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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tries Hard But Often Misses the Mark
This is a good movie that could have been great were it not for two major flaws. Since I think there's much of value here I'll focus on what the film did right before getting to what it did wrong.

First off, and most obviously, comes the sets and costumes. The sets here are truly amazing. This film's Alexandria is possibly the most realistic portrayal of an...
Published 21 months ago by Arch Stanton

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Noble Effort, but not a Success
Recounting the events that led to the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria, this epic Spanish drama tells of the Christian-Pagan tensions in 4th century Roman Egypt, specifically focusing in on the slave of female philosopher & scholar Hypatia (Rachel Weisz), and how he witnesses her struggles to preserve the ancient knowledge against the rising Christian...
Published 2 months ago by a.diaz


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tries Hard But Often Misses the Mark, 1 April 2013
By 
Arch Stanton (Nottingham, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Agora [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
This is a good movie that could have been great were it not for two major flaws. Since I think there's much of value here I'll focus on what the film did right before getting to what it did wrong.

First off, and most obviously, comes the sets and costumes. The sets here are truly amazing. This film's Alexandria is possibly the most realistic portrayal of an ancient city on film. It's run down, populous, and colorful. The costumes are likewise realistic using a much heavier cloth than we're used to seeing in film. When this is combined with some excellent cinematography and visual themes (including a recurring satellite view) it makes for a visually stunning film. I don't know how they did this on such a small budget but it stands proudly as one of the most beautiful historical dramas put to film.

The second thing I loved about this movie is simply it's choice of time and subject. The Roman Empire seems to end with the death of Commodus judging from Hollywood productions. It's very nice to see a film that takes place in Rome's final century. The choice of philosophers for a theme is also excellent. Rachel Weisz makes a wonderful Hypatia and the scenes with her working to understand the nature of the universe are the best in the film. In fact, if the film had consisted entirely of this plot line it'd have been simply perfect. The love of knowledge and culture really comes through in a big way. They pay strict attention to what science was known at the time and how it was taught, and although they do have some rather implausible speculation about what she knew it manages to make it seem believable.

Now we get to the problems. First and most obvious is the fact that the film is basically several films in one. And you can take that in several ways. To deal with the most obvious example the film tells a complete narrative that ends around the halfway point only to start up again several decades later. You can also see two separate movies within the plot. One half is Hypatia's quest to understand the physical world, the other is based around the rise of Christianity. Both of these plots are intertwined throughout the film but they are never interconnected. The two stories happen in pretty much complete isolation to each other, particularly in the second half. The Christian scenes are boring too and every scene not dealing with Hypatia seems like a distraction. Really, the film needed to pick one of these themes and make them the subtext because they do not combine well together.

Secondly the film has some terrible character choices. Hypatia herself is great, her father likewise, and the prefect Orestes alternates between being great and incomprehensible. The real problem comes in the slave character Davus, who is madly in love with Hypatia and so turns to Christianity to get some relief. The slave in love with his master is about as tired a plot as you can get in Roman films and the way they do it doesn't help here. Hypatia's part in it is quite good revealing a sheer indifference that was hidden beneath her earlier compassion, but Davus' part in the story generally feels phony and tacked on. The ending in particular is unspectacular and out of the blue. The Christian characters in general are without nuance or personality except for fanaticism. The only exception to this is her former student who has some positive qualities. In general it is the reduction of all Christian characters to crude stereotypes that is annoying. The various debates of the period have been simplified into religious conflicts with extremely simplified issues. For example the whole issue with Cyrus wasn't about whether pagans could still have a role in the city (they would continue to do so for over a century) but a power struggle between a prefect and a bishop. Whether the changes made are fair or not they make the film uninteresting. While I do get what he's saying about religious fundamentalism he could have done so more interestingly and more subtly if it had been the subtext of the film and not part of a joint focus.

