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Masada is amazing, in part, because it is a true story and also because it is truly a fascinating drama. Originally filmed as a mini-series, at 6 plus hours, it has been released in short (movie length) form but don't bother with that edition. Even though it (the six hour video set) is quite long, not one minute will bore you. It is a story of the military...in a battle of wits against (Jewish) patriots. The cast is superb, with Americans playing the Jews and British actors as the Romans. The lowly soldiers speaking in "middle class" dialect while the officers sound more aristocratic...a really nice touch. Peter O'Toole has never been better in his role as Flavius Silva commander of the Roman regiment dispatched by Rome to capture the Jews holding out at Masada...a huge, almost impregnable mountain fortress. Anthony Quayle and David Warner also do some of their best work ever. Peter Straus as Eleazar, leader of the Jews is passionate in his convictions and the rest of the cast shines also. The mind games they utilize on each other are fascinating and make for engrossing drama. It is truly one of the best mini-series, or historical epics ever put to film. The newly released 4 video set consists of 90 mins. per video so one can enjoy Masada over four evenings. Note: As of 2007 it is now available on DVD. The viewer will feel it is time well spent.
The movie is based on the book THE ANTAGONISTS and shows the story of
the Jewish defense from the Roman oppressor. The story seems to be
quite short and not the main focus of the film. Jews led by Eleazar
stay in a huge fortress of Masada on the Judean Desert which is their
only safe place away from the Roman Empire. Romans are forced to
The movie shows human soul, psychological aspect of humanity, even of the "triumphant Roman leaders". This psychological aspect is revealed in both main characters: the Jewish leader Eleazar, portrayed wonderfully by Peter Strauss (one of his really best roles), and Flavius Silva (great Peter O'Toole), the leader of the 10th legion attempting at finishing the conquest and returning to Rome. Both of them are full of doubts. They change over the movie, develop like all of us do.
Silva doubts the logic of the whole campaign, which is especially emphasized at the end when he says desperately "What victory!? We have won a rock on the shore of the poisoned sea!" A rock that has cost thousands of innocent lives. He is also an honorable man. When Pomponius Falco takes over the leadership and occurs to be brutal, Silva tries his best to prove that this way of dealing with the enemy is "not Rome!" He even meets with Eleazar to justify these deeds.
Eleazar is a good Jew. He cares for his people but there is one thing which makes others confused. He doubts in the existence of God. However, deeply in his heart, there is a place for Him. Peter Strauss stresses this memorably when he goes to pray in order the Romans to stop killing the innocent Jews. In fact, he proves to love his people and that is, most appealingly, a better knowledge of God than any other...
The character that needs mentioning is Sheva (Barbara Carrera). She, in fact, is not very sure if she loves Silva or not. On the one hand, she wants to stay with him. On the other hand, her people seem to be more important. Finally, she decides to leave him. Her love is divided and demands a difficult choice. VERY PSYCHOLOGICAL!
In this comment I concentrated mostly on the psychological aspect. Yes, I admit that it appears to be the most significant factor for me. There are, of course, other factors that make me love this movie: the whole story, the locations, the music, the stars... EVERYTHING! But you will have a chance to appreciate all these aspects when you decide to see MASADA.
Finally, the end is unforgettable: "Take them their victory! Then they will remember..." Truly impressive script! One of the best lessons of life! 10/10 for the whole movie!
The final reference to modern Israel appears to be particularly touching!
YES, WE REMEMBER MASADA AND THE GROUP OF BRAVE PEOPLE WHO WERE NOT AFRAID TO REMAIN THEMSELVES AND RETAIN THEIR DIGNITY.
Honor is due all around. First, credit must go to Joel Oliansky, who
developed Gann's slender book into full-range drama with wit and
wisdom. Boris Segal directs a huge cast so well, and so
unobtrusively...You never wonder where you are, or which side you're
listening to; there are so many characters that are memorable, even if
they only have two lines...It's the best performance of Peter Strauss's
career, and one of O'Toole's crown jewels. Jerry Goldsmith can furnish
haunting melodies and epic marches. In short, nobody in this miniseries
has fallen down on the job...
Except for ABC, who took more than a decade to get it out of the vault and onto videotape, and still hasn't gotten "Masada" put on DVD.
