Caligula appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Objectively, I can’t call this a good-looking transfer, but I thought it presented stronger visuals than expected.
Sharpness was erratic. Parts of the movie showed nice delineation, and much of it seemed pretty well defined. However, more than a few exceptions occurred, as the film sporadically appeared fuzzy and soft. Overall, definition was decent but rarely much better than that. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement seemed absent.
Source flaws created surprisingly few distractions. Grain was the biggest nuisance, as much of the movie displayed that attribute in moderate doses. Otherwise, though, the film suffered from only a few minor defects. I noticed the occasional speck but nothing more, as the flick stayed clean.
Colors became another up and down aspect of the transfer. The flick preferred dense reds and blues, and these tones tended to be somewhat heavy. Within the production design, the hues usually seemed pretty positive, though. They were thicker than I’d like but not badly so. Blacks seemed only a little inky, as they mostly displayed good clarity. Shadows were inconsistent. Some low-light shots offered nice delineation, while others could be somewhat impenetrable.
As I alluded earlier, in an objective sense, this wasn’t a very good image. I’ve certainly seen many better-looking films from 1980. However, compared to prior renditions – and what I expected from this flick – I found the transfer to satisfy. There’s only so much that can be done with the source material, so while I couldn’t objectively give the image a grade higher than a “C+”, I still felt pleased with the presentation.
As for the remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 mix of Caligula, it also came with various positives and negatives. The soundstage was considerably broader than expected, though that came with some issues. Speech wasn’t localized as well as I’d like. Some lines popped up in the correct spots, but others mushed together or blended poorly with the rest of the action. In terms of dialogue, the right side tended to dominate; many lines appeared there even if this didn’t make sense in terms of the action.
Music showed fine stereo delineation, though, and effects opened up matters in a satisfying way. We got good use of effects and they created a nice sense of place. They didn’t blend together especially well, though, as elements were pretty speaker-specific. Still, I liked the ambient aspects of the track and thought they added to the experience.
Surround usage appeared limited. The back speakers echoed effects and music but didn’t do much else. Though a few louder scenes like a thunderstorm made greater use of the back speakers, they were passive most of the time.
Audio quality had more ups and downs. On the negative side, speech could be a bit of a mess. I heard quite a lot of edginess, and the lines tended to be a little mushy. They were always intelligible but rarely very natural.
Effects varied. Some sounded pretty natural and lively, but others could be thin and distorted. There was no consistency here, though most of the effects were fine. Music fared best, as the score sounded quite bright and dynamic. As with the picture, the audio of Caligula was better than one might expect but still too erratic to earn a grade over a “C+”.
How did the picture and audio of this “Imperial Edition” compare to those of the 1999 DVD release? Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do direct comparisons between the two. However, based on my memories and my notes, I thought the two DVDs offered pretty similar audio. I found the old track to be flawed but not without strengths, and the same went for the new disc’s audio.
On the other hand, I didn’t need to rewatch the 1999 DVD to realize that the 2007 release provided radical improvements in picture quality. In my prior review, I called the transfer “dreadful-looking DVD, almost from start to finish”. While the 2007 release had its visual problems, it looked much better than its predecessor. Source flaws were greatly reduced, and the flick generally appeared more concise and clear. It’s a good step up in quality.
This three-disc “Imperial Edition” of Caligula packs in the supplements, though not on DVD One. That platter includes the unrated version of the movie and some trailers. We get theatrical, teaser and unrated promos for the film.
Over on DVD Two, things become more interesting. First we find an Alternate Pre-Release Version of Caligula. This cut runs a little less than 153 minutes and makes a number of alterations. It reorders some scenes, presents some alternate shots and drops much of the porn Guccione-filmed for the unrated version. Don’t take that to mean the Pre-Release cut lacks tawdry moments, as it still packs in tons of nudity, gore and other “X”-rated material. It just drops some of the sexual tangents from the released edition and concentrates more on the story.
Does it improve on the unrated version? Yeah, actually, I think it does – to a moderate degree, at least. Nothing could truly redeem this mess of a film, but the pre-release version comes across as a little tighter and more coherent. Or maybe I’ve just seen the movie enough that I fill in the gaps and make it seem logical in my head – I don’t know. But I can say that the pre-release rendition offers an interesting alternate view of the film.
To accompany this cut, we discover three audio commentaries. The first comes from actor Malcolm McDowell, as moderated by film writer Nick Redman. They go into a running, screen-specific discussion. McDowell tells us how he came onto the project and also discusses cast and crew as well as aspects of making the flick.
