Created by William J. MacDonald, John Milius, and Bruno Heller, who served as executive producer and head writer, Rome was an American-British-Italian joint venture television drama that aired in the United States on HBO. It ran for two seasons from 2005 to 2007, but high production costs made the series unsustainable.
The first season begins in 52 B.C. with Julius Caesar (Ciarán Hinds) and his armies conquering Gaul. The increase in Caesar's stature makes both his friends and enemies nervous, and rightly so, according to the history books. As the season plays out, a civil war erupts as Rome changes from a republic to an empire. It's intriguing to watch the constantly shifting alliances between characters grappling for power in the Senate halls and the bedroom chambers.
The second season opens in 44 B.C. as 18-year-old Octavian—who would eventually become known as Rome's Emperor Augustus—is appointed Caesar's successor to the disappointment of many, such as Mark Antony and Brutus, who had their own ideas on who should hold the position. The struggle for power continues for years, stretching across Europe and into Egypt before concluding with the series finale in 29 B.C.
Throughout Rome, the series also looks at the lives of the common people through the lives and friendship of soldiers Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) and Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson). Vorenus is a moral family man who attempts to live by a code. He has been away from his family for eight years when he reunites with them. Pullo's main focus is pleasing his many appetites. They get caught up in the events, some times on opposing sides.
Heller and his team do a fantastic job creating drama and suspense from situations dictated by history. Although viewers may know what the Ides of March brings, the build-up and execution of the events is satisfying due to the screenplay and performances.
The production values are very impressive and it's understandable why the series cost so much. A great amount of detail and work was done to replicate Rome. The large, outdoor scenes are especially impressive spectacles.
Rome – The Complete Series comes to Blu-ray on 10 discs housed in a holder that resembles a book with each disc held in a thick, cardboard page. Themed icons of a sundial appearing under different colors of light appear during loading.
The visuals are presented in 1080p at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and the improvement to the video quality from the higher definition can be seen when accessing the episode previews. Colors are vibrant, particularly the reds, which will be pleasing to Jupiter. Details are vivid with clearly defined textures, such as buildings and fabrics, and edges are sharp. The depth within scenes is evident.
There are issues with candlelight flicker causing banding, creating a strobe effect. Blacks waver between being well rendered and suffering from black crush, evident as detail gets swallowed up in the shadows.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 has a great dynamic range. From the fronts, dialogue is clear and understandable, even when characters are talking softly. Great ambiance fills the surrounds, especially from the massive crowd scenes of Roman revelry. The music on the very first menu thumps through the system and also seems mixed a little higher for the credits as well. The subwoofer comes alive during battle sequences.
The set boasts a lot of extras to inform the viewer. Two interactive features can be accessed during the episodes. "All Roads Lead To Rome" provides historical context and "Bloodlines," accessed through pop-up menu, provides character info and explains relationships to others. Thirteen commentary tracks by Heller and Historical Consultant Jonathan Stamp as well as actors and directors in various combinations discuss the series.
"Friends, Romans, Countrymen" covers the characters and plots of the first season. "The Rise of Rome" explores the production design. "Shot X Shot" provides a breakdown of creating a sequence. A grand parade through the streets marks "Caesar's Triumph" becoming Emperor. "Gladiator" focuses on a fight scene. "When In Rome" focuses on the historical accuracy of the series. All these features are in SD.
Stamp discusses the city in "A Tale of Two Romes." Two features examine historical figures that are characters in the series: "The Rise of Octavian: Rome's First Emperor" and " Antony and Cleopatra." "The Making of Rome: Season II" contrasts the seasons and covers new characters. All these features are in HD.
Though occurring two thousand years ago, the characters' motivations and desires in Rome are no different than those of present day. Like other HBO series Oz and The Sopranos, violence is a way of life, occurring when expected yet also at surprising moments. This, and the nudity, may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's not gratuitous. Rather it is an integral element of the story.
Fans of Rome will be happy to relive the stories, and those who missed it the first time around like I did should discover this well-crafted series, at least through rental.