I have other minor complaints about the film from a historical angle, such as the fact that Hypatia is presented as secular when in fact she was a pagan, but none of them take away from the fun of it. I just wish that all the Hypatia scenes could be excised from the religious fundamentalist scenes and put into a movie of their own. Honestly, Hypatia isn't even driving the plot in her own film. At no point does she have any influence on outside events.

If you're interested in other films from the same period in history there is a miniseries on Attila, a movie on Attila, and a pretty poor peplum based on the life of Constantine. There is also the series Ancient Rome: The Rise And Fall Of An Empire which has an episode on Constantine and one on the fall of Rome. That's pretty much it.
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288 of 319 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and visually splendid "epic", 26 May 2010
By 
Guy Mannering (Maidenhead, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Agora [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
Note: This review may contain spoilers.

When Agora had its UK cinema release recently it opened to sparse, albeit respectful, reviews. There was certainly very little hype or debate surrounding the movie such as I've seen recently for the new TV series of Spartacus (of which a little more anon.) Perhaps this is because Agora is a fairly rare breed of cinematic bird - a movie epic which attempts to be literate, intelligent and clearly aimed at your brain rather than your viscera. Previous cinematic attempts at this sort of thing - Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) and Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) come to mind - have usually resulted in commercial failure whereas historical travesties such the recent 300 have done well. So is director Amenabar guilty of overestimating the public's taste?

The first thing you'll notice about Agora is that it looks like one hell of an expensive production. It's richly detailed with magnificent sets and costumes all looking marvellously authentic. And the film is a pictorial delight. The opening scene in which Hypatia addresses her students in a lecture hall is bathed in the kind of shimmering luminosity you see in those 19th century painters who recreated meticulous tableaux of antiquity. And so it continues, scene after scene beautifully and imaginatively lensed. The result is a pictorial triumph and whilst clearly CGI effects have been employed (for example in the giddy views of ancient Alexandria viewed from space) there's none of the garish and obvious CGI effects which characterise essentially low budget productions like 300 and the new Spartacus.

What of the story? Hypatia ought to be a much bigger feminist icon than she is. She was undoubtedly one of the finest intellects of the late antique world, renowned as philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. It was her misfortune to be born at the wrong time, just as Christianity was evolving from being an oppressed and persecuted cult into the state religion of the Roman Empire and becoming itself the oppressor and persecutor of anything and anyone who disagreed with the holy scriptures. The learning, logic and scientific method espoused by the pagan Hypatia was anathema to the Christians and, even worse, she was a woman. For over a 1000 years after Hypatia's death in AD415 nearly all the great intellects of the western world expended their grey matter on sterile metaphysics (you've probably heard about those mediaeval theologians who debated how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.)

Hypatia was renowned for her beauty as well as her intellectual attainments and in this movie she is loved by two men, her student Orestes who eventually becomes Governor of Alexandria but is powerless to defend her against the fury of the Christian mob, and the young slave who is torn between his lust for Hypatia and his fanatical allegiance to the Christian faith who in the final tragic and moving scene of the movie is indeed able to "save" her (although this requires a tweaking of the known historical facts.) The movie also has some exciting and spectacular action sequences as when the Christian mob storm Alexandria's legendary library and consign the learning of antiquity to the flames. Viewers will not be hard-pressed to find modernday parallels among the religions, cults and belief-systems that still make our world a frightening place. But the focus of the movie is on Hypatia's attempt to unravel the mysteries of our solar system. The renowned astronomer Claudius Ptolemy, who flourished in Alexandria 250 years before Hypatia, had asserted and "proved" that the celestial bodies including the sun orbited the earth but her own observations lead her to favour the older heliocentric system of the philosopher Aristarchus, only the mathematics don't add up. Hypatia attempts to crack the enigma and whilst there is no historical evidence for this storyline it is not, historically, totally implausible. Unfortunately for her the forces of unreason close in and for over a 1000 years the fallacious system of Ptolemy holds sway.

