Smell of Popcorn

film reviews & musings by Max Lalanne


Is Cleopatra the most underrated historical epic of all time?

Posted by Max Lalanne on September 30, 2012

When you think of Cleopatra (available on Netflix streaming), the controversy jumps to mind – the staggering, ballooning cost of the 1963 picture and the poor reception of such that practically led 20th Century Fox to bankruptcy, the consuming affair between stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton that led to the same studio landing a lawsuit on their heads. All of this and more helped made Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s historical epic a legendary faux-pas in Hollywood history.

What people tend to forget, or ignore, is that the movie is quite good. A sweeping, widely encompassing tale of love, greed and power centering on the fabled Egyptian queen, Taylor casts a riveting figure as the proud and ambitious woman who used her beauty and her power to ensnare Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison) and later, upon Caesar’s death, Mark Antony (Burton) with a dream of global conquest a la Alexander the Great. Lasting nearly four hours, it’s the epic to end all epics, a film of magnificent proportions that will probably never be surpassed. Et cetera.

So why is Cleopatra rated a measly 38 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, signalling that the majority of critics deemed it a “rotten” film? Why is this lavish spectacle, far from an artistic disaster of any kind, so poorly regarded when others of its kind are praised? It’s safe to say that I don’t know. The extreme length didn’t bother me so as much as, for example, Lawrence of Arabia‘s did because the plot is fully anchored by Cleopatra and Taylor’s tour-de-force performance (which didn’t ring to me as being overly theatrical, as did neither of the rest).

To be honest, I thought I was watching a beloved masterpiece that wasn’t recognized properly upon its release. Obviously, a quick Google search afterwards revealed the odd truth. Is Cleopatra the most underrated historical epic of all time? It certainly gets my vote.

What say you, citizens of Rome?


3 Responses to “Is Cleopatra the most underrated historical epic of all time?”

  1. I’m surprised it’s sitting that low. Maybe it’s a film that is just kindly looked upon nowadays? Or maybe the Cecil B. Demille version is the preferred one (it’s sitting at 88%)?

  2. Mark Hobin said

    Such a well written article. I love when people give alternate takes on movies. Another thing I’ll mention from wikipedia: “Cleopatra went on to a $48 million take in North America, making it the highest-grossing film of the year.” It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World was second. Alas I have never seen this mainly because it’s reputation is not the best, but I will. I suspect I would have a similar reaction to the film as you did. Great review!

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