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Coming in 2014

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

With all the hoopla about Pompeii, Steven takes a look back at previous depictions of the doomed city. These movies & TV shows come from many different countries and decades, but all have two things in common: a volcano…and gladiators!
The new movie Pompeii (which opened in theaters in 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! And the 300 sequel comes out the next month, in which we are likely to see even more impressive abs (even if they are painted on).
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!”
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 the Region 2 DVDs from the Czech Republic (unfortuantely, this link 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 If you know of any other DVD release or TV broadcast, please let Steven know!
Holy Isis, there may be a second Pompeii project in the works for 2014, 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.

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.

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!.

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, 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.) Watch the first trailer here.

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.

With Bible movies all the rage, two big projects about Moses are in the works. Ridley Fox will direct Exodus for Fox, with Christian (no pun intended) Bale as Moses, aiming for a December 2014 release. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. has another Moses movie in the works titled Gods and Kings. It will take quite a performance, and quite a movie, to match the impression made by Charlton Heston in Cecil B. DeMille’s campy but classic The Ten Commandments. If you have updates, please let Steven know!

Brace yourself for more Plebs! The 6-part comedy series that ran last year on UK’s ITV has been renewed for a second season, to air in 2014. Can the bumbling misadventures of young Romans Marcus and Stylax and their lazy slave with an attitude problem, Grumio, possibly become more low-brow…or hilarious? (Season One is now available on Region 2 DVD.)

Horror director Len Wiseman (of Underworld Trilogy fame) is looking to direct a new Mummy movie for release in 2014. To hear Wiseman’s pitch, it’s all about snagging the largest possible audience: “We’re reaching into the deep roots of The Mummy, which at its beating heart is a horror movie and then an action movie, and putting it into a context that is real and emotional. It’s still a four quadrant film but as a lot of recent movies have proven, audiences are hungry for more than they used to be. You can still have a family movie, an action movie that’s more grounded than these used to be. Without saying too much, we’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from Michael Crichton’s books, and how he ground fantastical sales in modern-day science.” Do people in Hollywood really talk like this? Yes they do! At IMDb, this forthcoming “film product” currently has the moniker of Untitled Mummy Reboot. Sounds like a movie with lots of heart. (Photo above: the real mummy of Ramses II.)

Look for a new movie version of Hercules directed by Brett Ratner and starring Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson (photo at right), 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 is set for July 25, 2014.

Odeya Rush will play the title role in the feature film Mary Mother of Christ. Peter O’Toole (as Symeon) and Ben Kingsley (as Herod) will lend star-power to the cast. Look for release in December 2014.

Steven is sometimes asked: Why doesn’t Hollywood make your books into movies? Maybe it’s because they’re too busy coming up with better ideas, like…ZvG: Zombies vs. Gladiators. Yes, that’s a real project, possibly to be helmed by veteran horror writer-director Clive Barker, aiming for 2014 release; more info here. It’s the latest of a trend of upcoming Ancient World+monster mash-ups (see items about Gladiators vs. Werewolves and Mortis Rex elsewhere on this page). No movies about Roman sleuths in sight.
It had to happen: Gladiators v. Werewolves! Britannia, A.D. 160: When a Roman governor discovers a clan of werewolves, he decides to capture the beasts so he can show them off in the arena—but the fur flies when the werewolves strike back. Official web page is here. According to IMDb, shooting commenced in June 2012…so where is the movie? If you have more info, please let Steven know. There’s more Ancient World monster mayhem upcoming in Mortis Rex and Zombies vs. Gladiators (see items elsewhere on this page).

The Ancient World monster movie Mortis Rex (Latin for “King of the Dead”) is set in A.D. 122, as a disgraced Roman warrior, sent to defend a garrison in remote Scotland from a spate of mysterious killings, must unite with the local Druids to vanquish a terrifying supernatural beast. The project is the brainchild of Hellboy co-writer Peter Briggs. The setting (Hadrian’s Wall and beyond) is similar to 2010’s Centurion and 2011’s The Eagle; there’s more monster mayhem in Roman Britain upcoming in Gladiators v. Werewolves and more supernatural madness with Zombies vs. Gladiators (see items elsewhere on this page). Latest updates may be found at the project’s facebook page. Concept art above by Stuart Jennett.