Some reviewers have been offended by what they perceive to be an anti-Christian or anti-faith agenda in Agora, or even worse, a kind of atheist manifesto. In my opinion this view is misconceived. One might just as well argue that movies like Quo Vadis are anti-pagan, or that the Ten Commandments does a hatchet job on the gods of ancient Egypt or that Samson and Delilah is beastly to the Philistines and their god Dagon, all surely by-products of the story being told. I prefer to interpret the movie as a warning to us about the effects of fanaticism and unreason. Hypatia is depicted as a beacon of rational thought in an increasingly irrational age, not as some kind of pagan saint, and that is what makes this movie relevant to us.

I have a few minor quibbles about the movie. Miss Weisz is a favourite actress of mine but she occasionally projects the image of a well-bred girl who has just left finishing school. Apart from that she acquits herself well in the difficult role of a beauty with great intellect. I found the acting of the rest of the cast adequate rather than remarkable (the absence of really well-known names among the supporting players will probably do the movie few favours.) Some viewers may find they don't engage or sympathise with the main protagonists to feel sufficiently involved, as the movie, until the final moving scene, seeks to stimulate your grey matter rather than your emotions. And I think the title "Agora", the Greek for marketplace or forum, is not particularly inspired or enticing (and on the two occasions I heard the word mentioned in this movie it was mispronounced with the stress on the second syllable.) But quibbles aside, this is a pretty impressive movie and I'm giving it 5 stars particularly in recognition of its high production values and pictorial splendours and for not insulting my intelligence.

Does Agora stand any chance of being commercially successful? Well I hope it does and I hope the DVD sales make up for what I infer was a cool reception at the cinema. I've just finished watching the first series of the new TV Spartacus with its lashings of soft core sex and hard core violence (I'd better say nothing about the script or the acting) - it's perversely entertaining as indeed was 300 but not in the least edifying. The makers of Agora approach the medium of film as an intelligent art form whereas the makers of Spartacus have conceived their project as a form of exploitation. Which production do you think is likely to make a better return on its investment?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WONDERFUL HISTORICAL DRAMA, 26 Jun 2013
By 
The Movie Guy "Movies from A to Z" (United States) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Agora [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
If there was ever a such a thing as an atheist saint, Hypatia would be it. This movie is a dramatization of historical events. The city of Alexandria was a center for learning. It was said that the philosophical and religious discourse among the merchants and general population in the agora were on a very educated level, that which rivaled the scholars. With the onset of Christianity, the religious discussion changed. Religion was primarily based upon cosmic myths, most of which had lost their original meaning due to the Pythagorean concepts which fused with the old religion creating multiple paradoxes as to generate such debate. Is God anthropomorphic or is God light?

Hypatia was a scientist and philosopher, she is portrayed as an atheist in this film, although her religious belief is uncertain. She may very well had been a pagan. The menstrual cloth she presented to a would-be suitor is recorded in history. The movie is long and at times doesn't move along fast enough. I thought it needed better editing.

Apart from the dramatization, the movie sticks to history. The documentary commentary writing on the screen is white on a predominately white background which made it difficult for me to read with old eyes and an analog TV. I had to pause it.

In spite of some of the films shortcomings, I absolutely loved it.
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123 of 140 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Sublime Insignificant, 4 May 2010
By 
This review is from: Agora [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
It surprises me how many reviewers are giving this astonishing film only three stars, and I do hope this is not because the film chooses not to dwell on the viciousness of Hypatia's murder: a decision which would have made a cinematic 'spectacle' entirely inappropriate for this must subtle and beautiful of films.

The astonishingly realistic recreation of fourth century Alexandria is in itself a remarkable cinematic feat, the costumes look entirely authentic, the performances are flawless, and the cinematography - always beautiful - is often thoroughly awe inspiring. Ultimately, however, what makes this film so great is the way in which it puts human beings into perspective (swarming fundamentalists ransacking the agora are likened to ants, and in one of the most inspired shots in cinematic history, Alexandria is viewed from outer space, and is sublime and utterly insignificant all at once) whilst suggesting that human beings are nevertheless capable of reaching the heights of reason, and plumbing the depths of unreason. It is one of the ironies of history that the monstrous 'Saint' Cyril of Alexandria is recognised as a Doctor of the Church, whilst not a single word written by Hypatia has survived.

