Notorious as the epic flop that sparked a romance between stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, this plodding, gaudy gorgeous pageant was produced for a then unheard of $44 million. Though Cleopatra earned nine Oscar nominations and was the top grossing film the year of its release, its overall losses helped virtually sink the career of Oscar winning director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (”All About Eve”), whose literate style is completely absent here.
Oddly, Burton and Taylor’s offscreen affair doesn’t come across on screen (maybe it’s concealed beneath the shiny blue spackle on her eyelids; I don’t care if that’s how the hieroglyphics look, you don’t try to outblue La Liz’s eyes!). As for those lurid Roman spectacles, well, you’ve seen Rose Bowl parades that looked more lively. Fortunately, Mankiewicz’s sons Tom and Chris, publicist Jack Brodsky, and Martin Landau — who plays Marc Antony’s military adviser and sojourned on the Italian set for more than a year — remember all on the commentary track.
The three disc package includes photo galleries and outtakes that are of interest only to the truly obsessed, but the two-hour behind-the-scenes documentary (even without new interviews with Taylor) is magnificently dishy about the contract snafus, weather disasters, casting intrigues, health crises, even the female extras who groused that their costumes showed too much Cleo-vage.