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Rome: Blood and Sand – The DVD Detective strikes again!

ONE MAN'S FIGHT TO SELL YOU A TV SERIES YOU HAVE NEVER HEARD OF

ONE MAN’S FIGHT TO SELL YOU A TV SERIES THAT YOU HAVE NEVER HEARD OF WITH GOOD REASON

Ever on the look-out for films that don’t actually exist, today I stumbled upon this improbable gem at my local Tesco – Rome: Blood and Sand.

Previously on the DVD Detective, we saw how easy it is to re-release an unknown film by combining the title of two successful TV shows, so this time around I wasn’t so much smelling rats as instantly identifying their sub-species of rodentia.

Fusing the titles of the underappreciated HBO series Rome and the over-appreciated nipples-and-gore delivery system Spartacus: Blood and Sand, some cynical distributor was trying to catch me off-guard again, and it wasn’t going to work. Not even the presence of Emily Blunt in the cast list could convince me that this wasn’t some C-list spectacle masquerading amongst the shelves of Smurfs and Twilight movies.

How right I was. Wading through the wiki, I at first assumed the renamed film in question might be Boudica, aka Warrior Queen (my how this was beginning to look like an identical tale to the Thrones & Empires debacle), one of Blunt’s earliest roles, but the casts didn’t align. Soon enough I found that my target was not a film at all but a TV mini-series, something the badly Photoshopped case had neglected to mention. Pity the fool who blind buys from Tesco.

Empire, a much-derided ABC television series that was drowned in the brief praise that accompanied HBO’s less forgotten venture, similarly tells the story of the early Caesars. To spice things up, the show injects the character “Tyrannus”, a former gladiator, into proceedings. It’s like they were baiting Ridley Scott into a lawsuit.

Look at Colm Feore there, so imperial and in no way made for televisiony

Look at Colm Feore there, so imperial and in no way made for televisiony

According to the back of the box Empire was praised by The Wall Street Journal for its “powerful acting”, a pull quote so suspicious I was shocked to google and discover it was both accurate and faithful to the intention of the reviewer. The cast of 24 veterans (James Frain, Colm Feore, Dennis Haysbert) and pre-Prada Blunt almost make this a show I’d be curious to check out. Although the best discovery of this adventure is learning that the show’s Marc Antony, Welsh actor Vincent Regan, is so much the swords and sandals whore that his filmography includes Troy, 300 AND Clash of the Titans (2010). Now if you ask me, that’s just a bit excessive.

If anything should really warn you off here, though, it’s that tagline. “One man’s fight to destroy an entire empire!” is completely off-rhythm. That “entire” is superfluous, and only draws attention to the fact that this DVD case is disguising its origins as “Empire”. If any empire has been destroyed here, it’s the show itself.

You can view the hilariously rushed and melodramatic opening to the series below. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.

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Thrones & Empires – another movie mystery solved

The epic what now?

I was left more than a little baffled recently when I stumbled upon a stack of this filmic oddity at my local video shop. Well over a dozen DVD copies of a film I had never heard of with a cast many films would kill for lay stacked on the shelves. While it’s not unheard of for a film full of big stars to go under the radar and direct to DVD, I instantly smelled a rat. All of the rats. The text from the back of the DVD box only compounded my confusion and suspicion. I quote:

FROM ACADEMY AWARD-WINNING DIRECTOR GABRIEL AXEL

A SAGA, FILLED WITH INTRIGUE, DECEIT, MURDER AND VENGEANCE…

Fenge (Gabriel Byrne – The Usual Suspects) steals the throne of Jutland by killing his brother, King Hardvanael and marrying his widow (Helen Mirren – The Queen). Hardvanael’s son, Amled (Christian Bale – The Dark Knight Rises) feigns insanity, to avoid his own execution but Fenge doubts his condition and sends him to a Duke (Brian Cox – X-Men 2) in England to be murdered. Instead, the prince becomes a hero, marries an English rose (Kate Beckinsale – Underworld Awakening) and return to exact revenge on Fenge in a ferocious battle for the crown that is rightly his.

Featuring alongside Byrne, Mirren, Bale, Cox and Beckinsale is a star studded supporting cast including; Andy Serkis, Freddie Jones, Ewen Bremner, Tony Haygarth, Mark Willians, Tom Wilkinson, Saskia Wickham and Brian Glover.

Amled? OK, so I think it’s clear what we have here. This is All-Star Action Hamlet. And yet a brisk googling of the film brought up nothing but a bare Amazon sales page and an article about two hit HBO shows, Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire. Thrones. Empire. My how those rats began to smell.

While Gabriel Axel sounds like he has the name of a director of action schlock in the style of McG, Rob Zombie or Olivier Megaton, he is in fact a respected dramatic director best known for his charming Oscar-winning period drama Babette’s Feast (1987). A little wiki-ing revealed that the venerable Mr. Axel is, at present, an impressive 94 years old – a good age to still be alive, but an improbable one to be directing historical action movies.

Putting on my DVD Detective hat, I asked around, and with some help from across the internet and closer to home finally uncovered that Thrones & Empires is little more than a shamefully cynical repackaging of Axel’s 1994 “historical Hamlet” drama Prince of Jutland (aka Royal Deceit – as if it didn’t have enough titles already). The date of the film, among other things, does explain why Christian Bale looks barely back from the Empire of the Sun on the DVD box art (interestingly, the film is notable as Andy Serkis’s debut, so there you go).

Here’s the slightly hilarious trailer:

So now the question is, will I see it? Well, the DVD remains €10, and I think I was far more interested in it when I thought it was a sorry B-movie remake of Hamlet than a respected auteur’s late offering. Also, if I want to watch Hamlet without Shakespeare’s dialogue, I’d be better off watching The Lion King. Despite the fine cast (although its 85min run-time is baffling – the play uncut is 4hrs!), there’s just no way to overlook what a cynical release this is. The fact that the film was re-released with this title to coincide with the cinema release of The Dark Knight Rises and the rampant success of Game of Thrones is the worst thing I’ve seen since Disney repackaged Cinderella in a “Royal Edition” set last year to coincide with the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

There really is something rotten in the state of Denmark after all…

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