Much ink will be wasted in coming months in discussion of whether this film deliberately paints Christianity in a bad light. The truth is that no form of religious extremism looks good in this film, and for that reason alone, it ought to be statutory viewing for all people who are convinced that theirs is the only god.

Forget the lukewarm reviews, and see this film for yourself. I found myself on the edge of tears throughout most of it, entranced by the splendour, wisdom and realism of its vision. The ending was the hardest and the truest thing I have ever seen in a film.

But don't trust me. Make up your own mind. That is what Hypatia would have told you to do.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Noble Effort, but not a Success, 23 Oct 2014
This review is from: Agora [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
Recounting the events that led to the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria, this epic Spanish drama tells of the Christian-Pagan tensions in 4th century Roman Egypt, specifically focusing in on the slave of female philosopher & scholar Hypatia (Rachel Weisz), and how he witnesses her struggles to preserve the ancient knowledge against the rising Christian extremism.

Ambitious but ultimately out of steam well before the end, 'Agora' is rather lavish, but its hefty script doesn't quite pack the punch it ought to. It makes the classic mistake of a lot of historical/biographical films; it tries to cover so much ground and squeeze in as many historical events and personages as possible, and so whose story this is, and what even the main themes are, becomes really muddled. You have Hypatia's own experiments concerning astronomy, her own battles for preservation, the social tensions in Egypt, the religious tensions, Hypatia's slave and his quest for knowledge, the battle over the Library, the declining power of Rome, the rise of Christianity, it's just too much to cover in a little over two hours. Cutting out a lot of the side characters, most of whom are one note extremist archetypes, and center the story more around Hypatia and her slave's quest, and the film would've been the better for it.

A pity it's so scattershot and rambly, as there are quite a few good things, and it is a very superb production for European cinema. The sets and locations that recreate Roman Egypt look amazing and you really see and feel their size and just how populated they are, as well as the historical crossroads Alexandria is at. The cast is well rounded, with Weisz in top form as both a charismatic yet passionate and fiery Hypatia, joined by the likes of Oscar Issac, Max Minghella, Sami Samir, Michael Lonsdale and Rupert Evans, who all do fine jobs, even if their material is again, more limited. We even have a score from Italy's new cinematic go-to Dario Marrinelli, which takes a strongly religious/choral cue and is often sombre, reflecting the state of affairs in the story. Think of the more downbeat, intimate tracks of say 'Gladiator', as an entire film score.

But it's a bloated script that lets all of this down. I cannot deny I respect director/co-writer Alejandro Amenabar for really pushing larger scale Euro film making, but he just forget to really have a powerful tale to bring it all together. Well mounted, but never truly enthralling.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Roller-coaster ride of a film!, 2 Mar 2011
By 
Tommy Dooley (London, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Agora [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
I watched this last evening and was quite taken back by the scale of the production. There has been much analysis elsewhere so I will cut to the chase. Whilst essentially a love story, albeit unrequited set against the backdrop of inter religious strife taking place at the end of the Roman Empire in 4th Century Alexandria, it is so much more. A visual feast and great entertainment are examples of what that 'more' is.

Hypatia is the very real philosopher, astronomer and teacher at Alexandria's famous library. She is a beacon of light and reason in a world leaning increasingly toward religious fanaticism. Her star (and rich) leading pupil is in love with her as is her trusty slave. This all takes place as the Pagans turn on the Christians who fight back and then the Christians turn on the Jews, who fight back and then pretty much everyone turns on Hypatia.

