Flavius Silva, commander in Roman Judea, wants to reach a reasonable compromise with the Jewish Zealots and withdraw his legion. Events and personalities in Rome, however, lead to his besieging the fortress of Masada. There the engineering genius of the Romans must fight both the harsh climate and landscape, and the passion and ingenuity of Eleazar Ben Yair and his people. Written by
Peter O'Toole (who starred in another great desert epic, Lawrence of Arabia) is wonderful as the general who knows peaceful negotiation is better than war, but is forced by political wrangling above and below his rank to try to crush the Jewish resistance group. The Romans learn that it is one thing to conquer a country, but it's altogether another thing to occupy it. And don't we still see that to the current day? In another telling analogy, if it considered valiant to kill yourself (& family) just to defy your enemy, what does that say about modern suicide bombers? I recall a bit of controversy when this film came out. Some critics worried that the mass suicide at Masada was too evocative of Jim Jones' cult suicide in Guyana.
There's lots of interesting historical detail about ancient social classes, technology, military strategy - even an example of early political satire shows! This is not just "Hollywood spectacle". The characters are realistically portrayed going through real human struggles. As I recall, the sole historical account of Masada comes from Josephus, a Jew serving Emperor Vespacian. Josephus supposedly got the inside story from one of the few Jews who didn't commit suicide. Therefore, 80% of the film and most of the characters are probably fictional, created to add drama. Even so, everything supports the main story and brings the event to life. The only bit that is too exaggerated is the opening credits in the first part, set in the present day, which comes across like nothing less than an advertisement for the Israeli army.
Oh, and the musical score is fabulous! I remember faith-healer and Christian evangelist Maurice Cerullo had a massive fund-raising campaign to help produce this film. For an adequate donation you got a commemorative bronze movie medallion.
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