Cleopatra - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Cleopatra Reviews

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May 5, 2018
Yes, there are problems in script. Yes, it's too long. Yes, it could have been so much better. But it is still a marvel to watch. Elizabeth Taylor is always mesmerizing and carriea the movie on her shoulders.
½ April 2, 2018
A bit of editing to sharpen the plot would have garnered more stars!
½ February 12, 2018
Historical and hysterical drama done on the grandest scale possible. Cleopatra may be long and ponderous at some points, but it's exuberance and money spent just does make it worth watching. Well, maybe.
December 27, 2017
Both opulent and empty, for four hours this moody, glossy pantomime leadenly plods on, saying much more about the hubris and excess of old-time Hollywood thinking than the burnished glories of an ancient world.
½ March 29, 2017
One piece of Mankiewicz direction is clear, for better or worse: make each shot big and expensive. There's a lot going on for a long time, but no sense of urgency that I have to see this. The music acts more forcefully than the circumstances. Elizabeth Taylor does a menial job in her portrayal of Cleopatra, but there must've been a hundred other actresses who coukdve handled this with greater clout. Her only trick is a tremble in her voice repeatedly to make her sound more dramatic; it's pretty fake most of the time.

It's a film that makes you hate the rich and powerful, and there's no character we can seem to identify with or get behind. He characters are all removed from human empathy. The performers do their job, the script and direction less so. Richard Burton is so perfectly natural as Marc Anthony, as is Rex Harrison 's Caesar.

The film becomes an exercise in predictable circumstances that have little merit beyond getting on with it's conventionally epic glamour.

Overall, nice effort, incredible to look at, but mired in tired, epic movie cliches, it's missable.
January 18, 2017
Overlong but classic rendering of often told Cleopatra story has some good performances but is hampered by its length and pacing. On Blu-Ray.
½ January 5, 2017
The story of Cleopatra is one about hubris, first of Julius Caesar, then of Marc Antony, and most importantly of the titular queen herself. It's sort of ironically fitting then that the production history of this movie is also one of hubris. In a gambit to save their ailing studio, 20th Century Fox poured everything they had into "Cleopatra," ballooning the budget to 44 times its original $1 million. That's to say nothing of the behind-the-scenes in-fighting over at Fox as well as the revolving door of scripts, locations, and cast that led to millions of dollars being spent before a single useable frame was shot. It was a case of a too-big-to-fail movie falling flat on its face. The fact that anything at all was made - much less to the tune of nine Oscar nominations - is astounding.

The end result is watchable. The battle scenes are rightfully glorious and no expense was spared on the production design or costumes. That's about where the praise ends.

The movie stumbles everywhere else. An air of self-righteousness infects every scene. Characters spout monologue after monologue like they're all auditioning for the same role. The hours mount as they spell out every little piece of subtext. It's exhausting, workmanlike, and utterly boring. You realize that Fox's too-big-to-fail attitude worked its way into the script.

If someone had the nerve, foresight, or plain common sense to reign in this picture, it might have been something that saved Fox (instead of nearly bankrupting it). But because so much was thrown at it, it became a bloated mess that rightfully sank. It's saying something that "Cleopatra" was the highest grossing movie of 1963 and still went down as a horrific box office disaster. 5.1/10
½ October 20, 2016
Opulence over the top - but the story line does not equate with the lavishness of the sets.
October 20, 2016
The best way to describe this film is soporific, as I've read before. But first, I must dispel a few myths. The most prevalent myth among the very few number of people interested in this film is that this was originally going to be a two part movie. That is not true. The studio wanted and paid for ONE MOVIE, CALLED CLEOPATRA, and everybody signed up for that. Mankiewicz decided that he was actually going to do Caesar and Cleopatra and Antony and Cleopatra midway through the shoot, and never stopped asking money, re shooting scenes and extending the shoot until to his heart's content. It is this, and not studio overspending, love scandals or diva antics that made this movie the most expensive film of all time. When he finally, after two years, delivered the original 6 hour cut, the studio rightly so fired him because his idea of two films was insanity in itself. That's when the massive effort to edit this crap began but Mankiewicz had shot so much garbage and had surreptitiously edited it on camera that they were forced to rehire him. His widow smugly talks about this on the Cleo documentary, as if they were forced to rehire him because of his "genius", when in fact he was rehired to untangle the mess he had created that was so convoluted nobody could figure it out. Denial is not a river in Egypt, I guess.

Anyway, he should never have been rehired, that's the other tragedy of this film, an artistic tragedy. What he finally delivered and what we see in theaters is probably the most boring, soporific film of all time. It takes a special talent to take the most fascinating character of all time and make the most sleep inducing film of all time.