The film is sumptuously decked and presented; you really do feel that no expense has been spared and that probably quite a lot of excellent footage ended up on the cutting room floor. However, the film does not suffer for that, the CGI is top rate and the recreation of 4th Century Alexandria must have been a labour of love, the acting is engrossing which always means that all the elements of a good yarn have come together to get you hooked. And I admit I was hooked very early on. This film is a rollicking rollercoaster from start to finish and definitely deserved more attention that it got on being first released.

So why 4 stars and not 5, well it does deserve 5 stars but I have to agree with historical criticisms that can genuinely upset some people. The portrayal of all religion as destructive, even deceitful comes across fairly strong almost from the start and apart from the violence is the only constant thread running through out this work - whilst I tend to agree with this it once again can put some people off and hence I can see why some have given unduly low ratings. That said if you approach this as film using a story from history to enlighten and entertain then I am sure you will find this a deserving and rewarding film that has been woefully neglected.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A would-be inspiring atheist epic that's as superficial and empty-headed as any 50s fight-for-Christ peplum, 18 Dec 2010
By 
Trevor Willsmer (London, England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Agora [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
Alejandro Amenabar's Agora is a classic example of Litmus test cinema. If you're an atheist, its unchallenging affirmation of your non-belief will probably endear it to you mightily and guarantee you'll give this review a 'not useful' vote without reading further. If you're a Christian, the film's unequivocal belief that your faith is not only destructive and irrational but the root of all evil and ignorance for the past 1500 years will make you hate it and give this review a 'useful' vote without reading further. If you're an agnostic or simply objective, you'll just wonder not only why it's all so simplistic and ineffectual but also so remarkably dull with it. Because for all the cries of brilliance from one school of thought and damnation from the other, Agora is nothing more than a technically impressive but emotionally unengaging Christians versus pagans epic that aspires to be a thoughtful allegory of scientific inquiry versus religious fundamentalism but instead tends to be very vague and confused when it comes to religion, which is a real problem considering the subject matter, and increasingly dull, which is an even bigger problem.

It does offer novelty value in reversing the traditional Biblical epic and having Christians metaphorically throwing pagans and Jews to the lions with sadistic abandon in 4th Century AD Alexandria as the Roman Empire starts to fall to pieces, but it's all a little half-baked and woolly-headed to pass muster as a thinking man or woman's epic and too relentlessly so-so to work as entertainment.

Stuck in the middle and supposedly standing for reason is the idealised figure of Hypatia (Rachel Weisz, the actress you call when Kate Winslett is busy), a philosopher-astronomer-teacher whose words of wisdom fall on increasingly deaf ears because, as a woman, she's despised by the bloodthirsty radical Christians and, as an atheist, is regarded as unsuitable for public office by the pagans (well, at least in the cut that premiered at Cannes in 2009, though that scene is notably missing from the shorter version that was eventually released to theatres).

Although the film doesn't try to entirely impose 20th century values on its rather one-dimensional heroine - she takes slavery for granted and the science is appropriately 2000 years out of date - it does have a rather confused attitude to what she stands for and why we should admire her. She espouses brotherhood but has no empathy, responds to shows of affection with humiliation, uses others merely as a sounding board for her own brilliance while ironically, and presumably unintentionally, being portrayed as something of a second-rate thinker. With her actual works long destroyed (by Muslims rather than Christians a couple of centuries after the events in the film), her quest to unravel if or how the Earth orbits around the sun may even be a misrepresentation of her work in an attempt to present her as an earlier Galileo and further the myth that science and religion are completely incompatible. The film certainly misrepresents her as an atheist when it seems she was a pagan to simplify the story's central conflict into one of empirical evidence versus blind faith - having her worship graven images might have taken some of the shine off her credibility for modern audiences, and it would never do to have a flawed heroine.

Instead, it paints her as an atheist Christ dying for the sins of Deists, and one whose wisdom all reasonable men (there are no other female characters) bow before. And how "How naïve I was. How naïve I was," laments one former suitor-turned-prefect when she points out the errors in his let-the-Christians-kill-the-Jews-and-that'll-be-an-end-to-it policy. Even her father's final scene is an "I should have listened to you" mea culpa after his ill-advised response to a Christian act of provocation results in the besieging of the Alexandria Library. If only they'd have listened to her, the film seems to be saying, all of this could have been avoided.

