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The Eagle released in the US on February 11, 2011, then took flight on DVD. Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell star in the screen version of Rosemary Sutcliff’s classic novel The Eagle of the Ninth, about a young Roman commander in Britain who ventures north of Hadrian’s Wall to recover the eagle standard lost by his father. Steven posted this report at his facebook page:

At the weeknight screening I attended, there was not a single female in the audience. (There are virtually no women in the movie either, just a few seen in crowd shots.) This is a guy movie, about guys, made by guys, for guys! It feels a lot like a Western (the savage Picts look like the Indians in Last of the Mohicans); it’s all about male bonding and manhood rituals (literally in the case of the young village warriors, figuratively in the case of the Roman played by Channing Tatum, who cannot attain “manhood” until he redeems the memory of his father). Of course, it’s based on a book for boys...written by a woman!

Oscar-winner Kevin Macdonald directed from a script by The Last King of Scotland collaborator Jeremy Brock. Sutcliff’s book was previously dramatized by the BBC in 1977 (see item below). For more Roman mayhem in ancient Scotland, see 2010’s Centurion. And will Mortis Rex ever make it to the big screen?
The Eagle (2011)

The Eagle (see item above) wasn’t the first filmed version of Rosemary Sutcliff”s novel The Eagle of the Ninth; in 1977 the BBC showed a 6-part mini-series based on the book. Steven hoped the publicity generated by the new film would finally bring the old series to DVD, but as 2011 came to a close, no such luck. Seen here: Anthony Higgins as Aquila leading the Roman troops. If you know of any DVD release or TV broadcast, please let Steven know! See more lost movies at Steven’s Wish List page. Update! The series will be released on Region 2 DVD in the UK on 15 January 2018.

On May 8, 2011, BBC broadcast the docudrama Atlantis: End of a World, Birth of a Legend, a docudrama recreating the glories of Minoan civilization on the island of Santorini and the catastrophic volcanic eruption that created the myth of Atlantis. Region 2 DVDs are out there, but if you know of a US broadcast or DVD release, please let Steven know!

Carthago Nova premiered in Cartagena, Spain, on March 25, 2011. The animated docudrama depicts the Roman siege of the Carthaginian colony in Spain, and the subsequent life of the city under Roman rule through a fictional story about the Albinus family and their struggle against the greedy and powerful Lucius Andrus. The city of Carthago Nova is digitally reconstructed from archaeological remains in present-day Cartagena. You can view the whole thing at YouTube in Spanish or in English.

Coriolanus opened December 2, 2011—but only in New York and LA (to qualify for Oscars). For most viewers, this ended up a 2012 movie, with a general US release date of January 20, 2012. Working from a screenplay by Gladiator scripter John Logan, Ralph Fiennes (Hades in Clash of the Titans) makes his directing debut and plays the title role in a modern-dress version of Shakespeare’s play about the Roman warrior who turned against Rome. (The story forms a major chapter in Steven’s novel Roma.) Gerard Butler plays Coriolanus’s enemy-turned-comrade, Aufidius. Tagline: “In the arms of an enemy, he will claim vengeance.” (Are the marketers hip to the story’s homoerotic subtext, much discussed by Shakespeare scholars?) Trailer here; more pix here and here.

Director Tarsem Singh (who last ventured to the Ancient World with the Alexander episode in The Fall) recreated the world of Greek myth (or was it Bollywood?) in Immortals, with worldwide premieres throughout November, 2011. Star Henry Cavill, who plays Theseus, made big news when he was cast as Hollywood’s next Superman. Steven finally saw the movie on DVD and posted this review at his facebook page:
Finally saw Immortals, on DVD. Like 2 hours of being force-fed castor oil. Nothing here to do with Theseus or Greek myth, except name-borrowings; mostly a very low-grade (think Syfy channel with big budget) rip-off of Lord of the Rings (numinous object = bow instead of ring; final scene is a big battle at a huge mountain-girded wall; etc.); and there is a “rousing speech” at the end supposed to mimic Braveheart or 300, but so absurdly awful I laughed out loud. As for sets and costumes and overall look, I’d hoped director Tarsem Singh might have achieved an interesting cross-cultural visual synthesis, but this guy is no Pasolini; his “vision” is all murk and no myth. Storywise, nothing makes sense, especially the behavior of the so-called “gods” as the movie pisses all over Greek myth, fouling the fountainhead of Western culture. Oh well, who needs Western Civilization? Immortals lacks even the gleeful abandon of creative destruction; there is no joy evident in the filmmaking—it’s like someone put a gun to their heads and forced them to make this movie. But, like the equally boneheaded but less yucky Clash of the Titans, this movie was a financial success, so brace yourself for more of the same.

