Rome’s Origins

The mythical founding of Rome gets turned into a bone-crunching historical epic in The First King: Birth of an Empire. Filmmaker Matteo Rovere takes the familiar tale of brothers Romulus and Remus, fashioning a hard-hitting tale packed with grisly action and exotic flavor. Technically an Italian/Belgian co-production, the evocative movie has characters speaking a primitive dialect of classical Latin.

Romulus (Alessio Lapice) and Remus (Alessandro Borghi) are two shepherds swept away by a flood, a tight-knit pair of loyal brothers. One of the brothers is destined to found the greatest empire of the ancient world, Rome.

A mysterious prophecy from a female shaman claims only one of the brothers will survive on their way to the throne. Their perilous journey is marked by bloody conflict; first as they survive enslavement together and then against each other. Competing visions result in brutal warfare.

The First King isn’t perfect but relishes blood-soaked violence covering the mythical founding of Rome

The First King owes a great deal to Apocalypto, Mel Gibson’s harrowing Mayan epic. Set in 753 BC, the great city of Rome is but a twinkle in the eye of brothers Remus and Romulus. Italy is little more than a tribal state of warring factions. Director Matteo Rovere liberally borrows from Apocalypto’s mesmerizing blend of kinetic action, mystical shamanism, mythic history and tribal warfare. Opening with a fantastic action set piece, the brothers almost drown in a great flood. From then it only gets bloodier and bloodier for the pair, ultimately pitting brother versus brother.

The narrative could use some trimming, clocking in at over two hours. It also takes getting used to the strange form of primitive Latin used in the original soundtrack, though an English dub is provided if that isn’t your thing. There’s enough action to satisfy viewers bored by the tribal politics.

The First King isn’t perfect but relishes blood-soaked violence covering the mythical founding of Rome. More action epic than historical epic, incredible set pieces and stylish direction make up for a somewhat middling story.

Video

Well Go USA provides The First King: Birth of an Empire with a first-rate 2.39:1 presentation. Well-filmed using Arri Alexa cameras, the movie’s razor-sharp video looks great. Struck from a 2K digital intermediate, the transfer is flawless. The 1080P resolution is loaded with excellent high-frequency detail. Spotless purity in the clean cinematography produces fantastic depth and dimension.

The main feature runs 127 minutes on a BD-50. Encoded in transparent AVC, there are no compression issues or artifacts leftover from video processing. Everything works great in this outstanding presentation, real eye candy. The digital color grading avoids saturating brighter colors without affecting contrast or black levels.

Audio

Dual languages are included for The First King. There’s an English dub heard in action-packed 5.1 DTS-HD MA. It’s a so-so English dub made for people that can’t stand reading subtitles. The First King’s “native” language soundtrack is actually heard in ancient Latin. Yes, The First King’s primary audio has all dialogue in a dead language. I knew all those years of Latin in high school would eventually pay off.

The 5.1 DTS-HD MA Latin soundtrack is a showcase for smooth surround action and powerful LFE. The dense soundfield produces real immersion, placing listeners in the middle of battle. The First King has a sweeping, moody score heard in pristine fidelity. Dialogue does get drowned out in a few occasions by the massive dynamics. The superb sound design provides serious crunch and visceral impact.

Optional English subtitles play inside the 2.39:1 presentation at all times in a white font. Secondary audio tracks for the two different languages here come in 2.0 Dolby Digital.

Extras

Well Go includes a slipcover for the Blu-ray and DVD combo package. Trailers and a fairly involved behind-the-scenes featurette are the special features. The backcover lists the Blu-ray as Region A.

Making of The First King (35:05 in HD) – In the filmmakers’ native Italian with English subtitles included, this comprehensive documentary covers such topics as fight choreography and CGI effects. Director Matteo Rovere goes over the production process with behind-the-scenes footage.

The First King International Trailer (01:45 in HD)

The First King US Trailer (01:15 in HD)

Well Go USA Trailers (06:59 in HD) – Trailers for Abigail, T-34, and Furious play before the main menu.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided by the label for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more about DoBlu.

The First King
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
3

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A brutal action epic about the origins of Rome filmed in Italy, stylishly directed with blood-soaked set pieces and battles.

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