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Retromedia presents
War Gods of Babylon / War Goddess (1962/1974)

"If the gods have chosen me as king of Babylon, then I will be king, and not a collector of taxes. If Sardanapolos wants his tribute, let him come and get it. He can find it at the tip of a spear."
- Samos (Luciano Marin)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: October 06, 2006

Stars: Howard Duff, Jackie Lane, Giancarlo Sbragia, Luciano Marin, Alena Johnston, Sabine Sun, Luciana Paluzzi, Angelo Infanti
Other Stars: Jose Greci, Arnoldo Foa, Rosanna Yanni, Malisa Longo, Helga Line
Director: Silvio Amadio, Terence Young

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, nudity, sexuality, thematic material)
Run Time: 02h:51m:40s
Release Date: July 25, 2006
UPC: 014381330922
Genre: epic


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
C- C-D+C- D-

DVD Review

The historical epic has always had an affinity for filming in Italy, even if the ancient ruins aren't used. Between the facilities of Cinecitta and the inexpensive (if not cheap) labor to be found there, Italian sword and sandal pictures were churned out by the hundreds in the 1960s and 70s. Retromedia collects two of these pictures set in ancient times, with war and the influence of religion at the forefront, with sporadic attempts to be visually impressive to boot.

War Gods of Babylon (1962) is a rather convoluted and unusual picture that plops the viewer right into the aftermath of a battle. There's never any clear explanation of who was fighting or why, other than to orphan young Mira (Jackie Lane), and get the story rolling. Wandering prophet Zoroaster (Arnoldo Foa) takes Mira to Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian Empire, ruled over by King Sardanapolos (slumming veteran Howard Duff) and his brother, Prince Samos (Luciano Marin). Samos has Zoroaster arrested for treason, but finds Mira enticing and arranges for her to become his wife. But Sardanapolos finds himself attracted to Mira as well, leading to sexual jealousy between the two brothers, a conflict exploited by the governor of conquered Babylon, Arbaces (Giancarlo Sbragia), who convinces Samos to make himself king of Babylon and rebel against the rule of Sardanapolos, with the support of his faithful friend Hammurabi (Stelio Candelli). Betrayals ensue, climaxing in a special-effects extravaganza as the gods of Babylon wreak their vengeance upon Assyria.

With very little in the way of historical accuracy, War Gods mostly strives to impress with its D.W. Griffith-influenced visuals. They don't convince, however, leaving the story to flail about on its own. It feels written by committee: Zoroaster starts off as an important character, then is cast aside for the better part of an hour while the focus is on the love triangle. There is a somewhat impressive lion hunt on chariots (though these look like African lions to me), but it hardly feels as if it belongs here. While most of the picture is rather bloodless, there are several very gory shots that feel like inserts, possibly even from another film. Very little else manages to give any gravity to the proceedings, which just come off as silly. It is unusual, however, in that it seems to posit that the gods of Babylon were real and powerful (culminating in a cryptic prophecy reminiscent of Macbeth). The character names seem to have been taken at random from antiquity (though Hammurabi was instrumental in the conquest of Assyria, so they do manage to get that right). It doesn't help that what's presented here is an English dub of a French print of an Italian movie.

The flip side picture from 1974 War Goddess (onscreen title The War Goddess), is a tongue-in-cheek mini-epic from respected director Terence Young (Dr. No, From Russia with Love) that takes the legend of the Amazons and makes sport of it and the sexual possibilities inherent therein. After besting her rival Oreitheia (Sabine Sun) in a quadrennial competition (which conveniently features semi-nude oiled wrestling), Antiope (Alena Johnston) becomes Queen of the Amazons. She has many plans to improve the lot of her people, which don't sit well with the army, nor with Oreitheia. But the first order of business is the annual breeding, which this year is to be with the men of Greece. Led by their king, Theseus (Angelo Infanti), the Greeks do their service and are discarded, but Antiope finds herself filled with unfamiliar feelings of affection. She must deal with the rebellion within her own people and try to subdue her own heart. And, of course, oil up and wrestle Oreitheia again, this time fully nude.

Originally rated R on its American release through AIP, this picture makes no effort whatsoever to create a world with any verisimilitude to reality. Pretty much everything is treated as a setup to a modestly dirty joke, and the leering camera makes the most of it. The humor is pervasively sexual, and seldom actually funny, but this might be entertaining enough after a few beers with your rowdier friends. Young at least keeps things moving along so it doesn't feel nearly as ponderous as the companion picture (which only runs less than four minutes longer). The main message probably will not be appreciated by most feminists, though those who like women of action (or oiled-up women wrassling) may nonetheless find some entertainment value here.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: C-

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Rationono
Anamorphicyesno


Image Transfer Review: War Gods of Babylon gets the unusual (for Retromedia) treatment of anamorphic enhancement. Unfortunately, the source isn't of the best quality, frequently muddy or washed out, and at other times so dark as to be illegible. There's heavy grain that is rendered half-heartedly, resulting in substantial sparkling throughout. Color tends to be rather unstable, with some shots bathed in green for no apparent reason, and others looking just fine. Pixelation is surprisingly common throughout.

War Goddess is prefaced by an apology for the condition of the prints cobbled together to make this presentation, and that's probably in order. Besides obviously being pan and scan (characters are frequently lopped off the picture), the source material is in horrible condition, with thick green scratches prevalent throughout. On the other hand, detail tends to be somewhat better than on Babylon, and the color at least is more vivid and significantly more stable. If not for the pan and scan print and the damage, this would look very nice, but it requires some tolerance to watch.

Image Transfer Grade: D+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: Both transfers sport 2.0 mono soundtracks. Babylon has significant hiss and crackle, and an electronic buzz is often audible. War Goddesssounds substantially better, and the jaunty march from composer Riz Ortolani comes across reasonably well for the period and the source. Obviously, low bass and any sort of realistic presence are not to be looked for here, and they probably were never heard in theaters either.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: There are no extras beyond a link to Retromedia's website. Chaptering is adequate but not overwhelming.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

The ancient world and its wars are the focus of these two silly Italian pictures that are modestly entertaining in their own way. The transfers range from fair to miserable, and there are no extras.

 


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