The strongest kind of drama is when you can sympathize with both sides; Silva has been saddled with irrational orders for a military conquest (sound familiar?) where none is possible - or even necessary. Eleazar knows only one thing for sure: "No man should be another man's slave." But Rome must prove a point. Rome cannot allow defiance to succeed; the Jewish zealots cannot submit to Roman enslavement. "You can take their victory from them." Mesmerizing...and well worth your time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
By casting Americans as the Jews and Brits as the Romans the original intention must have been to make the Romans the bad guys, but despite a highly effective "bad guy" supporting performance by David Warner (who won an Emmy for this) the Romans come across as reasonable and fair-minded and with the exception of a radiant Barbara Carrera the Jews come across highly unsympathetically as religious fanatics and terrorists. This is largely due to casting the cream of British theater acting as the Romans and comparatively weak US television actors as the Jews, the best of whom is Peter Strauss, who although a decent actor, has his limitations shown up in every scene he shares with O'Toole, who is at the top of his game throughout. O'Toole's penultimate soliloquy at Strauss's house is wonderfully written and breathtakingly accomplished; it is so powerful, and his disgust at the fate of the Jews so profound, that the closing real-life scenes at Masada are greatly diminished in impact and fail to achieve their intended emotional effect, coming across instead as banal and jingoistic. Still, well worth your time and money
Long-last on DVD, Masada depicts the true story of the Jewish struggle atop Masada following the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem. While visiting the site in 1989 I was told that Peter Strauss asked to spend a night atop the mount, then the Israeli Air Force flew overhead scaring him considerably. The film wisely starts with a documentary showing the significance this site has today. Peter O'Toole is superb and the script is well-written. You expect the Roman General to be the "bad guy" and you discover otherwise. Much of the conversation is quite clever, especially from the Roman bureaucrats and the political intrigue. You'll want to read about the archaeological excavations and to visit Masada after seeing this wonderful movie. This is from the golden age of TV mini-series.
This story brings out the idealist and the need for faith in me whenever I view it. The historical accuracy and the sheer information provided about the Roman Empire, the province of Judea circa 70AD, and the Roman Legions, are truly astonishing. Every semester, whenever I teach World Civilizations I at Essex County College in Newark NJ, I always include a classroom viewing of the 2 hour version for my students (and lament not time enough to show the full saga). Peter O'Toole's performance as the competant but troubled Flavius Silva I humbly believe is his masterwork and the life he places in his character is thought provoking and emotionally stirring. The music, the material, the true story and the detail from building the ramp to the costumes and location re-create what actually happened better than any textbook or lecture could. By the way, Barbara Cararra almost steals the show from Peter O'Toole and her acting performance also deserves special mention. I proudly own the full saga on VHS and eagerly await the DVD edition. This is a must-see for anyone interested in Roman, Israeli, or general history.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Although TV movies often show they are just that, this four-part
series, despite the talky atmosphere at times was really excellent. It
had a great and talented cast, though notably, the Americans were the
good-guy Zealots and the British the bad-boy Romans. Peter O'Toole (The
commander, Flavius Silva) is Irish, he sounds British, of course. The
Roman invasion of Judea in prompts Eleazer (Peter Strauss) and his
'renegade' Zealots to take refuge in the virtually impregnable Masada
mountain/rock fortress in the middle of what is now the Negev desert,
by the Dead Sea. It was formally a Herodian retreat.
Flavius Silva is tasked with the Emperor Vespasian's (Timothy West) verve to capture the Zealots. Even though Judea is under Roman rule, the last vestige of a free Judea is atop a rock and must be dealt with.
The first major fight the Romans have on arrival is the heat of the daytime desert, which is telling upon the Romans, much to the amusement and gloating of the Zealots on the rock.
Silva lays claim to a slave girl as his mistress, (Barbara Carrera) arguing the morals of her people's just cause to have a free Judea, at the same time as stating she hates the Romans, she hates the Zealots too. Anthony Quayle as Rubius Gallus plays the brilliant part so well, as Silva's chum and wise engineer, 'the only man for the job'. He informs Silva that the only way to assault the fortress is to bring a large part of a rocky outcrop over and place it against the Masada fortress as an assault ramp for a siege tower to move up against the fort walls. Silva trusts his friend and implements the plan. He makes sure it's built out of sight of the Zealots though, in spite of Gallus's mention that Eleazer wouldn't be able to do anything about it even if he saw it coming.
