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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.