It's a role and a film that desperately needs an exceptionally charismatic and inspiring star performance to compensate for the many flaws, but it doesn't get it. With little real dramatic meat to work with, Weisz generally chooses to play the part by alternating between two expressions, her serious look and the head girl enthusiastically giving the school lecture on prize day, and a two-note performance in a one-dimensional role that never develops makes her a weak centre for the film to revolve around (Amenabar is big on revolutions and circles in the film's visual scheme). We're only introduced to her emotional dilemma - that to give herself to a man means the loss of her freedom to think and to teach - through her father (Michel Lonsdale), and it really doesn't seem to bother her until one brief scene near the film's end. She's far too in love with her own intellect and the heavenly spheres.

Unfortunately her character seems to be made all the weaker by the one-note villainy the film extends to the evil kill-crazy Christians. Ideologically and spiritually these black-clad crazies stand for nothing - they could just as well be Indians or Zulus or insects from Starship Troopers (and boy, does Amenabar love his sped-up aerial shots making them look like busy ants). They're simply empty-headed black-hearted villains out to kill everyone, with Saint Cyril portrayed as such a Satanic figure that all that's missing is the forked tail and pitchfork. Even a Christian lifelong friend and devotee like Synsesius is inaccurately turned into an enemy opposing her ideas or right to offer counsel to men. It's those kind of broad brushstrokes and lack of historical context that perhaps hurts the film the most, with the film offering no idea of how an empire that had previously been tolerant of most religions changed so violently any more than it shows how a religion built on turning the other cheek and forgiving your enemies became so violently militant as it abandoned pacifism with a vengeance once it became Romanised. One early scene does briefly address the appeal Christianity had to the poor and the under class - a religion that you didn't have to be born into, that favored the weak over the powerful and which found joy in giving rather than receiving - but it's a brief moment that's never pursued in the final cut. Instead it's a conflict between the nasty black togas and the good white togas, with little explanation of what either faction really stands for. Only in the final scenes does it threaten to address the conflict between constantly questioning science and unquestioning religion, by which time it's too late to summon up much interest.

(The longer version that premiered at Cannes in 2009 to such a poor response was a little bit more balanced: you saw the Parabalanos acting as intermediaries in street disputes, feeding the poor and burying the dead rather than just acting like Christ's stormtroopers, the Christians were themselves more firmly divided into two opposing camps, the pagans more aware of the coming storm and, crucially, Max Minghella's slave was seen as being as interested in being seen as an equal of his mistress as her lover, if not more. Unfortunately none of those scenes were enough to add more than the most superficial of window dressing to the film.)

The digitally recreated Alexandria and the massive sets filled with thousands of extras are often impressive even if used more as scenery and the occasional battleground than a centre point for the film, and after the first half the film conveys no sense of the world around its few characters. It doesn't help that these characters seem to be made out of cardboard, not least the men who are either weak-willed or evil, a problem magnified by a number of poor performances from some weak actors. Max Minghella's once-loyal slave briefly threatens to become more interesting than his dull performance as he realises that he has no value to Hypatia beyond what practical use she can make of him, but that simply manifests itself as turning in a Christian-Bale-in-a-bit-of-a-moody impersonation as he becomes a Christian stormtrooper on gaining his freedom. Oscar Isaac's performance as the equally ineffectual suitor and prefect seems to be driven by thoughts of what Rufus Sewell would do in his place and Rupert Evans' Bishop Synesius cuts a particularly pitifully unconvincing figure. Only Ashraf Barhom's Christian martyr offers a genuinely charismatic performance as a man whose joyous belief exceeds his understanding and leads him to do terrible things in the name of divine love. As for the other female characters - there aren't any. Weisz and the odd extra with a non-speaking walk-on in the odd street scene is yer lot.