Now that doesn't mean this film doesn't have anything good in it. Elizabeth Taylor is stunning and gives one of her best performances, the chemistry with Richard Burton is magnificent, and the luxury is great. The rest of the cast, beginning with Rex Harrison and his "I'm so hot, so manly, never mind my decrepitude" attitude are among the worst performances I have ever seen, as well as the rest of the cast. What little good is in it, mainly Liz & Dick is unfortunately buried under the rubble of inexplicable directorial choices made by a man who was on drugs the entire time of production:

Joseph L. Mankiewicz had the most beautiful woman in history in front of him, in luxurious color, and what does he do?? Shoot her in medium shots. Not a single close up in the entire film. Not one. But he doesn't stop there. He chooses to shoot, outside of very minimal and far in between medium shots, the entire film in long shot, including the battle scenes. I wonder how did this not bomb at the box office with such a poor and bone crushingly tedious cinematography? And it even won an Oscar?? It boggles the mind.

He also decided to focus the entire film on the men. This is not a Cleopatra movie, this is a "Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Octavian, Roman Politics and the life of every single male character in Cleopatra's life" biopic. Where is Cleopatra?? Where is she? Whatever little we get of her, she gets blamed for Caesar's ambition, Antony's destruction. She is conniving and ravenous, and a cliché to be honest. Elizabeth Taylor makes it mesmerizing, but his take on her is sexist, contrived, predictable and boring. His insanity is further attested by the fact that he had to write a plot for every single male character, no matter how irrelevant and inconsequential he is. This is evidenced by the original shooting script(which is online), it was page after page after page of scenes that were shot about Appollodurs' love for Cleopatra, Flavius devotion to Caesar, Cleopatra's sculptor, Rufio's life, Titus the money lender and several other garbage characters. The original film also consists of ill humor, completely unnecessary. Is it any wonder the budget blew up to 40 million when every single one of this sequences were actually shot? And this is the precious lost footage people want to find, well, there is nothing even remotely memorable in it, it's the visual equivalent of pompous rambling.

But still, as the movie was shot in sequence and edited on camera, it proved impossible to do away with these unnecessary characters and Mankiewicz's childish, reductive humor. For instance, the reason why Antony was upset at Cleopatra's appearance at the barge is because before that there was a good 20 minutes of back and forth taunting as to who would appear first. Cleopatra's wit over Antony had already been demonstrated by her arriving to Tarsus on her ship proclaiming it to be Egypt, but Mankiewicz still thought it clever to further repeat the point on the actual banquet. Of course, because of time, the first part of the joke got cut, but still Mankiewicz felt he had to include the second part of the joke, which of course, flew over the audience's head. It's like going on stand up and just saying the punch line. He was an Academy Award winner and he didn't know the result of doing such a thing? That it would be a mess?

Another of the dubious distinctions of his work is the fact that he managed to make Elizabeth Taylor and Cleopatra, be desexualized and unerotic. An astonishing feat if you ask me.

At the end of the day, Cleopatra is the Greatest Movie that never was. Thanks to Mankiewicz's hubris, sexism and drug addiction. Tragic, and the legacy of this film is just to gather dust somewhere and in the shelves of people who actually buy it, which is interesting to me, is there even a market for it out there?? Who knows, all I know is this: People recoil in horror at the notion of actually watching it and I don't personally know anyone besides myself who actually has.
September 19, 2016
Cleopatra is a long epic film that starts with the first meeting of Caesar and Cleopatra and ends with her death. Let me emphasize one word in that sentence...LONG! The listed run-time is more than 3 hours which would be bad enough, but the cut I watched on Netflix was actually over 4 hours. To be fair they cover a huge chunk of history in the film, so I could see that it might take more time to tell it properly. However I feel like they should have trimmed it down and focused in on a few specific events instead of being so broad and sweeping. The stories of these people is dynamic and certainly shouldn't ever get boring, but somehow the movie finds ways to drag and feel bland. It's as if the producers/directors mistake spectacle for story. But some of the biggest and flashiest productions are actually the dullest scenes in the movie because they aren't furthering the story.

Rex Harrison is someone I could watch on film all day, but he never makes a convincing Julius Caesar. Every time he talks I just imagine Professor Higgins lecturing Eliza. Richard Burton is the shining star of this movie. His performance as Mark Anthony is nuanced, authentic, and results in him stealing every scene. Perhaps the biggest problem with the film is that Elizabeth Taylor is downright dreadful as the titular character. She doesn't emote effectively, she always seems to be trying too hard, and her flat American accent sounds just stupid when juxtaposed with all the distinguished British actors surrounding her. There are several other fine actors in the cast, although I would have a terrible time trying to match their character names with their faces because there were so many names flying around in the dialogue.