Chatty and frank, McDowell provides a very good chat. He provides useful details about the production and doesn’t spare the dirt. We get fine behind the scenes insights and McDowell’s honest appraisal of many folks involved with the film; let’s say he doesn’t have an affectionate take on Bob Guccione. McDowell also provides many hilarious candid remarks such as when he says he’s not up for “buggery” but fisting’s okay! And how often do commentaries include the phrase “I woke up and her vagina was on my nose”? This is a fun and entertaining track.
Next we hear from actor Helen Mirren in a chat moderated by film writers Alan Jones and James Chaffin. This is another running, screen-specific commentary. It looks at why Mirren took the part, thoughts about cast and crew, various aspects of the filmmaking process, and retrospective opinions of the flick.
Whereas the first commentary was really McDowell’s show, this one’s more democratic. Mirren provides most of the info, but Jones and Chaffin function as more equal partners. Chaffin is especially useful since he seems to know more about the film than any of the others.
While not as interesting a chat as McDowell’s, we still get a lot of good notes. Mirren takes a rosier view of Caligula, actually. She shows no animosity toward anyone involved and usually displays warm feelings, though not in a fake “I love everybody” way. Mirren comes across as blunt and frank but she still maintains a positive tone. She seems to have viewed the shoot as a long paid vacation. She makes it clear she took the role for the money, and she also tells us she used her time to eat a lot of good food and to learn Italian. The commentary drags a bit at times, but it’s usually informative and enjoyable.
For the final commentary, we get notes from Penthouse reporter/on-set writer Ernest Volkman. Unlike the first two, this one is not a running, screen-specific commentary. Image Entertainment’s Nathaniel Thompson conducts a phone interview with Volkman that lasts about 94 minutes. We learn how Volkman got the gig to cover the shoot for Penthouse as well as the project’s development and impressions of cast and crew. For much of the track’s second half, Volkman discusses the various versions of the movie and its post-release history.
As with the first two commentaries, this one offers a frank view of the proceedings. Volkman tells us his viewpoint without dulling the edges, a fact that means we hear him refer to director Tinto Brass as a lunatic and McDowell as a camera-hogging egomaniac. It’s a consistently involving chat.
Note that as you listen to all three commentaries, you’ll hear varying viewpoints in regard to factual matters. The participants don’t just disagree on their impressions of personnel and other subjective elements. We get a lack of consistency for issues such as the flick’s budget, its profitability, and other more objective matters. Who has it right and who’s wrong? I’m not qualified to make those decisions, but I wanted to mention the many disagreements since these mean you have to take many of the comments with at least a grain of salt. They’re all fascinating, though, and they allow you to create your own “reality” of the Caligula shoot.
12 Deleted & Alternate Scenes fill a total of 47 minutes, 46 seconds. We find “Tiberius’ Grotto” (13:51), “Satyrs, Nymphs and Little Fishes” (6:50), “Killing Tiberius (Unfinished Workprint Edit)”(4:32), “Tiberius’ Deathbed (Extended)” (3:41), “Caligula’s Counsel with Longinus” (0:57), “Drusilla Comforts Caligula” (1:04), “Proculus Runs the Gauntlet” (2:36), “Macro’s Execution (Extended)” (5:02), “Death of Drusilla (Alternate Angles)” (2:42), “Arriving on the Bordello Ship” (0:55), “Bordello Ship” (2:45) and “Temple of Jupiter” (2:51).
A lot of the material comes across more like outtakes than deleted footage. “Grotto” simply gives us much more sexual content; no story material appears in this very “X”-rated clip. Similar content shows up for “Satyrs” and “Bordello”.
Many snippets feel incomplete in other ways. None of the clips provide the original audio. They come with music but no dialogue or effects. A few like “Gauntlet” and “Execution” still mostly communicates its goals without audio, but the others fail in that regard. If the original audio is lost, couldn’t the DVD’s producers at least have added subtitles to the footage? Because of these severe limitations, the deleted/alternate scenes are marginally interesting at best. Again, they’re more like silent outtakes than they are actual cut sequences.
With that, we head to DVD Three. First comes a featurette called My Roman Holiday with John Steiner. In this 24-minute and 21-second piece, the actor tells us about his career and working in Italy as well as his involvement in Caligula. Steiner tells us a little about Caligula but declares that he doesn’t want to talk about it, so don’t expect much. He prefers to chat about the other aspects of his career, which kind of defeats the purpose of this featurette. On the Caligula DVD, I’d like to hear about Caligula. Steiner throws out a few good insights related to the film, but the fact it mostly focuses on other movies makes it frustrating.