In the works for 2014 is Jason and the Argonauts: The Kingdom of Hades, apparently based on the graphic novel of the same name, which follows the fortunes of the Argonauts after the quest for the Golden Fleece—essentially a sequel to the 1963 movie Jason and the Argonauts. See a preview of the graphic novel here. The same publisher, under the “Ray Harryhausen Presents” imprint, gave us the graphic novel Wrath of the Titans.

Among a spate of upcoming religious-themed movies is Nicaea, which begins with the blood-soaked triumph of the Christian emperor Constantine at the battle of the Milvian Bridge outside Rome, then proceeds to depict the intrigue and infighting at the Council of Nicaea, which established the official creed of state-sponsored Christianity (and classified dissidents as heretics). From the info to be gleaned at the movie’s official site (including an interview with hedge fund manager and producer Charles Parlato), expect a pious rendering of the story. Production is scheduled to begin in 2014.

Are you ready for more of The Bible? 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?). Now there’s talk of a pared-down movie version of the series for 2014 (tentative tiltle: Son of God), as well as a “sequel,” A.D. Beyond the Bible, sold to NBC.

In Prisoners of the Sun, an archaeological expedition discovers a lost city beneath a pyramid and re-awakens the gods of ancient Egypt. This trailer went up in 2008. Director Roger Christian, who won an Oscar for Star Wars art direction and a nomination for Alien, says the film has been 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.” This per a post at IMDb, which now shows several international DVD releases upcoming in 2014. If you have info any release in the US, please let Steven know!

Coming in 2015 and Beyond…

Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, the married team who brought you The Bible miniseries on History Channel, have been signed by CBS to produce a 4-hour miniseries based on Alice Hoffman’s novel The Dovekeepers, for broadcast in 2015. The novel tells the story of four women in ancient Israel whose lives intersect at Masada, the mountaintop stronghold which was besieged by the Roman army around 74 B.C. The famous siege was previously the subject of the novel and miniseries Masada, broadcast in 1981, which happens to be on Steven’s Top Ten Ancient World Movies list.

Mark Wahlberg has signed as producer for The Roman, an action biopic about the young Julius Caesar's adventures when he was kidnapped by pirates. In the history books (following Caesar’s version of events), the snotty upper-crust captive lorded it over his rag-tag captors, was ransomed, then came back and crucified all the pirates to teach them a lesson, thus establishing his bona fides as a no-nonsense law-and-order politician; will Hollywood deliver the same stern moral lesson? Mary Butts wrote a great short story about this episode, “A Roman Speaks,” included in the collection The Classical Novels, and the Sword & Sandal genre gave us Caesar Against the Pirates (1962), with Uruguayan actor Gustavo Rojo as Caesar and Gordon Mitchel as the pirate king—read a review here, or watch here. But if you want the real story of Caesar and the Pirates, Roman historian Josiah Osgood explores all the sources here. Illustration above: artist unknown. (If you can identify the source, please let Steven know!) Look for The Roman in 2015.

Will there be a new big-screen version of Ben-Hur? Timur Bekmambetov (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) will direct a new version of the classic novel about a wealthy Jew who falls from grace, then finds another kind of grace thanks to Jesus, with slavery, sea battles and chariot races along the way. The Charlton Heston version (image above) set a record for Oscar-wins back in 1959; a TV miniseries made a lesser splash a few years ago. IMDb shows a target release date of 2015 for this latest version. If you have an update on the project, please let Steven know!

In development is The Redemption of Cain, based on the Bible story of the world’s first siblings. One of them is murdered…but it’s not much of a whodunit, is it? Cain and Abel, Romulus and Remus; brothers were always killing each other in the Ancient World! Reports suggest that Will Smith may make his directorial debut with this movie, and rumor has it that the script by Caleeb Pinkett (brother of jada) puts a vampiric twist on the Bible tale. The poster art at left mysteriously appeared at the film’s IMDb page; the cuneiform supposedly translates, “Call Your God,” and promises release in Summer 2015. If you have an update, please let Steven know!