I really appreciated the craft that went into this film. While it certainly reveled in excess, at least you could see every penny of that budget plastered all over the screen. The sets were gigantic, the props were enormous, and the costumes were elaborate. I also like historical films where the plot is more about the people and their relationships rather than the big sweeping moments you'd read about in a text book, and you get some of that here. The sad reality is that I think Cleopatra tried to have it both ways, though. On the one hand we have a story of love that drives men to do things they wouldn't ordinarily, and threatens to destroy kingdoms. But at the same time they are showing all these big military maneuvers and getting lost in the battles. It's not a terrible film, but it was too long and needed a more compelling lead actress. I might be willing to attempt watching the shorter cut of the film just to see if it feels more concise and focused, but since the run-time of that version is still quite long I don't know if I'll ever get the urge to make it happen. Can't say that I'd recommend Cleopatra but if you like big, brash, historical epics then this is one you cannot miss.
½ August 11, 2016
Yes, it is indeed over the top, unnecessarily expensive and lavish. But it should be seen at least once, it worth it.
½ June 27, 2016
So gorgeous to look at and admire, you often forget that it lacks drama and intrigue. Cleopatra is a film you watch to marvel at how the filmmakers made it happen in a time before CGI.
June 25, 2016
Cleopatre est une oeuvre colossale du cinéma notamment dut à son budget qui , à l'époque, était énorme et as faillis mettre la compagnie de production en faillite et les nombreux déboires pendant la réalisation. Le film reste tout de même très impressionnant encore aujourd'hui dans sa mise en scène et notamment la performance d'Elizabeth Taylor pour le rôle principal. Sa longueur (un peu plus de 4hr) fera surment rebroussé chemins à plusieurs mais Cleopatre demeure un film à voir au moin une fois
½ June 5, 2016
yet i find another review & rating lost
½ May 31, 2016
It's a good movie, but WAY too long. It does certainly live up to the "epic" era.
May 21, 2016
Always wanted to see it, not worth the wait.
May 4, 2016
Cleopatra (1963) ??
Disappointing epic of notorious Egyptian queen. Photography, sets, and costumes, all look great, but film is boring and loooooooooonnnnnnnnnngggggggggg. Good acting by Burton, Harrison, and McDowall, make do.
May 1, 2016
they don't make them like they used to, thank god
February 15, 2016
Another long, big movie, that nearly bankrupted a studio. In this case, you can see the opulence on display. Such ads to and becomes part of the otherwise tedious story. 4 hours... Wonder if we'll ever see the original
director's cut.
½ August 10, 2015
I just have to start by saying I am a big fan of the epic even if I don't fully understand them on first viewing - I need to rewatch Lawrence of Arabia specifically. It is unfair to say that these movies aren't great since so much effort was put into them in order to make them superior in production value. The sets are massive, they require the careful direction of many extras in some scenes, and they usually have great leading performances.

While this film does follow the life and accomplishments of Cleopatra, much of the time we are either focused on Caesar - the entire first half of the film - and Mark Antony, as Cleopatra was able to manipulate these men for her benefit, Antony more so than Caesar. For the film as a whole, I'd have to say that at most a third of the time is devoted to Cleopatra, so I am not convinced that this movie should be considered a character study for Cleopatra or that Elizabeth Taylor should be considered the sole lead. Though we don't see her as much as the title of the film insinuates, I suppose she is the driving force of the film, so it is a barely suitable title.

It is a little annoying that throughout the first half of the film, Caesar refers to himself in the third person, so it took me about half an hour to figure out that he was Caesar.

While I do enjoy epics, I don't think that this is one of the better ones out there, but it is still great for what it accomplishes. As I had stated in the first paragraph, it is impressive to see these films made in the era they come from since the production is massive and seems as though it couldn't possibly be done back in the 60's or even before then. That is what this film feels like - the action sequences are amazing and well-choreographed and very well-put-together in general. Even in unexciting scenes we have a huge amount of things to see within the frame, especially in exterior scenes where Cleopatra is welcomed in Italy and it is more like a community-sized celebration than a simple welcome. It also takes good writing and execution to keep the audience's attention for just over four hours, and I while I had to watch the two halves on separate days it had my attention until the end.

This epic felt like it didn't need to be quite as long as other epics, but it was. In my opinion there could have been more improvement if Cleopatra was given more attention to obviously show she is what the film is all about, so the storylines of Caesar and Antony could have been cut down to give more room for Elizabeth Taylor's leading performance. I shall revisit this film eventually as I plan to revisit all epics I have seen - they are simply amazing films. A dream of mine if I were to become a filmmaker is to try to bring back the epic to the screen for modern audiences whether they can sit for four hours or not.
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