ptolemy is making an attempt to poison his sister and finally, Caesar makes Cleopatra sole ruler of Egypt. Soon Caesar and Cleopatra have a bond that is stronger than their business relationship and they marry – much to the disdain of Rome. When Cleopatra bears Caesar’s son – the only one – she hopes to become the ruler not only of Egypt but of the entire Roman Empire. She challenges Julius Caesar to abandon the Senate and become Rome’s Emperor.
The Roman Senate is outraged and on the day when Caesar is decided to challenge the Senate, he is killed – stabbed to death by the senators in broad daylight.

Marc Anthony (Richard Burton), Caesar’s right-hand man, is soon following in the footsteps of his former mentor. He attempts to integrate Egypt into the Roman Empire and works with Cleopatra, and he, too, falls for her magical charm. But the powers of Rome are working against him, too.

Everything about "Cleopatra" is larger than life and the film has grandeur achieved by only few films. The movie lines up money shot after money shot and in incredible pictures conjures up a past that is absolutely glamorous and glorious – although historically not entirely accurate. Scenes like Cleopatra’s entrance into Rome with a celebratory parade burn themselves indelibly into the viewer’s mind, as does the final climax of the film. But practically every shot of the film is carrying the signature of a cinematic masterpiece. The framing, the production design, the costumes, the make-up and even all the extras in the scenes are simply staggering, making "Cleopatra" are lively film that is never slowing down. Combined with the dramatic impact of the story that evolves gradually to its full scope, the film epitomizes what classic Hollywood movies were all about.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is presenting "Cleopatra" in its original 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio on this DVD in a gorgeous <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer that is virtually free of any blemishes. There is no dust, no scratch and not a speckle to be found anywhere in the 4 hours of the movie’s running length. Despite the film’s age, there are no registration problems, creating a presentation that is absolutely stable. The colors of the print are nothing short of marvelous, leaping off the screen. The lush and vibrant production design of the film and the colorful costumes are one of the film’s undisputed highlights and the DVD does full justice to these elements by bringing them to life on your television screen in a faithfulness and richness that you have never seen before. There has never been a doubt that "Cleopatra" is a glorious movie, but the DVD drives it home point blank. The transfer also produces absolutely solid blacks that give the image a lot of depth. Shadows are perfectly delineated and maintain their full details at all times. There is no grain, no noise and no dot crawl evident in the transfer at any time, and the compression of the film on this DVD is simply masterful. It may be hard to believe, but despite its considerable age, "Cleopatra" creates a reference quality video presentation that easily compares to the best DVDs and latest movies in the market.

The DVD contains a remixed <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track that perfectly matches the visuals. It may not be a full-blown modern surround track, but nonetheless, the audio creates a sound filed with good spatial integration and a very clear reproduction of the audio, free of hiss, distortion or sibilance. Especially during the many crowd scenes, surround usage is very good, creating a lively ambiance. The dynamics of the track are very good and the frequency response only hints at the true age of the film with few limitations. Dialogues are very well integrated – and as a result make the overacting that was part of the method in those days all the more obvious – and always understandable. In addition to the <$5.1,5.1 mix>, the release also contain English and French <$DS,Dolby Surround> tracks.

Also included on the release is a running length <$commentary,commentary track> by Chris Mankiewicz, Tom Mankiewicz, Martin Landau and film historian Jack Brodsky. Considering its length, it is surprising how full of information this track is and not even the fact that it is edited in certain parts, disturbs the impression that we have a very important commentary here that not only revives memories, but also ensures that the information and memories contained within will be available for future viewers.

The third disc of the package contains a number of exciting supplements that build the background foundation for the release. A brand new documentary is the cornerstone of this disc. Running for two hours, this film, called "Cleopatra: The Film That Changed Hollywood", is in incredibly diligent and detailed look at the film, its origins and the impact it has had on its participants and Hollywood as a whole. Considering that the film was originally budgeted as a 2 million dollar production that ended up being the most expensive movie production to date, I am sure it is easy to see that a lot must have been going on. The career and tribulations of Liz Taylor, the production design, the financial troubles, the state of the industry as a whole and most extensively, the excess on the production the film – everything is covered in remarkable detail in this comprehensive documentary.
Then there is a second documentary, this time from 1963, which was created originally to accompany the film’s theatrical start. Entitled "The Fourth Star Of Cleopatra" this documentary takes you behind the scenes of the production, creating a rather "vintage" feel as a result of its age.

Then check out the archival footage covering the premieres of the film in New York and Los Angeles. Prepared as newsreels, the footage is exciting and once again has a vintage quality that makes it all more valuable. An extensive photo gallery, containing production sketches, still photographs, lobby cards, posters and other images rounds out this incredible release together with the film’s theatrical trailers.
All in all, the supplements found on this third disc are a treasure trove of archival footage and historical moments that have now been made available for everyone to see.

One quick word regarding "Cleopatra’s" packaging. The release comes as a 2-disc Amaray case, which offers room for – you guessed it – two discs. The third disc can be found in a sleeve on the back of the booklet that is part of the release. At first I thought the third disc was missing until I found it, almost accidentally. While it is still slightly distracting that no custom case has been used for this release – something that was no doubt rules by prohibitively expensive costs – the solution is certainly more practical than Warner’s procedure to literally hide their extra disc behind the sleeve even in a standard 2-disc release.

One thing that I realized while watching "Cleopatra" on this glorious DVD was the fact that somehow this film had a much deeper visual impact than contemporary films. No matter how epic a film like "Gladiator" is, it simply cannot match the grandeur and true spectacle of a movie like "Cleopatra." Today’s production values of slick computer generated imagery just does not have the organic feel and bustling intensity of a real-action scene and I found this extremely visible in comparison to "Cleopatra." Combined with the pristine presentation of the film on this DVD, this is hands-down one of the best DVDs ever released in many aspects. Kudos to Fox for making this gem of their archives a polished jewel for everyone to behold. This is a DVD release that has to go into every DVD owner’s collection, as a testimony to DVDs capabilities when dealing even with older films, and as a reminder of the landmarks Hollywood is capable of producing.