Next we get the 28-minute and 19-second Caligula’s Pet: A Conversation with Lori Wagner. The model/actress discusses how her career developed, working on Caligula and its impact on her. Like Steiner, Wagner spends a lot of time on topics other than just Caligula. However, she still devotes a fair amount of attention to the title attraction, and her stories of other aspects of her career are interesting enough to ensure that this is an involving piece. It loses steam toward the end as we hear a lot about Wagner’s musical work, but otherwise it’s enjoyable.
For Tinto Brass: The Orgy of Power, we take 34 minutes and 26 seconds to chat with the director. He discusses how he came onto the film, his take on the material, the ways the producers changed his vision of the movie, his thoughts about many folks involved with Caligula and a mix of controversies associated with the project. We’ve heard many others chat about Brass, so it’s good to finally hear from the man himself. He provides a frank look at his work and the film.
A repeat from the 1999 DVD, The Making of Caligula goes for 61 minutes, 45 seconds. It's a piece from around the time of the film's release in the early Eighties and it offers a rather disjointed look at the creation of the film.
It's not clear where this program was supposed to air and what its point is. For the most part, it seems to be a semi-promotional puff piece. Much of the content tells us in portentous tones about what an epic Caligula is, and we see many shots of Vidal and Penthouse bigwig/Caligula producer Bob Guccione as they relate what a great movie it will be. It provides quite a lot of uncensored, sexually explicit material from the set in addition to the comments from Guccione, Vidal, McDowell, Brass, Wagner, Mirren, UPI’s Sylvana Foa, theatrical agent Guidarino Guidi, AP’s Dennis F. Redmont, French Television News’ Victor Vramant, and Penthouse Pet Jane Hargrave.
The program touches on some problems with making the film. The issue of how racy and outrageous Caligula is remains the focus, but we also hear a little about the dissension between Guccione and Brass. Unfortunately, that issue and others are not covered very well and many questions remain. Nowhere are the big issues addressed. The documentary’s fairly watchable and rather amusing in the solemn grandeur with which it treats the film. It’s not a concise examination of the film’s creation, but it’s entertaining and gives us good shots from the set.
For another period piece, we find a nine-minute and 55-second Making Of Featurette. It features Guccione, McDowell, Hargrave, Mirren and Wagner. It’s essentially an abbreviated version of the longer documentary, with many of the same interviews and behind the scenes bit. It’s not without merit but it seems redundant.
15 segments of Behind the Scenes Footage fill one hour, 16 minutes, and 14 seconds. The clips last a minimum of 55 seconds and a maximum of 12 minutes, 57 seconds. These offer silent footage accompanied by music as we see the Pets arrive in London, the creation of various sets, actors getting made up and put into costumes, and the filming of some specific scenes. Of course, the lack of audio diminishes the usefulness of these clips, though the absence of production sound doesn’t harm them like it does the deleted scenes. Even without audio, these are fascinating glimpses behind the scenes.
Still Galleries break down into four areas. These cover “Color Film Stills”, “Black and White Film Stills”, “Behind the Scenes” and “Promotional”. While quite a few good shots appear here, the form of presentation frustrates. These come as running video programs but you can’t for forward or backward while you watch them. That means it’s a pain to navigate the shots. This is a shame since so many nice images can be found in this collection.
On DVD-ROM, we can find a wealth of Caligula materials. Disc Three includes two drafts of the screenplay, the movie’s novelization, a few Penthouse articles about the flick, and bios of some cast and crew. This is an amazing collection of text information, especially since we can see how Vidal intended the movie to work.
Finally, the package includes a 16-page booklet. Author/film buff Thomas A. Ryerson discusses his long-time fascination with Caligula, and then author RJ Buffalo gets into an analysis of the movie’s development and shooting as well as its very checkered post-production and release. Buffalo also looks at the assembly of the alternate version found here and he asks for fan help to get more footage for a hoped-for definitive edition in the future. Buffalo’s discussion of the challenges encountered for this set is especially intriguing.
Ultimately, I find it hard to recommend Caligula but also think it’s tough not to tell you to see something this warped. The movie stinks, though it remains perversely watchable - it offers enough campy thrills to make it compelling. The DVD provides perfectly adequate picture and audio along with a true treasure trove of extras. This sucker packs in as much – if not more – as you’d ever like to know about Caligula.
So I won’t tell you to buy Caligula - but I won’t steer you away from it either. It’s a freaky little one-of-a-kind experience. This “Imperial Edition” is definitely the version to own, and that goes for fans who already own the original 1999 DVD. This one provides improved picture quality along with a slew of great new supplements. This is a genuinely terrific release.