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NEW & FORTHCOMING
ANCIENT WORLD
MOVIES & TV SHOWS:
2014

(Got a new item, correction, or update? Please let Steven know!)

For productions with projected release dates later than 2014,
go to the page for 2015 & Beyond.
For previous years, go to archive pages for 201020112012
2013

The Italian animated feature Gladiators of Rome was first released in Italy in 2012, but debuted in US cinemas on November 11, 2014. Orphaned by the eruption of Vesuvius, young Timo is adopted by a general and raised in the most famous gladiator school in Rome. Carefree Timo is more slacker than hacker—until he meets his new personal trainer, the lovely Lucilla, and decides to make himself the word’s greatest gladiator. If you missed the very limited theatrical release, don’t worry; you can catch this extremely silly movie at iTunes or Amazon.

The bumbling misadventures of young Romans Marcus and Stylax and their lazy slave with an attitude problem, Grumio, continue in Season 2 of Plebs, which leapt out of the gate with a splashy cover story in The Guardian. (Click on image to see it larger.) The 6-part comedy series started September 22, 2014 on UK’s ITV2. Highlights include a Roman stag party in episode 2 (picture above), just as described by Livy! (Or perhaps not.) Preview here. (Season 1 is now available on Region 2 DVD; and yes, there will also be a Season 2 Region 2 DVD.)


First shown on BBC on October 16, 2014, the documentary Swallowed by the Sea: Ancient Egypt’s Greatest Lost City follows a team of maritime archaeologists as they uncover artifacts from Heracleion, a major coastal city lost to a mysterious subsidence in the second century BCE that was rediscovered in 2000. The official BBC page is here. If you know of any DVD release, or TV broadcast in the US, please let Steven know!

It’s been a long, rocky road—one that would try the patience of a saint!—but Katherine of Alexandria has finally made it to the screen…sort of. It will be TV, not movie, screens for this 2014 straight-to-DVD release, and the title has been changed to the nondescript Decline of an Empire. Katherine is gone not only from the title, but from the cover art as well—it’s just a bunch of old geezers now! And she’s vanished entirely from the trailer, which suggests that the movie may have been re-edited to focus on the wars of the emperor Constantine.

As originally pitched back in 2010, the drama about the legendary Egyptian martyr was clearly intended to be a Christian reply to Agora, with the same setting (Alexandria) and many details in common (a library is destroyed, and the heroine must brave a terrible fate). If this sounds suspiciously like Agora, consider that some historians (see Harold Thayer Davis, Alexandria: The Golden City) believe that Katherine may not have existed at all, but was invented specifically to serve as a Christian counterpart to the pagan philosopher Hypatia, the heroine of Agora.

So, did those who hated Agora hope to have the last word with Katherine of Alexandria…er, Decline of an Empire? Early production notes claimed that this “true story” was “inspired by the recent discovery of the 4th-century diary of St. Katherine”; if you know anything about this purported (bogus?) document, please let Steven know. Peter O’Toole now gets top billing (expect a cameo), with newcomers Nicole Madjarov as Katherine and Jack Goddard as Constantine. The production was plagued by charges of non-payment to cast and crew, but the movie (or one version of it) was completed as early as 2011, if the catalogue entry at this page can be trusted, and there’s still an official web site that features the original title. Perhaps the real drama here is the decline of Katherine of Alexandria?


Update 7/2014: Here’s a retroactive addition to the 2012 Archive Page that Steven just found out about: the 2012 Italian TV biopic Santa Barbara, about the 4th century saint. Vanessa Hessler plays the title role, but viewers around the world will probably more readily recognize her costar, Simone Montedoro, from his role as a police officer in the TV show Don Matteo. Here he's Claudius, the Roman soldier loved by Barbara, who ends up as a gladiator fighting for his life. A US DVD, also released in 2012, gets rave reviews at Amazon.

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The UK series Time Scanners debuted in the US on PBS on July 15, 2014 with an episode about Petra, the Nabataean city in Jordan with fabulous buildings carved from sandstone. Using new laser technology, our hosts (Dallas Campbell and engineer Steve Burrows) sought to demonstrate some new ideas about how the structures were built. Another episode trained new tech on exploring the pyramids. DVDs are available of both the Petra and Egyptian Pyramids episodes, and the whole season of the show is streaming at Amazon.

Finally on DVD: Prisoners of the Sun, in which an archaeological expedition discovers a lost city beneath a pyramid and re-awakens the gods of ancient Egypt. This movie has been awaiting release since 2008. Director Roger Christian, who won an Oscar for Star Wars art direction and a nomination for Alien, says the film was mired in legal problems despite interest by distributors. “It has huge production value; we shot some really great stuff and had a really good cast too.” The movie is also streaming at Amazon Instant Video, where you can see a trailer.