Even as a purely visceral spectacle, the film feels curiously soft even in the midst of all the bloodletting. Rather than get in the thick of it, Amenabar would rather seem to be above it all, quite literally. Massacre of innocents? Cue celestial overhead shot accompanied by contractually obligatory wailing woman on the soundtrack courtesy of Dario Marinelli's surprisingly clichéd and dreary score. Suitor pouring out his heart through music? Cut to the slowly turning Earth seen from space. Rise of fundamentalism? Cosmic zoom ahoy, Cap'n! As yet another shot pointing out the cosmic insignificance of it all appeared, I just found myself wondering if he'd bought a job lot of outtakes from Carl Sagan's Cosmos. But no - the credits reveal he'd actually bought a job lot of stock footage from NASA, which presumably explains the presence of the Suez Canal and the Assuan Dam in Fourth Century AD Egypt, which the FX boys forgot to paint out. But then, in a film that takes as many liberties with history as this does (the film not only ignores the esteem she was held in by many contemporary Christians but even portrays Synesius, who defended her intellectual achievements, attacking her `blasphemous' scientific theories as if in a bad school production of Galileo), maybe they thought it didn't matter?

In one of the film's better lines, Hypatia tells a Christian that his new religion has yet to prove it is any better than the old ones. Sadly, this is one peplum that, for all its technical window dressing, really isn't any better or more clearly thought through than the average confused and superficial Italian fight-for-Christ peplum of the 50s. And a lot less fun.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth watching but do your research after, 27 May 2014
By 
A. Nicholaou (Winchester, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Agora [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
The DVD quality was excellent, watched on a Panansonic 50" GT30.
The film is basically exploring religious intolerance but with a heavy bias against early Christians (4th century).
I've read comments by people on internet sites, say silly things to the effect, this film opened my eyes as to what Christianity is about. Unfortunately for them and their new found wisdom, this film is not a documentary created from peer reviewed papers. A lot it is conjecture and stylisation for effect, many times anti-christian effect.
For example, there is no evidence that Christians destroyed books in Alexandria although we do know that they did destroy pagan symbols and idols.
You will come away from the film thinking that St Cyril was involved in the death of Hypatia. There is no evidence that Cyril had anything to do with the death of Hypatia. The monk that attacked Orestes was executed, Cyril may have had the same fate had Orestes thought he was involved in his mentor and advisor's heinous murder.
Many people say this is just a story for a film but unfortunately that is not the case here. In parts, it is cleverly misleading regarding historical events.
I gave it 4 stars because it is a great film to watch, research its historical setting and discuss with interested parties - beats a lot of the Hollywood junk out there.
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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very intelligent screenplay., 12 Dec 2010
By 
Phil "Leaf-turner" (Manchester, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Agora [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
Some reviewers have questioned the historical accuracy of this film, however this isn't a documentary. Even if it was a lot of speculation would have to be employed.
This film, quite simply,is the most intelligently scripted and researched 'epic' that I have seen for a long, long time.
We know that Hypatia was a reknowned (neo?)Platonic philosopher, pagan and proto-scientist.We know that she taught and that her classes were attended by the elite of Alexandrian society. We know that she was percieved to be influential to the municipal rulers and that she was butchered by a Christian mob. We know that St Cyril called for the expulsion of Jews from Alexandria. We know that there was murderous strife between the civil authotites and the Christian sects in Alexandria in that period.
Her love interest,her precocious views on elliptical planetary orbits and much else of the 'personal' side of her life are cinematic conjecture,designed to enrich the plot.
Whilst most recent 'epics' have spent millions on computer graphics and about £10 on developing a script (witness the recent re-make of 'Clash of the Titans'), I am delighted to say that 'Agora' gives visually stunning panoramas of Alexandria, obviously well researched detailing of ancient world architecture, manners, clothing etc but has not stinted on intelligent and nuanced storylines.
The plot, whilst implicity deploring the results of religious bigotry, has some masterful ambiguities in its treatments of the protagonists. For instance the humanity of the Christian philosophy of charity to the poor is movingly demonstrated in one scene, and the bigotry of Hypatias socially respected Pagan father revealed in others.
The birds eye view likening Alexandria to a disturbed ants nest is another cinematic device which I think demonstrates the care and thought that went into this intelligent and at times beautiful film.
I am no expert in Ancient history, but I was pleased to see the hybridization of Hellenic and Egyptian ornaments and buildings, the fact that much of the statuary was painted ( as it would have been in ancient times.) I did note one anachronism, and doubtless an expert would catch a few more, but if ever a film cried out for a special features 'making of' disc, then this one does.
One reviewer called the film 'boring', if internicine politicking, violence, unrequited love, slavery, religious bigotry,philosophy,defence of the enquiring mind and much else all packaged in a sumptous and well realised ressurection of an amazing period of humanities past is boring then can I recommend instead 'Clash of theTitans'?