An episode of Batman: The Brave & the Bold (“Time Out for Vengeance,” broadcast September 23, 2011 on Cartoon Network) revealed that many past eras had their own Batman— including Ancient Rome, where he was known guessed it...Batmanicus! The Rome segment was only a small part of the episode, but certainly worth a screencap.

The Malaysian movie Clash of Empires (aka The Malay Chronicles: Bloodlines) released on DVD in the US on September 6, 2011. The fantastical premise: In the reign of Hadrian, a Roman “prince,” one Marcus Carpenius, journeys east to wed a Chinese princess in order to forge an imperial alliance. Watch a trailer here. Steven caught the film and reports:
This is a multicultural Ancient World mash-up, as Chinese, Roman, and Malay elements converge. The main focus is on the Malay warrior Merong Mahawangsa, who becomes the escort and protector of the betrothed couple. It seems (if this wiki article can be trusted) that Merong is an authentic figure from Malay legend, which from ancient times linked him to Rome and also claimed he was descended from Alexander the Great—so the movie’s plot elements, whimsical as they may be, were not assembled entirely from scratch. With its star-crossed lovers, kidnappings by pirates, and epic combats, the plot is like something out of an ancient Greek novel, and I found the movie engaging from start to finish, though the staging of the climactic battle leaves something to be desired (especially in showing the use of an Archimedes-inspired death-ray). The best thing here is a dynamic performance by Welsh-Malay actor Stephen Rahman-Hughes as Merong.

Coming at you in 3D—but only for 20 minutes, and only at The Roman Army Museum at Hadrian’s Wall in the UK—is Edge of Empire: The Eagle’s Eye, a mini-docudrama recreating army life on Rome’s northernmost frontier through the story of Aquila, an ambitious young auxiliary guard taking his first steps as a soldier. Playing the Roman army are members of the famous Ermine Street Guard Roman Re-Enactment Society (lunging at you in photo above). Watch a trailer here, or a making-of short here, or take a trip to Hadrian’s Wall and watch the whole thing in 3D.

Le Destin de Rome (The Destiny of Rome) debuted on French TV in June, 2011; it’s a 104-minute docudrama about the power struggle between Antony, Cleopatra, and Octavian, with dialogue in Greek and Latin (with French subtitles), expert commentary, and CGI recreations of Alexandria and the Battle of Actium. Shown here: Pawel Delag as Antony and Lilly Eido as Cleopatra. (Delag played Marcus Vinicius in the 2001 Polish film Quo Vadis.) See a preview here. The movie released November 8, 2011 on Region 2 DVD in France. An Englsih-language DVD from The Netherlands may be available here. If you know of any other English-language broadcast or DVD release, please let Steven know!

With Libya so much in the news in 2011, Steven was eager to see Leptis Magna, un Rêve de Rome en Afrique (Leptis Magna, a Dream of Rome in Africa), which explores the legacy of Rome in the Northern African country (and was filmed while Gaddafi was still in power). The hour-long documentary by director Baudoin Koenig played the film festival circuit and may also have been shown on French TV; watch an excerpt (in French) here. If you know of any DVD release or US broadcast, please let Steven know!

Sinbad and the Minotaur premiered on Syfy Channel on May 21, 2011; the US DVD released August 30, 2011. Manu Bennett (of Spartacus: Blood and Sand) plays the legendary sailor in “a re-imagining of Greek and Arabic folk tales” centered on a quest to find the head of the Colossus of Rhodes. Look for more Sinbad incarnations to appear in 2012, including Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage, directed by and starring Shahin Sean Solomin, and a Sinbad TV series from the UK.