Adding to Silva's woes, Emperor's minion, Pomponius Falco (David Warner) arrives, as he puts it 'to take the burden' off Silva. He's actually trying to take the glory, being the Emperor's sycophant. He informs Silva he has the Emperor's stamp to end the siege, at least more quickly, or to accelerate himself quickly up the ladder more like! "I've seen good men slit their wrists over him," remarks Gallus - who, when he cops an arrow in his neck whilst surveying the ramp, gives Falco the excuse he needs to take command of the siege over Silva. "That was your irreplaceable officer." says Falco, who had no love lost with Gallus. Silva though, shows his mettle and ousts the little worm, after Falco has barbarically - get this - put jews in the catapults and fired them up the mountainside!
With all the main distractions dealt with, Gallus, on his death-bed managed to utter a few last words to his engineers to complete the task. So much so, that the ramp is completed and the siege tower ready to ascend it.
The main feature of the siege tower is, that it has a battering-ram mounted at the top of it, with metal plates in the front for protection. Gallus informed his men that the tower must be sent up the ramp at a certain time of day, so that the Zealots would have the sun in their eyes as the tower approaches them. On the day of the assault, the tower ascends the ramp and the scene, with special effects is very well-handled with the suspense, action and incidental music. One thing that amazes you is, that the Romans have the slaves 'pull' the tower up the ramp. (Blocks are sunk into the ramp and with pulleys, the tower is 'pulled' up the ramp - it seems a major engineering feat of the day and shows the Romans' resilience and determination in the field). "If I'd been here a thousand years, I'd have never thought of that.". said Falco earlier.
As Eleazer and his 'rebels' are astounded by this shocking new tactic, he seems dumbfounded and unable to grasp the situation. Then he informs the rest of the Zealots to strip beams from Herod's old palace and put the earth between the beams, behind the stone wall that is the ram's target (To absorb the blows like a sponge). After a battle between Roman archers on the tower and Eleazer's, the ram reaches the walls and is pushed against it. Eleazer's new wall is absorbing the blows well. This stops the wall from shattering. The Romans are now perplexed. "We haven't been supplied with a wonder worker to raise Rubius Gallus from the dead, so I'm open to suggestions!" says Silva to his officers. After much debating, they set fire to the exposed beams of Eleazer's wonder walls. But then, the wind changes and it blows against the assault tower. The Romans sound the recall, intending taking the fort in the morning. The Zealots rejoice, but Eleazer knows, that it may only be putting off the inevitable for a while. "Remember who built it," says one of Silva's officers, "The iron (front) plates won't melt before the wind changes." Silva replies: "And they can't build another wall in the same place, the fire will keep them away." On Silva's men entering unopposed, there is an eerie silence. The Zealots have all taken their lives rather than be taken or killed by the Romans.
This had a good script, though it is part-taken from a book, 'The Antagonists', some heady wheeling and dealing and corruption from the Roman side whilst, quite rightly, really, showing the Zealots as spirited and stubborn in the face of aggression. So much so, that Masada now serves as the 'swearing in' ceremony of the Israeli Defence Forces. A great mini-epic.
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.
Peter O'Toole and Peter Strauss were both great. This is probably one of O'Toole's better performances. Great story, excellent cast, spectacular locations, great performances from Barbara Carrera, Anthony Quayle, and David Warner. This mini-series is definitely well worth your time. This is based on the book, The Antagonists, by Ernest K. Gann. I read it, and the "sequel", The Triumph. Read both books, if you can find them. The Triumph is the story of Flavius Silva after Masada. Almost as entertaining as the movie.
Brilliant historical epic, and one of the finest productions I've had
the pleasure to watch. Dealing from multiple points of view with
perplexing issues such as honor, courage and patriotism, the series
gets into the intricacies of military strategy and politics. 'Masada'
is a fascinating character study, a most compelling commentary on the
futility of war and a love story all together.
Outstanding performance given by Peter O'Toole and excellent acting from David Warner, Barbara Carrera and Anthony Quayle. O'Toole is the main star in any setting; he steals the show and his presence is overwhelming. O'Toole's Silva is so complex and believable, it's impossible to match.
Outstanding music score.
Excellent script, with strong character development and psychology, historical detail, complexity of themes and good dialogues. I was also impressed with the tact and sensitivity displayed given the subject matter, an intelligent approach that didn't diminish the emotional impact whatsoever.
Six-hour long series, and not a single minute to get bored. A cleverly built anticipation will keep your eyes on the screen.
Good 2-disc DVD release for its price. A must-have! However, it's about time for a properly restored and subtitled edition, and maybe some extras.
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