The movie's design looks more like a mad combination of Byzantium, the early Roman Church and the early European middle ages than it does the later Roman Empire. Is this due to it being shot on location in Spain?
Samuel Bronston produced this, with Anthony Mann as director, and Sophia Loren as leading lady (and the only lady in Fall), all them repeating for El Cid. A very young Omar Sharif plays a not so good guy, the Armenian king and husband of Lucilla, who, of course, is passionate for Livius.
You will never see so many reaction shots of two people turning their heads to look at each other to note each other's reaction to something someone else says – sets of couples, doing this, in sequence in the same scene. 3 hours long with intermission and overture, these were some of most drawn out talky scenes you'll ever find this side of the BBC I, Claudius (1976). The first part is Marcus Aurelius philosophizing with Timodes and Livius and with Charon. Not even Sophia Loren cheers up the monochromatic dreariness of the snow and smoke and forests of Germania. Many fights, many battles, much posturing, blow-harding and processing. The last hour, though equally plodding, is more colorful, as we at last get to Rome.
Never will you see so many restive horses on screen, particularly the chariot horses. It was as though the equines kept trying get you to look at them instead of those people talking. The horses are right; they are more interesting to watch.
Did The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) put an end the sequence of Hollywood's big budget spectacles, the movies that were more than movies, but Grand Public Events, the development, casting and filming of which were followed in national magazines and newspapers around the world?
- The Ten Commandments (1956);
- Ben Hur (1959) – there's a chariot race in The Fall too, outdoors, not in a stadium, i.e. not really a race, and pointless in terms of the movie's plot;
- Spartacus (1960);
- El Cid (1961);
- Cleopatra (1963)
The big historical spectacle seemed pretty much bankrupted too for the big screen. It's interesting to see this genre revived with the rise of cable television. However, looking at Spartacus: Blood and Sand, this hasn't been a happy development.
In contrast however, Rome (2005 - 2007, HBO, BBC), was the perfection of trash entertainment: its political events and historically named characters had little reltionship to what we study as history in hopes of learning more about our own times. But Rome's historical detail in the clothes and armor, the street life and the graffiti, all of it was as exact as they could make it. That it looked so wonderful played no small role in the show's splendid entertainment value. I was sorry there were no more seasons of Rome. No blue screens and cgi for them. Which, of course made it very expensive, whereas Blood and Sand is very cheap, and looks cheap on every level. They don't even spend any money on the male characters, who are naked mostly except for ball & penii pouches and weaponry. Instead of entertainment you have grisly brutal endless sequences of violent confrontation. Sensation, not entertainment. Eye-ball aversion but not any story, nor any characters.
But hey! Look-ee, look-ee! Shot almost entirely against blue screen and done via cgi -- it's like the politically and historically stupid on every level, 300. Much, Much, MUCH showing bare flesh, full frontals even of the guys -- the gladiators all have like triple sixpacked abs, their muscles have muscles -- and the penises -- penii? -- of the hermaphrodites, and of course naked breasts every where all the time. Much simulation of sex everywhere all the time. And even more brutality and fake blood gouting everywhere from many shorn body parts. It's extreme violence, set to -- yes! -- heavy metal sound track, and the crowds crowding at the fighting events also act like they're at a rock concert or a soccer game, with the women, why yes, they do BARE THEIR BREASTS when their favorite comes out to waves of heavy metal, or kills someone in a specially bloody manner.
How far we've come from The Ten Commandments' Deborah Carr's slave girl, Lilia, shrinking from Edward G. Robinson as Dathan, and his oily command as to the placement of the Nile lotus in her hair. This command stands in for what in Blood and Sand would be many minutes of naked, sweaty grinding of abdomens, grabbing of bruised breast flesh and then, probably, many more minutes of bloody brutal death. Guess which one provokes authentic fear, pity and anger in the viewer?