With Joseph Morgan in the title role, the mini-series Ben Hur aired on CBC in Canada in April, 2010 and released on DVD in Canada in April, 2011. According to the Toronto Globe & Mail, this Ben-Hur offers “lots of sex, manly, bare-chested combat, a spectacular Roman battleship sequence, more sex, lepers and centurions, underdressed lady pagans, a murderous chariot race, and Christ Himself (looking suspiciously like Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski).” The mini-series finally debuted on US television on Ovation on March 31, 2013, with US DVD release on April 30, 2013. Steven says: “While this version won’t take the place of the classic 1959 version in my imagination, it has its virtues, including a good cast and great locations, and in some ways it’s truer to the original Lew Wallace novel.”

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, a 6-episode prequel to Spartacus: Blood and Sand, ran on Starz in January-February, 2011. See the official site here. Steven put Season One of Spartacus: Blood and Sand on his Top 10 Ancient World Movies list. What did he think of this follow-up?

While not quite as awe-inspiring as the original Spartacus series, this prequel nevertheless found everyone at the top of their game, and the final hour delivered some spectacular narrative twists and turns. Fans of the first series were treated to the pleasures of etiological myth: for example, how did a certain character become lame, and another acquire his trademark haircut? Now we know! I admire the creators’ commitment (and ability) to maintain tight, no-loose-ends plotting, and to fill that plot with drama that arises from genuine psychological and historical insight. (Unlike certain other ancient world movies and TV shows we have seen in recent years.) The prurient interest is the hook, but not the real meat of the show. Bravo!

The next season, Spartacus: Vengeance, was announced to begin January, 2012 on Starz, with Liam McIntyre (photo at left) replacing the late Andy Whitfield in the title role. See a trailer at the official site.

Episode 1 of the BBC documentary series Guilty Pleasures (broadcast June 27, 2011) was titled Ancient Athens and focused on the conflict in Classical Greece between democratic movements and ostentation displays of luxury; if that sounds rather highbrow for an hour of telly…it was! No flashy CGI or OTT histrionics from presenter Michael C. Scott, who teaches Classics at the University of Warwick, just a thoughtful and judicious recounting of various issues involved, along with great on-location photography. Somehow it doesn’t seem dry at all, partly because Scott is so, er, easy to look at. More info here. If you have info about any broadcast or DVD release in the US, please let Steven know!

Egypt’s Lost Cities (broadcast by BBC on May 30, 2011) explores efforts by American “space archaeologist” Sarah Parcak to use satellite images to detect previously unknown ancient structures beneath the sands of Egypt. More info here. Despite the gasping enthusiasm of the telegenic young presenters, and relentless, wildly speculative CGI “reconstructions,” the results are spotty at best—as the presenters realize full well, since no over-the-top assertion is made with some immediate qualifier (“could be,” “appears to be,” “suggests,” etc.). A sad example of a disturbingly shoddy new trend in BBC documentary filmmaking, not to be matched until another Sarah Parcak vehicle in 2012, the even more abysmal Rome’s Lost Empire.

With Libya so much in the news in 2011, Steven was eager to see Leptis Magna, un Rêve de Rome en Afrique (Leptis Magna, a Dream of Rome in Africa), which explores the legacy of Rome in the Northern African country (and was filmed while Gaddafi was still in power). The hour-long documentary by director Baudoin Koenig played the film festival circuit and may also have been shown on French TV; watch an excerpt (in French) here. If you know of any DVD release or US broadcast, please let Steven know!

Epic Sword-&-Sandal moviemaking is making a big comeback in...Brazil! Record TV, which in 2010 aired A História de Ester (The Story of Esther), in 2011 launched the most expensive miniseries ever produced by Brazilian TV, Sansão e Dalila (Samson & Delilah), starring national heartthrob Fernando Pavão as the Hebrew hunk and sultry Mel Lisboa as the legendary temptress. Watch a trailer here. Meanwhile, Globo TV aired O Relógio da Aventura (The Clock of Adventure), about a boy who receives a magic clock from his grandfather which allows him to travel back to ancient Rome. Steven is told you can find episdoes of all these shows on YouTube, in Portuguese; there’s also a DVD and Blu-ray of A História de Ester which features English subtitles.

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.


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