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Caligula (unrated edition)

It's hard to tell what producer Bob Guccione really had in mind when he began assembling the pieces of Caligula, but he clearly failed in concocting either a compelling historical pageant or a diverting porno. "Adapted from a screenplay by Gore Vidal" — now there's a dubious credit — Caligula is the eponymous biopic of ancient Rome's most decadent emperor. He earns this distinction with an unprecedented, prolific predilection for incest, orgies, torture, and psychosis. Malcolm McDowell, God bless him, attacks the title role with gusto, but is stranded amidst the mess around him. Director Tinto Brass reportedly threw out Vidal's level-headed, well-researched script in favor of ludicrous theatrics, and when Brass was finished, unsatisfied Penthouse publisher Guccione shot an extra 40-or-so minutes of hard-core porn inserts for the final cut. As a result, there is no tone or texture to this sensationalist tale. The camerawork is random and aimless, the editing patchwork, the actors — including Peter O'Toole, Sir John Gielgud, and Helen Mirren — lost, and everyone disenfranchised. Caligula may have been marketed as an art film, but it's simply a porno with pretenses of legitimacy, and it fails even on that level (who can have a good whack when the premise for sex scenes is torture and cruelty?). The film's unrated 156-minute running time makes it all the more wearisome. Gielgud's Nervo had the right idea: he offs himself at the end of the first half-hour. The image on this DVD is very poor, looking as if it had been transferred not from film stock but rather from a shower curtain. In fact, it's as grainy and degraded a disc as this writer has ever seen. Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and a 5.1 Dolby Digital re-mix. You may want to watch only the accompanying hour-long documentary used to promote the film at release, Gore Vidal's Caligula, which is much shorter than the feature and still has all the naughty bits.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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