In 53 BC, the Roman army of Crassus was massacred by Parthian forces at the battle of Carrhae. In the 1940s, Oxford scholar Homer H. Dubs speculated that some of Crassus’s Roman soldiers were taken prisoner and eventually found themselves in the Gansu province of Han Dynasty China. From this intriguing material, scripter Kurt Johnstad is working on a movie project titled The Lost Legion for Warner Bros. (Johnstad was co-writer of 300 and its forthcoming sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire.) IMDb now shows a 2015 release. The Lost Legion apparently has no connection to the 2005 novel Empire of Dragons by Valerio Massimo Manfredi (cover art above), which engaged in similar clash-of-cultures speculation. (Manfredi set his story in A.D. 260, with the capture of the Roman emperor Valerian by the Persians.) Did a “lost legion” of Romans really end up in China? Read a rather skeptical Wikipedia article about the question here. If you have updates on this project, please let Steven know!

In the Works Rumored On the Shelf:

Among the numerous Bible-inspired movies in development, this may be the most off-beat: Unholy Night, based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, who previously gave us Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. In this take on the Nativity, the Three Wise Men turn out to be professional killers who deliver lots of Hollywood-style blood and gore to liven up the otherwise ho-hum tale of Jesus’ birth. To get an idea of what the movie might look like, check out this animated book trailer.

The Northern Mist is a graphic novel/movie project from writer Patrick O'Brien and Cohort Pictures. In the misty north of England, Roman soldiers battle savage Britons and Picts, as well as an enemy they’ve never encountered before. The horror/action project joins other movies in the works with a supernatural theme set in Roman Briton, including Mortis Rex, Gladiators v. Werewolves, and Zombies vs. Gladiators (see items elsewhere on this page.) Illustration above: “Early stage pencil drawing of Legionnaire Dax. Doing what he does best.” You can keep abreast of progress at the project’s facebook page.

No, not a new movie…but probably soon to be one: Shadow Legion, a 4-part graphic novel from Amigo Comics in which Romans battle monsters, promised for 2013. It’s part of a Roman horror trend exemplified by movie projects like ZvG: Zombies vs. Gladiators (see items elsewhere on this page). Love the cover art by Enrique Lorenzana.

Angelina Jolie as Cleopatra? Producer Scott Rudin (Oscar winner for No Country for Old Men) bought the screen rights to Pultizer Prize-winning biographer Stacy Schiff”s bestseller Cleopatra: A Life and hinted at a movie project to be developed for and with Jolie. If it happens, expect release no earlier than 2015.

Latest news on the new TV version of I, Claudius (based on the novel by Robert Graves) comes from a story in the New York Times from November 23, 2012, which notes the HBO and BBC2 have “joined to remake the mini-series, with the creative team that produced the HBO series Rome in charge.” (Derek Jacobi catapulted to stardom as the stuttering emperor in the 1976 BBC miniseries; picture at right.) Got an update? Please let Steven know!

From Variety: “After turning Homer’s epic poem The Iliad into the 2004 film Troy, Warner Bros. and Brad Pitt are teaming with director George Miller to adapt the Greek poet’s other masterwork, The Odyssey. Their intention is to transfer the tale to a futuristic setting in outer space.” There’s been zero buzz about this project for a while. Has it been shelved? If you have info, please let Steven know! (Photo: Brad Pitt as Achilles on the set of Troy.)
Another Brad Pitt rumor has him playing the Roman governor of Judea who sat in judgment on Jesus, taking the title role in Pontius Pilate. Read a description of the screenplay and an interview with writer Vera Blasi here. If you have more info, please let Steven know! (Photo by Sam Taylor-Wood)
Gianni Nunnari, producer of Alexander, 300, and Immortals, has more irons in the Ancient World fire. Along with the 300 sequel Rise of an Empire, Nunnari is working on a movie about the young Julius Caesar based on Conn Iggulden’s Emperor novel series, and Odysseus, in development. The latter is not the Brad Pitt futuristic Oddysey project (see the item elsewhere on this page). Will it be a full-blown Ancient World epic? If you have updates on any of these projects, please let Steven know!

