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Rome Cant Be Built in Six Parts

2/21/1999 7:00 PM Eastern

It gave us its history of census-taking and representative
government, but also of rape, pillage and impeachment by assassination. It rose through
conquest and fell, some say, because of its people's devotion to debauchery. A
six-part miniseries examines the faults and nobility of Rome: Power &Glory
on The Learning Channel in March.

Award-winning Alexandria Productions is responsible for
this project, filmed on location in Europe, the Middle East, Egypt and north Africa,
including ruins in Libya. The Libyan site has not been photographed in more than 10 years
due to political instability in the region.

The filmmakers use the ruins for the backdrop of their
story, then enliven it with a second exposure of sepia-toned live action. It's sort
of like mixing a tour of European antiquities with the films of D.W. Griffiths.

It's tough to cover 1,000 years of history in 360
minutes, and it's made more difficult to follow by nonlinear storytelling. In the
first episode, the chronology jumps from Napoleon and his emperor worship, to the Etruscan
era, to a historian of 17 A.D., to 600 B.C. and the beginning of those censuses.

It lost me a few times. I guess I've been spoiled by
all of those step-by-step military-campaign documentaries on The History Channel.

The narrative flow seems more natural in the second
episode, "Legions of Conquest," which guides one through the evolution of the
Romans' military strategy and staffing. This episode hits on familiar historic
territory (the kidnap and rape of the Sabine women, the incursion of the crazy Gauls and
Hannibal's amazing journey through the Alps to attack from behind).

The usual talking heads, in the form of academics, are
here. But the documentarians also reach out to more unusual sources: Sportswriter Frank
Deford participates, for instance, offering his comparison of contemporary sports to the
blood-drenched gladiator contests in the Colosseum.

It's certainly scenic, and they try to make it peppy,
but in parts it's just plain dull. It's a good thing that they didn't
program it during February sweeps, or I'd have been "roamin'"
elsewhere.

Rome: Power & Glory will premiere on TLC March 7
through 9, with two two-hour episodes each night beginning at 9 p.m.

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