Caligula: The Ultimate Cut
Malcolm McDowell and Helen Mirren in Caligula: The Ultimate Cut (Drafthouse Films)

Drafthouse Films will release Caligula: The Ultimate Cut, a complete reconstruction of the film in 4K Ultra High Definition restoration. Initially released in 1980, the film was the most expensive independent film in cinema history.

Written by Gore Vidal, Caligula starred Malcolm McDowell, Dame Helen Mirren, Peter O’Toole and Sir John Gielgud. The film was meant to be an epic showcase of the generation’s finest talent, addressing the corrupting influence of power amid the rampant sexuality of the Roman court.

However, Penthouse founder (and the film’s financer) Bob Guccione seized control of the negative, randomly inserting graphic scenes of un-simulated sex and gratuitous violence. The cast and film team disavowed what had become a blatant desecration of Vidal’s themes, who sued to have his name removed from the project. The extensive coverage of behind-the-scenes notoriety also had an unexpected effect: the film was a box office success.

The new reconstructed film – comprised of 100% of never-before-seen footage, using alternate takes and camera angles, and features – for the first time – the complete film narrative – made its World Premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2023.

“Caligula is a unique piece of cinema history and I am honored to be a part of its journey back to the big screen,” says Drafthouse Films CEO Nick Savva. “Audiences should strap in and prepare themselves for a three-hour epic extravaganza like no other. They truly don’t make them like this anymore.”

Drafthouse Films will release Caligula: The Ultimate Cut in theaters across North America in August 2024, followed by a streaming and 4K UHD Blu-ray release. The UHD Blu-ray will have a slew of special features, notably new interviews with star Malcolm McDowell and the film’s reconstructionist, art historian Thomas Negovan.

“Drafthouse Films is a beacon of excellence and taste in independent cinema, and in the three years while I was constructing the film I hoped that they would be involved in bringing Caligula: The Ultimate Cut to American audiences,” says Negovan. “I am breathing an enormous sigh of relief that this new look at a legendary film is in their hands!”

Caligula: The Ultimate Cut aligns closely to Vidal’s original script, especially with the addition of a prologue that illustrates one of Vidal’s missing scenes, created by noted graphic artist Dave McKean (Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman). Additionally, there is a new wraparound score by composer Troy Sterling Nies. The achievements that mesmerize even more today are the unique costumes and production design of two-time Oscar winner Danilo Donati (Fellini’s Casanova; Romeo & Juliet).

Nearly 100 hours of original footage was discovered by Negovan in the Penthouse archive. He also showcases astounding performances from the film’s cast, fully realizing McDowell’s complex, charismatic ‘Caligula’ and resurrecting Mirren’s layered character arc, which now cements the film’s final hour.

“‘Caligula’ is certainly among the most demanding and challenging roles I’ve ever undertaken, so it was a great surprise to learn and then see that the work would finally be rewarded in a complete reconstruction that honors the serious intentions of the talent in front of and behind the screen,” says McDowell. “I never thought my full performance would ever be seen or Helen Mirren’s moving, commanding ‘Caesonia’ would at last be unearthed. It is an unprecedented odyssey.”

Caligula: The Ultimate Cut was produced by Thomas Negovan and stars Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange), Dame Helen Mirren (The Queen), Peter O’Toole (Lawrence of Arabia), and Sir John Gielgud (Arthur).

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