A few years ago the Web buzzed with news that Catherine Zeta-Jones would play Cleopatra in a 3-D musical, Cleo, to be directed by Steven Soderbergh. Although the story has been oft-filmed (most famously with the 1963 Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor in the title role), this Cleo would be Hollywood’s first musical based on the star-crossed lovers—and transposed to 1920s America, with songs by the group Guided by Voices. (No buzz about this project in a long time. Has it been shelved? If you have info, please let Steven know!)

For years, the grapevine buzzed about John Boorman’s ambition to film Marguerite Yourcenar’s classic novel Memoirs of Hadrian. The last round of rumors posited 007 star Daniel Craig as Hadrian; no word on who might play Antinous, the young lover deified by the emperor after drowning in the Nile. For the ultimate in Antinous worship, visit The Sacred Antinous. To see videos about Hadrian by the British Museum, click here. Got an update? Please let Steven know!

Young Alexander the Great, about the conqueror’s teenaged years (think “Alexander 90210”), stars Sam Heughan (right) as Alexander and Paul Telfer (of Hercules and Spartacus) as Hephaestion. This movie has been in the can since 2007. If you have more info, please let Steven know! Meanwhile, you can watch a rare German commercial featuring a young, sword-wielding Paul Telfer—see image at left—at this page. (You must be a registed adult at Dailymotion to view this video.)
Spanish auteur Julio Medem (Sex and Lucía) may direct Pericles and Aspasia, an English-language film based on one of antiquity’s great love stories, between the 50-year-old Pericles, ruler of Athens in its fifth century B.C. heyday, and the 24-year-old Aspasia, a free-thinking, sexually liberated beauty who was also a skilled rhetorician. There’s been zero buzz about this project for a while; if you have more info, please let Steven know! (And has anyone out there read the recent novel by Karen Essex about Aspasia, Stealing Athena?)

Coming down the chimney one of these years? Nicholas of Myra is about the original St. Nick. No, Virginia, not Santa Claus, but his ancient prototype who attended the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, shortly after Constantine the Great made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. This independent feature, clearly a labor of love, has been in production for years, with a lavish web site. But where is the movie? If you have any release info, please let Steven know!

Will there be a feature film follow-up to the TV series Rome? Executive producer and scripter Bruno Heller has such a project in development with the working title Bona Dea. The story broke here. Actor Kevin McKidd (Vorenus) affirmed that Heller was still working on the script as of late 2010.
Way back in March, 2009, the web buzzed with talk that Scarlett Johansson would star in The Amazon Warrior, the tale of a gladiatrix who exacts vengeance on the army that destroyed her homeland, circa 200 B.C., with a screenplay by the team of Dirk Blackman and Howard McCain (scripters for Outlander and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans). Since then, Scarlett grew up and became an Avenger! Got an update? Please let Steven know!
Vin Diesel long ago announced his intention to make his directorial debut and star as Hannibal the Conqueror, the Carthaginian general who crossed the Alps with elephants to menace Rome, working from a script by Oscar-winner David Franzoni (Gladiator, King Arthur) based on the novel Hannibal by Ross Leckie. (Victor Mature played the role in the 1960 Hannibal, and Alexander Siddig starred in a 2006 BBC telemovie included as an extra in the DVD set Warriors.) Will Vin’s dream ever come to fruition? If you’ve got an update, please let Steven know!
When in Rome...check out 3D Rewind Rome, playing in a theater near the Colosseum. The 30-minute virtual-reality guided tour of the city circa A.D. 310 includes a walk through the teeming Subura, a forbidden peek at the Vestals in their temple, and a gladiator combat with the emperor Maxentius presiding. Watch a trailer on YouTube.

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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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.


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