Cleopatra: 50th Anniversary

Hollywood epic gets royal treatment with this deluxe hi-def outing

Joseph L Mankiewicz’s 1963 historical epic cost a spectacular $44million to make (the equivalent of around $300million today) and in the process almost brought studio 20th Century Fox to its knees. Unfortunately, the film’s tortuous production is a more entertaining tale than the one Cleopatra itself serves up. Okay, it’s not a bad film, just a rather average one – which isn’t really what you want from such a ridiculously costly endeavour.

Picture: Shot using the large-format 65mm Todd-AO format, Cleopatra comes to Blu-ray with a beautifully remastered image that makes the most of the film stock’s abundance of detail and exquisite colour reproduction. With the movie running for more than four hours (the original workprint ran for six, but the cut footage is now presumed destroyed) Fox has sensibly split it across two Blu-ray platters. The result is an AVC 2.20:1 1080p encode that dispenses with the obvious shimmering that troubled the DVD release and finally lets the film’s epic visuals and lavish production design look their best. Magnificent.
Picture rating: 5/5

Audio: For such an epic endeavour, Cleopatra is a surprisingly dialogue-driven piece of cinema. As such, a lot of the audio is directed at the front of the soundstage in the DTS-HD MA 5.1 and Dolby Digital 4.0 mixes included on this Blu-ray. The lossless mix has an improved tonal range over the lossy 4.0 track, and a more natural sense of spatial effects in those moments where the entire soundstage does come into play.
Audio rating: 4/5

Extras: The majority of the original DVD extras are present, namely the two-hour Cleopatra: The Film that Changed Hollywood doc, two archive Fox Movietone News clips, an archival Making of... promo, a trio of trailers and the audio commentary. There are items missing though: are a trio of advance trailers and five extensive stills galleries. 

Making up for that is a quartet of excellent new features. There’s an episode of Fox Movie Channel Presents Fox Legacy dedicated to the film’s history, a featurette looking at the changing representations of Cleopatra through history, a second featurette discussing the film’s lost footage and why it’s probably lost for good, and – best of all – reproductions of correspondence between Fox publicists Jack Brodsky and Nathan Weiss that give a wonderful taste of the chaos surrounding the film’s production and its stars’ affair.
Extras rating 4/5

We say: A suitably opulent Blu-ray outing for this overblown Hollywood epic

20th Century Fox, All-region BD, £25 approx, On sale January 30