After watching this film I have taken down relevant history books, impulsively bought and collecting dust on the shelves. If a 'sword and sandal' epic can impell you to do that then it must be on the right track.

I hope that similar projects will see the light of day, man cannot live by CGI alone.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heliocentrism, 8 Nov 2011
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Amazon Customer "Sussman" (London CA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Agora [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
Set in the 4th century city of Alexandria, in the Roman Empire just before its split in to two separate Empires.

The narrative revolves around the Greek philosopher Hypatia (a teacher at the Platonic school) where the future elite are educated. Her story is told against the back ground of a Roman Empire running out `steam', and is turning rapidly from Paganism to the early form of Christianity .The metamorphosis of the relatively new religion is neither pain less or consequence free. Religious tolerance seems non-existent, from this new faith. In turn the Pagans either convert on mass and the few who remain try to keep a low profile. The Christians then turn their attention to the Jews, and soon they come into conflict, committing violent acts against each other. The majority soon prevail, with the Christians ultimately wresting power from the only other religious group remaining. During this time of changed which at times are punctuated by a years of peace our philosopher Hypatia, continues with her quest for knowledge. However, her study of heliocentrism, is not permitted by the new faith and soon she has to focus on working privately on her theories and experiments.

Heliocentrism is the study of `astronomical model' in which the Earth and planets revolve around a stationary Sun at the centre of the solar system. This type of study was at odds with the accepted theory that all heavenly bodies, including the Sun, revolved around the Earth, the Earth was the centre of all things. While film is based on key main events in the Historical record, the narrative, the characterizations are fictional. The colour and iconography are rich and sumptuous, and remind me of such classic films as Ben-Hur or the Ten Commandments.

This review does not wish to give away plot themes and the narrative that encompasses this rather fictionalized view of a rather extraordinary person who was ahead of her time by nearly 500 years plus, both as an accomplished scientist and women who was not abashed in speaking her mind in the company of men, these men being the elite of Alexandria in their own home patch. This then brings Hypatia into conflict as it is believed that she is the cause of strained relations between Orestes (a former pupil who loves her and values her intellect), the Imperial Roman Prefect, and the Patriarch Cyril, thus she attracted the hatred of the Christians of Alexandria, who wanted the politician and the priest to reconcile. One day, in March AD 415, during Lent, a Christian mob of Nitrian monks, way lay, attack and finally kill what they perceive is a Witch of the worst kind.

I do not believe this film is anti Christian and for that matter nor is it anti religion. As one reviewer has puts it, the film is about `fanaticism and unreason'. Well I see the threads here that may lead to this inclination. However, for me I felt it was more about power play and influence, the religious conflict etc. are the tools of the conflict, at the end of the day it was about power and who has it. The same is true in today's world.

That said it's a film worth seeing, a beautiful but sad story worthy of 5 stars
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Agora [Blu-ray] [2009]
Agora [Blu-ray] [2009] by Alejandro Amenabar (Blu-ray)
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