First Ancient World movie out of the box for 2014, with a January 10 opening: Hercules: The Legend Begins, with Twilight star Kellan Lutz in the title role. (Lutz previously ventured into Ancient World territory to play Poseidon in Immortals.) The story appears to be a mish-mash of recent movies and TV shows, not drawn from Greek myth—something about the demigod’s love for a princess of Crete who’s been promised to his older brother despite her undying love for Hercules, and Herc is enslaved and has to fight as a gladiator, and then he breaks his bonds like Samson and realizes he’s a demigod and starts lashing a really cool CGI whip made of lightning, and then…huh? Watch the trailer here. (Now on DVD.)

Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey came out on DVD in the US on January 14, 2014. The Ab Fab star shows her brainy side on a grand tour of Greece, exploring the fascination of ancient sites. Intrepid, inexhaustible, and ever curious, Lumley is like the travel companion of your dreams. A previous series, Joanna Lumley’s Nile, came out on DVD in the US last year.

Presenter Alastair Sooke took BBC viewers on a dazzling tour of Treasures of Ancient Egypt, a three-part series aired in the UK in January, 2014. The official BBC page is here. If you know of any DVD release, or TV broadcast in the US, please let Steven know!

Professor Joann Fletcher explores life as a woman of power in ancient Egypt in Egypt’s Lost Queens, a one-hour documentary first broadcast on BBC on September 4, 2014. The official BBC page is here. If you know of any DVD release, or TV broadcast in the US, please let Steven know!

Ooops! Here a left-over item from last year that Steven missed—the US DVD release on November 15, 2013 of Restless Heart: The Confessions of Augustine. The movie was first shown on Italian TV (under the title Sant’Agostino) in 2010 as a 2-part mini-series. The title role is split between Alessandro Preziosi (photo above) and Franco Nero (who plays the Roman African saint at age 75). It’s from the same production company that made Augustus, Nero, and St. Peter. (In 1972, Roberto Rossellini made a move for Italian TV, Agostino d’Ippona/Augustine of Hippo; if you know of any English-language release of that film, please let Steven know!)

Thanks to the huge success of 300, watch for a sequel...er, prequel...300: Rise of an Empire, scheduled for release on March 7, 2014. Rodrigo Santoro will return as Persian king Xerxes, taking on heroic Greek commander Themistocles, played by Sullivan Stapleton. Seen here: unidentified Spartan warrior on the set. (Photo credit: Bleu at JFX Online.) (Now on DVD.)

Russell Crowe will play the title role in Noah, a $125 million epic directed by Darren Aronofsky of Black Swan fame. Entertainment Weekly quotes producer Scott Franklin as saying “We stayed very true to the story and didn’t really deviate from the Bible,” but also says that “reports suggest the film reimagines Noah as a wandering warrior who encounters six-armed fallen angels.” Release is set for March 28, 2014. (Now on DVD.).

The new movie version of Hercules directed by Brett Ratner and starring Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson (photo at right) was based on the graphic novel Hercules: The Thracian Wars. (After the muscular success of 300, it was inevitable that Hollywood would turn to more comic books to give us visions of the Ancient World.) The cast also includes Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Joseph Fiennes, Irina Shayk, and John Hurt. Release date: July 25, 2014. (Soon on DVD.)

Hey, what these guys staring at? From the looks on their faces, they’re probably watching the movie they’re in, Hercules Reborn—a low-budget “mockbuster” released on July 15, 2014 to piggyback on the hype for Dwayne Johnson’s Hercules flick. TV wrestler John Hennigan plays the title role. This turkey is available on DVD, but if you’re really curious, you can watch the whole thing streaming for free (with ads) at YouTube.

Director Ridley Scott, who won an Oscar for Gladiator, joins the religious movie bandwagon with Exodus: Gods and Kings, starring Christian Bale as Moses, calling on the power of the god of the Jews to free his people from Joel Edgerton’s Ramses. See all the Plagues of Egypt, now in 3D! The film is set to release December 12, 2104. See a trailer here.

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Comin’ at ya—a second season of the BBC series Atlantis. Steven thought Season One was a yawner, but the show scored big ratings in the UK. Expect more mythological malapropisms, wasted opportunities, and shirtless Jason.

Are you ready for more of The Bible? In 2013, History Channel debuted the 10-hour dramatic mini-series last year to huge ratings and massive sales of the DVD and Blu-ray—and even a tie-in novel for those too lazy to read the original. 2014 saw theatrical release of a pared-down movie version of the series, Son of God. Next, look for a “sequel” mini-series, A.D. Beyond the Bible, sold to NBC.

What are we to make of this new generation of gladiators movies, I ask you? Tis a puzzlement. Fortunately, Mallory Ortberg, who blogs at The Toast, is here to help with some hilariously spot-on postings including Three Characters You Meet in Every Gladiator Movie, Dialogue From My Upcoming Feature Film “Gladi-haters”, and Historical Inaccuracies in Pompeii 3D. And don‘t even get her started on The Problem with Having Dinner with Cato the Elder

