Move over, “I, Claudius” — “Rome” is coming to homevid. If you thought the Bush administration was rife with political maneuvering, its pols have nothing on Gaius Julius Caesar (Ciaran Hinds) and the Roman senate 52 B.C. Then, of course, there’s the full frontal nudity (both genders) and graphic violence — enough to keep viewers clamoring for more episodes — and extras as lavish as the $100 million budget for HBO’s skein.
The extras provide ample background, starting with an interactive “All Roads Lead to Rome” guide with info about Roman history, timelines, customs, religious beliefs (the Romans were polytheistic) and social structure. For example, during a flogging scene curious viewers can learn that 10 blows cuts off the skin, 20 blows rip the flesh from the ribs and 30 are equivalent to a death sentence.
Shot by shot docus cover the series’ most expensive episode (“Caesar’s Triumph”) and the most brutal (“Gladiator”) while another featurette outlines the enormous task of building the Roman city on the five-acre back lot of Italy’s Cinecitta studio, Fellini’s old stomping grounds.
Meanwhile, the actors’ boot camp featurette shows their grueling training: they were up at 4 a.m., marching, exercising, learning battle skills and sleeping in tents and bathing in the river, just like the original Roman soldiers on campaign.
Directors Steve Shill and Jeremy Podeswa, exec producer Bruno Heller and historical consultant Jonathan Stamp provide episode commentaries. Finally, an eight-page character guide features 50 previously unseen images.
Those worn down by the war in Iraq are well advised to head to Italy. It’s a welcome respite.