HBO Home Video
Cast: Kevin McKidd, Lindsay Duncan, Polly Walker, Kerry Condon, Lyndsey Marshal, James Purefoy, Ray Stevenson, Simon Woods
Extras: Audio Commentaries, Featurettes, Trivia Track
An amazing feat and a remarkable success, HBO's TV series "Rome" was clearly one of the television highlights of recent years. After the first season blew everyone away, the studio went about to product the second season, continuing the epic history lesson by blending incredibly dramatic storylines, engaging characters, breathtaking production design and a good dose of history to create one of the most engaging and gripping television series you may have ever seen.
Picking up exactly where the first season left off – the assassination of Julius Caesar by the senators of Rome during the Ides of March – season two immediately launches itself into the bloody fallout from the emperor's death. Much to the chagrin of Mark Anthony (James Purefoy), Octavian (Max Pirkis) is named the sole heir and successor in Caesar's will, handing all the powers to the young boy. But these powers are worthless unless the senate formally acknowledges them – which they can't as they have just killed Caesar as a tyrant. It is a tricky situation for everyone and quickly Octavian comes up with a plan to keep the peace. But inevitable the tension between Mark Anthony and Octavian soon boil over as the young man is decided to take his rightful place whereas Mark Anthony wishes to keep his own control and power. Over the years things escalate and Mark Anthony's armies fight Octavian's armies, all the while Octavian (Simon Woods) – now a grown man – is plotting to take his rightful place and rule the Roman empire.
All the while upon hearing the news that Caesar has been killed, Pullo (Ray Stevenson) returns to Rome only to find Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) devastated at the death of his wife and his own cursing his children to Hades. On the brink of madness, Vorenus is on a path to self-destruction and it is only Pullo he keeps him within reach of sanity. Mark Anthony soon has a use for Vorenus and makes him captain of one of Rome's most turbulent, violent an crime-infested areas, the Aventine. It takes a special man and an iron fist to rule the Aventine and Vorenus is just that man. But it is painful for Pullo to see how Vorenus is tearing down every bit of humanity he may have possessed and descends into an abyss of insane violence himself, turning into no more than a criminal himself.
As before, "Rome" is laden with incredible moments in every episode. The cliffhangers are so incredibly timed that you simply have to watch episode after episode. You cannot stop! The politicking and scheming, the drama, the injustice, the vulgarity, the emotions and the historic background are so perfectly balanced that it is impossible to turn your eyes away from "Rome" for even a fleeting second.
The performances are once again absolutely staggering and especially Polly Walker as the ever-scheming Atia is once again standing out as the most loved and most hated character of the show. You hate her for everything she does, yet you love to watch her in her incomparable cunning. Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson once again make for a terrific team that is perfectly matched up, as do all other actors.
It is impossible to convey everything that "Rome" is in a single review, and it is hard to appreciate just how gripping and amazing this show is when reading mere words. You have to see and experience "Rome" to get the full impact of this television series. Quite frankly, I regard "Rome" as one of the best – if not the best – television series I have ever seen. Sadly, this second season is the last also. HBO has announced that it will produce no more episodes or seasons, which is of course extremely disappointing. My assumption is that the production costs for a show like "Rome" is simply too excessive. It is easy to see when you take a brief glimpse at the show even, as the sets, decorations and costumes most cost a fortune, as does the cast and the countless extras that bring life to the show. In addition the sets of "Rome" have partially burned down some time ago in a studio fire. So we will never see Octavian become Augustus Caesar, effecting the Pax Romana, nor will we see the stories of any other emperor of Rome in this show's splendor and glory. I can't tell you what I'd have given to see Augustus', Hadrian's, Nero's and Caligula's periods of reign as part of this series, but I guess all good things come to an end some time, and they certainly couldn't have come to a more glorious end than with "Rome's" final episode, "About Your Father."
The 5-disc DVD set that HBO Home Entertainment is presenting here offers 2 episodes per disc, as well as some bonus features on each. The video transfer is meticulous, reveling in colors and hues, bringing out minute detail in the picture and offering rich black levels that lend good visual depth to the image. No edge-enhancement mars the presentation and, of course, the picture is free of any sorts of compression artifacts. Nonetheless, I can't wait for the day when HBO will release high definition versions of this series, just to re-experience it once again in even more splendor.
On the audio side the release is every bit as impressive with great-sounding and balanced 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks. The audio is dynamic and makes good use of the surround channels for effect and ambiance. Dialogue is well integrated and never drowned out by the music of sound effects, making for a balanced presentation at all times.
Each of the disc contains a few extras, such as a featurette covering events depicted in the respective episodes in more detail. Here you get a closer look at the historic battle at Philippi, the relationship between Mark Anthony and Cleopatra and others. Each of the featurettes is very insightful with interviews and plenty of behind-the-scenes footage.
For each episode of the show you will also find a trivia track called "All Roads Lead to Rome." Here you will learn a plethora of valuable information about history behind the events depicted in the show. More information about the real characters, locations and events are displayed here, making for an incredibly rich history lesson on top of the show itself.
In addition, some of the episodes are accompanied by remarkably insightful commentary tracks.
Purists will forever claim the artistic liberties the filmmakers took with history in this show. But those purists will most likely also criticize any other treatment of the material. What they seem to forget is that sometimes it is better see and enjoy history with some liberties, than to have it stuck rigorously in academic books that no one ever reads – at least in my opinion. Productions like a TV series or movies are designed to entertain in the first place and not to replace history books. It is a supplement that can create a lot interest in a subject matter, and as in the case of "Rome" I have spent more time in encyclopedias and history books, following up on the events I've seen, than I did since my Latin years in high school.
For me "Rome" is a crowning achievement and the best television show in years. I am saddened that it has come to an end and can only hope that one day someone will follow in its footsteps and make a historic series that is as opulent, gripping, dramatic and emotional as "Rome."