Before we move on to 2015…2014’s Pompeii may have been dud, but it did prompt Steven to take a look back at previous depictions of the doomed city. These movies & TV shows come from different countries and decades, but all have two things in common: a volcano…and gladiators!
In the new movie Pompeii (release date February 2014) the spectacular eruption of Vesuvius is almost as impressive as Kit Harington’s abs. Holy Isis, what a six-pack! The synopsis bubbles over with pot-boiler clichés—something about a gladiator whose best friend is a slave, who’s in love with his master’s daughter, who’s betrothed to a corrupt Roman senator…but who cares, because everyone knows the volcano is about to blow its top! (Now on DVD.)
From the Golden Age of the mini-series comes The Last Days of Pomepii. This 253-minute extravaganza boasts an amazing cast: Laurence Olivier, Franco Nero, Brian Blessed, Ned Beatty, Olivia Hussey, Nicolas Clay, Lesley-Anne Downe, Anthony Quayle, and Duncan Regehr as the gladiator Lydon. Steven says: “I remember watching this mini-series when it was first broadcast in 1984, when shows like Dallas ruled the TV ratings, so it’s not surprising that this version finds the oft-told story done in all-out soap opera mode. Watching is like eating popcorn: you just can’t stop! The melodrama and villainy and pathos are totally over the top, but why not? Vesuvius is about to blow!” (Update: there’s a new DVD release for 2014, but it appears to have a shorter runtime that the older DVD.)
Last Days of Pompeii (1913) Italian silent based on Bulwer-Lytton’s famous novel. Intrigues and gladiator combats come to a halt when Vesuvius unleashes its molten fury! Last Days of Pompeii (1935) The team behind King Kong recreates the eruption of Vesuvius. Preston Foster is a good guy turned gladiator; Basil Rathbone plays Pontius Pilate.
Last Days of Pompeii (1959) Italian sword & sandal version stars Steve Reeves and Fernando Rey. Includes bonus print of the racy, super-rare 1926 silent (mislabeled 1913). Pompeii: The Last Day + Colosseum: A Gladiator’s Story Two superb docudramas on one DVD. Hunky Robert Shannon scores as Verus the gladiator!
Doctor Who: Complete Fourth Series includes “The Fires of Pompeii, ” in which the Doctor (David Tennant) makes his second visit to the Roman Empire.

Pompei, gli ultimi giorni (Pompeii: the Last Days), an Italian mini-series from the producers of Augustus, Nero, and St. Peter, was broadcast in March, 2007. The international cast includes director Giulio Base as Pliny. There’s a Region 2 DVD in English and German. If you know of another DVD release or TV broadcast, please let Steven know!

Pompei, ieri, oggi, domani (Pompeii: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow), an Italian mini-series starring Victor Alfieri, was first broadcast in 2007. Steven watched a Region 2 DVD from the Czech Republic (purchased from a site that appears to be defunct) and reports: “Enjoyed the sets, special effects, and gladiators; the terrible dubbing and melodrama, not so much!” An English-language Blu-ray has been spotted at Amazon, and the mini-series has also been found at eThaiCD.com. There’s also a UK Region 2 DVD under the title Gladiator of Pomeii. If you know of any other DVD release or TV broadcast, please let Steven know!
Holy Isis, there may be yet another Pompeii project in the works, this one a TV miniseries based on Robert Harris’s best-selling novel Pompeii, with a script by Robert Towne (who won an Oscar for Chinatown), and Ridley Scott (director of Gladiator) among the producers. But there’s been no news about this project for a while, and it has a long history of problems. (Once upon a time, Roman Polanski was set to direct, but instead he filmed Harris’ contemproary poltical thriller The Ghost Writer.) If you have an update, please let Steven know! Image: detail from the painting “The Last Day of Pompeii” by Karl Bryullov.


Gertrude Stein Matisse Picasso SFMOMA modern art
From the introduction to Seneca: Four Tragedies and Octavia, by E. F. Watling:

Cicero, at the festival celebrating the opening of Rome’s first permanent theatre, complained of the pathetic performances of old-fashioned actors past their prime, and of the spectacular ostentation which had been imposed on the old tragedies: “Who wants to see six hundred mules in Clytaemnestra or three hundred goblets in The Trojan Horse, or a battle between fully equipped armies of horse and foot?”

What would Cicero have made of 300?


From Achilles to Zeus: Stephen Moss, film writer for The Guardian, offers an A-Z guide to Ancient World movies. His spot-on entry for the letter S: “Slaves: Notable by their absence in films about Sparta, even though they were the bedrock of Spartan society. Presumably acknowledgment of Sparta’s large slave population would sit oddly with a portrayal of a heroic society that valued freedom...” Click here to read the entire alphabet.


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But wait—there’s more!

Steven’s International Online Ancient World Film Festival
Watch this collection of mini-movies right here, right now!

Steven’s Wish List
Will we ever see these legendary
movies and TV shows?
Where Are
the Euro Movies?

Movies and TV shows from England & Europe, never shown in the US.


DVD Shop: WHERE ARE THE EURO MOVIES?ONLINE FILM FEST
SWORD & SANDAL MOVIES DOCUMENTARIESANCIENT CINEMA BOOKS
HAIL SHAKESPEARE!STEVEN’S TOP 10 MOVIES LISTWISH LIST
ROMEGREECEEGYPT & BIBLICAL EPICS
ENGLISH-LANGUAGE DVDS FROM GERMANY



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