Thursday, March 12, 2009

Blu-ray Review: Caligula (1979)

Please keep in mind that Caligula is an extremely pornographic movie; continue reading the review with that in mind, if you wish. Unlike all of my previous reviews, I think that I will be starting with the technical aspects of Caligula, then moving into the actual movie itself. See, I think that more people focus on the end of the piece, not the beginning, and believe that the actual review of Caligula, as a move, is far more important than the review of its Blu-ray parts. With that in mind, let’s start with the visual aspect of Caligula on Blu-ray

The visual quality of Caligula is exactly what you would expect from a movie made thirty years ago. Grafting a movie onto a blu-ray disc can slightly improve the quality of the look, but what really matters is the quality of the film that was used in the first place. Caligula used low-quality film for the cameras, and that shows up when you try and watch the movie on a HDTV. You can easily see ghosting, the grains of the film, and several other problems with the actual imagry.

That said, however, not all was bad. With the move to blu-ray, the colors of the film seemed to become brighter, and the black levels were deeper. This is easily noticeable in the first few scenes, especially the opening forest scene and the introductory swimming scene. I am not sure exactly what caused this change, if it was a digital enhancement or simply a product of the blu-ray process. Either way, the color change was appreciated and very interesting.

Moving onto sound, you notice that Caligula is not presented in the normal Dobly TruHD that is typical of blu-ray movies. Nope, it is presented in a Dolby sound that is stereo; the typical one you will find from standard DVDs. I was not really too happy with the sound quality, but I didn’t expect much coming from a movie that is roughly thirty years old. There are occasional spots where the sound mixing fizzled, where you lose dialog, and a few times where the volume change is absurd. Once or twice the music got a bit too loud, and it drowned out everything else.

There, now all the bad stuff is out of the way, let’s talk about Caligula as a movie. To start, I think that we should have a little history lesson. Ancient Rome was not sexually obsessed in any manner. As a Roman History major friend put it: ”they were much more open about sex; however, they were also far more conservative then modern America”. Basically, the Romans were fine with the concept of sex, but they were not having sex all of the time, nor were they having sex in public. This is a major theme of Caligula, and one which is greatly incorrect. Sure, it might be a movie, but I do not like things this historically off of center. No matter what you might see saying otherwise, the Romans were not hyper sexualized.

Caligula tells the story of a fledging Roman youth (I wonder what his name is) as he migrates from being the heir to the throne, to being the emperor, to being beheaded. This movie starts with Caligula’s rise to power, when he is frolicking in the woods having sex with his sister. It then moves on to when he ascertains the throne of Rome and discusses his popularity and love. Finally, the movie comes crashing down due to the madness that we associate more often with Nero. The movie does this in a somewhat slow paced fashion, which surprisingly fits the film. Oh, and on a side note, it interjects hard-core pornography throughout.

Caligula has several major stars to its name which gives it some acting chops. The movie stars Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange) as the emperor himself. His love interest, and sister, is played by Teresa Ann Savoy ( Salon Kitty ) and she shows acting ability that was not seen in her earlier works. Academy award winner Dame Helen Mirren (The Queen) plays Caesonia with the same passion and energy that she has come to be known for. The great acting cast is rounded out by Peter O’Toole (Lawrence of Arabia) and Sir John Gielgud (Chariots of Fire). The great actors have companions that are not so great at acting, the porn stars that did all of the sex scenes.

Caligula was a very interesting movie to watch. I had no idea that it was so pornographic when I decided to review it (I did have a warning about mature) so I as a bit surprised. However, it was not as bad as it was described on the interwebs. Don’t get me wrong, my sensibilities and boundaries were definitely breached (I never want to see homosexual sex, no matter what gender, again); however, that didn’t mean that the movie was not enjoyable. The acting, as mentioned above, was quite good, the overall story was compelling, and the script was decent. I really liked the interplay of the various actors, and they pulled the movie off perfectly.

Quite frankly, my favorite part of Caligula as a movie was the cinematography and direction used throughout. Caligula was made like a big budget film (it was one of the first big budget to also utilizes hard core porn) and was thus quite well done. The shot angles, coloring, and overall feel of the movie struck a tone with me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I must say that the stylistic approach of this movie was probably one of my favorite approaches to any film that I have seen recently (save Watchmen, of course). This alone seems to redeem the random pornography that runs rampant.

Speaking of the random pornography, Caligula seems to be on a lot of hit lists because of the nature of the film, and the overall graphicness of it. I do not like how they implemented the pornography (they added it not telling the main actors, and they never got their consent); however, that doesn’t mean that the film was bad. No, I think that you need to look at the nature of Caligula in a concave lens, and see the actual point of the movie.

Caligula is a movie that is designed to be confrontational and controversial; it is the best way to make people discuss the actual movie, and the intended points. No, Caligula is no Cannibal Holocaust, nor is it an older version of The Basketball Diaries, but it still serves the same purpose. I believe that Caligula gets you talking, and that it drives forward the interplays between various people in the past. This movie was not intended to be a drama, nor was it intended to be a classic; no, Caligula, it seems, was intended simply to be a thinker.

How many porn movies do you know that allow you to get off of your ass and actually think about the movie? What was wrong with a proposed marriage to his sister? They both loved each other, and they both wanted it – they just simply were not the right ethnicity. What about the homosexual sex in it, or the group sex (disclaimer, this author did not mean to imply that homosexual sex and group sex are in any way related)? The point of Caligula was to make us rethink the social norms of our time, when we could see another empire of debauchery still standing up. Remember, in Caligula, only the rulers of the moralistic mess fell.

I believe that Caligula will eventually be redeemed in the eyes of society. The debauchery, lust, immorality, and all of the other fun and exciting things will be looked at as a lesson, or a story, instead of filler. I believe that society will come to accept the movie and will start to realize that Caligula is just as worthy as Kids or Reservoir Dogs due to the fact that it causes discussions and makes you think. Sure, it uses pornography to advance itself, but that doesn’t mean that it is a bad movie. I thought that it was a thinker, and I hope that you do too.

Overall, I believe that Caligula is an interesting and thought provoking movie. It is no Bully, but it will make you sit up and think. I am not sure who to recommend this too, as it has a very limited audience, but I think that anybody who is comfortable watching this level of ‘action’ will be okay with the movie. It is good for college kids (trust me, they won’t mind it) or people who want to use it to spark discussion. Do not give Caligula to kids, evangelicals, or history majors. With the fact that the quality of the film is not that much better on blu-ray, I recommend that you get it on standard DVD.

Movie: Once you look through the porn and vulgarity, you find a compelling tale and amazing filming
Blu-ray Quality: No real difference from the DVD version
Sound Quality Same as the Blu-ray quality, nothing new
Overall the thought invoking movie can not make up for the hyper sexualization or the lack of an upgrade in film and sound

Caligula (1979) is unrated but is exceptionally mature. Vulgarity, sexuality, sex, pornography, nudity, violence, blood, gore, etc. are seen throughout the movie. Please do not let a kid watch this.

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