Augustus (2004)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Peter O’Toole, Charlotte Rampling

"Augustus" is a 3-hour television min series that was originally released under the name "Imperium: Augustus." No idea why the name has changed for the DVD release, especially since it is still showing the original credits in the film’s opening and end credits. Is it another feeble attempt of Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment to disguise an underperforming movie?

The film centers around Augustus, the first Roman emperor. Following in the footsteps of his mentor Julius Caesar, Augustus kept working on Caesar’s ideals to end the roman civil war, which was essentially a clash between the rich and the poor, and to bring unity to the Roman Empire so that it can begin a healthy reign of expansion. With the help of his friends Marcus Agrippa and Maecenas he forges plans how to create a Rome in which a government of people will rule itself as opposed to the dictatorships of old. In a struggle that took him almost 20 years he gradually took his political model forward step by step, even though it occasionally meant bloodshed and another civil war. But in 27 BC Gaius Caesar Octavian was successful. He made himself the first Roman Emperor with monarchal power for life, took on the name Augustus, and began restructuring and reforming the Roman Empire all the way to his death 46 years later.

While the film is not entirely accurate in all historical elements, overall it depicts the glorious arc that was Augustus’ lifelong dream. From the early days in the battlefield next to Julius Caesar to his death, the film contains all the major milestones that made up this remarkable and foresighted ruler. Historical inaccuracies like Cicero not being killed when he should have been, his daughter returning home from exile, and others almost seem trivial by comparison, especially since the film never claims to be more than an entertaining look at Augustus’ life rather than a meticulous history lesson.

The production is a mixed bag and ranges from great acting by Peter O’Toole to some more mediocre appearances. But overall the film holds up reasonably well. It feels a bit lengthy at times as the filmmakers leave themselves ample time to move the story ahead, time which could have been used to create deeper characters instead, but once again, for a TV production this is not unusual and never gets to the point of tedium at any rate. Action scenes are well put together, though the occasional computer-enhanced effects shot stands out jarringly. The production design is great to watch, albeit a bit to clean and polished for the day and age we are witnessing, making us believe Rome was a nicely dressed clean city, when in fact it was one of the foulest, stinkiest and dirtiest places in the entire empire which desperately needed Agrippa’s sanitary enhancements in the form of aqueducts, baths and fountains.

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment is presenting "Augustus" in its original <$PS,fullframe> presentation on the DVD. The image is free of defects and blemishes but definition leaves somewhat to be desired. Oftentimes shadows are breaking up, visibly losing information while other image details are washed out and blurry at times. In increased bitrate and a more thorough quality assurance would have made quite a difference here, I am sure. Colors are generally well-reproduced though they lack a bit of sparkle, once again as a result of the heavy image compression. Edge-enhancement is evident on occasion but it is never distracting from the viewing pleasure.

The audio on the DVD comes as a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> track that is free of problems. Dialogues are a tad undermixed for my taste, being blared out too often by music and sound effects, creating an inconsistent mix that is too loud one second and too low the next. The frequency response of the track is good, though undramatic, with a natural but unexaggerated bass extension and clean high ends. The dynamic range is good and manages to handle the material very well at all times. "Augustus" also provides optional subtitles in English, French and Spanish.

Sadly the DVD contains no extras at all. Given the historical theme of the film it would have been more than appropriate to include some additional information on Augustus and his importance in Roman history – or European history for that matter. As evidenced by some of the technical shortcomings of this release however, it is obvious that Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment didn’t care much for this release and simply shoveled it out to retail shelves.