Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Malcolm McDowell,
Teresa Ann Savoy, Helen Mirren, Peter O’Toole, John Gielgud
Director: Tinto Brass
Audio: DTS HD 5.0
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2:1
Studio: Image Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: 156 Minutes
Release Date: January 6, 2009
“What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” – Mark 8:36
Film (zero stars)
The above Biblical quote actually opens Caligula, and upon viewing the film, one wonders who our Lord’s barb might be directed at…the legendary mad Roman emperor, or those who turned his story into this wretched film?
When I find myself having to review movies like Citizen Kane or Casablanca, it often gives me pause. These movies have been universally lauded, so what’s left for a layman critic like myself to add to it? Now I find myself at the opposite end of the spectrum: so many bad things have been said of Caligula, so what’s left for me to bring to the table? I can only heap my own derision upon the festering pile that has mounted for some 26 years. To call this picture depraved is an insult to depravity.
And the parade of stars is quite puzzling…Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, Peter O’Toole, John Gielgud? These are some of Britain’s most respected actors. Did Bob Guccione, publisher of Penthouse magazine, really command such respect? When I watch Caligula, all I can do is speculate about the number of agents that probably got fired as a result.
The screenplay was by Gore Vidal, and it was directed by Tinto Brass, both of whom would disown the movie and even file lawsuits against it (Vidal succeeded in getting his name taken off the original title, which was Gore Vidal’s Caligula). The film wanted to push the envelope in terms of graphic sexual content and violence, and it pushed audiences away at the same time.
They came to see it, of course, but few if any were happy at the tedious two and a half hour parade of debauchery. Let’s see, there are men getting their heads lopped off by some sort of behemoth lawn mower device, there’s a man getting tortured to death who has his genitals lopped off and thrown to dogs, who devour it on screen, there’s a fellow force fed volumes of wine and then punctured so the wine spills out everywhere, and there’s an orgy involving the wives of the Roman Senators. That’s just for starters. There’s also urination and vomiting, and not just from audience members.
What were these stars thinking? Did they ever have doubts about lending their name to such a stink? Did Malcolm McDowell even bat an eye when he was informed to lube up, today we’re shooting the fisting scene? It staggers the imagination.
Caligula forms a trifecta for me of the three worst, most unredeeming and most repulsive visions ever to pass as filmed entertainment (the others being Salo and Heavy Traffic). The problem I face is that whenever I pan a film this badly, it ends up as one of our site’s most visited reviews. A friend once pointed out that by ravaging Michael Moore’s Bowling For Columbine, I was probably inspiring people to want to see it. Well, I understand this, but what can I do? My job is to put the information out there, and I can’t be responsible for what those who receive it choose to do with it.
Every black mark against Caligula might actually be worth a dozen or more people deciding to check it out for themselves. If you’re one of them, go with my blessing. You’ve been warned, and you’ll deserve what you get. All I can say is if you find any part of this movie titillating in the least, I don’t want to know you.
This high definition transfer is a modest improvement over previous home video incarnations. Like many 80s movies, this film shows its share of problems. It’s a little soft throughout, with color schemes that seem slightly muted, but let me be clear: I’m NOT calling for the money to be spent on a full scale restoration of this picture.
There’s a remixed DTS HD 5.0 track (no subwoofer signal) that is marginal…most levels except for an occasionally loud music cue are kind of even. The dialogue is frequently badly dubbed; I’m not sure why. Serviceable and nothing more.
The first disc contains both the unrated cut of the film and a never-before-seen pre-release cut, which shows the film before Bob Guccione personally oversaw the addition of some extra hardcore footage. This pre-release version also features three commentary tracks, the best of which features Malcolm McDowell. His memories are generous, insightful and sometimes funny, particularly his thoughts on Peter O’Toole and John Gielgud, and yes, Guccione himself. Or when he talks of having to explain to his 12-year-old son why his dad was featured in the porn section of a local video store.
There is also a commentary featuring Helen Mirren and the author of a book titled 200 Degrees of Failure: The Unmaking of Caligula, which sounds like an intriguing read. This track is a little more sparse than McDowell’s. The third features on-the-fly screenwriter Ernest Volkman. Rounding out are twelve deleted or extended scenes and some trailers.
The second disc is a DVD and contains the rest of the extras, and features both a longer and shorter take on the making of the film. Is it just me, or does everyone who appear on camera seem a little ill at ease? There is also a video interview with Tinto Brass and actors John Steiner and Lori Wagner, plus multiple production photographs and DVD ROM content, including Gore Vidal’s screenplay and an interview with Bob Guccione.
Is this the only X rated movie to begin with a quote from the Bible? Never mind. Just think of all the wonderful things you could spend two and a half hours doing rather than watching Caligula. Go for a walk on the beach. Snuggle with a loved one. Watch a better movie. Heck, even stand in line at the DMV. Seriously…you’ll thank me.